How do you craft a memorable villain?
After the loss of the Mad Titan Thanos, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed a new Big Bad. (The Avengers are useless without someone deserving of vengeance.) Unexpectedly, the answer to this dilemma arrived in Loki.
While Loki seemed like a fun romp through space and time starring Marvel’s favorite trickster, ultimately setting up Marvel’s next big crisis (the Multiverse) and even a new Big bad to rival Thanos: Jonathan Majors as notorious comic villain Kang the Conqueror.
At least, sort of.
The Kang who appeared in Loki isn’t technically “Kang,” director Kate Herron tells Inverse. Rather, he’s an alternate version of the character known as He Who Remains. For Herron, this was a unique opportunity to shape Marvel’s next major supervillain. The result is a smooth-talking, apple-chomping recluse as charming as he is suspicious.
“Jonathan and I just kind of [homed] in on talking about, ‘Okay, so who is this character?’ Herron says. “He's an extrovert and introvert: he's a character that really just lives by himself, but at the same time, he's a big showman and loves to tell a story.”
In a way, Herron and He Who Remains share a lot of characteristics. They both love a good story and they both warn of greater villainy to come in the future of the MCU. Considering the death of He Who Remains and the news Herron won’t be returning for Loki Season 2, it’s clear they both changed this universe in huge ways despite only interacting with it briefly.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Personally, I'm a genderfluid person, so seeing that in Loki was very important to me. Do you trust the Loki team to carry on the LGBTQIA+ representation in Season 2?
It was very important to me and the team to acknowledge it. I've always felt that in the comics, it's who he is. I wanted to acknowledge it and make it canon. Hopefully, there's more road to travel there from those steps. I never felt any pushback or anything. I think for people, it was just about having it in the right way. I would say yes. I'm not involved, so I don't know exactly the plans, but I hope so.
I have to ask about Lamentis. Was that bisexual lighting on purpose, or was that just a coincidence?
It was definitely meant to be a nod and intentional, but not across the whole episode. The planet in the comics is purple, so some of it was coincidence, but in the train, it was definitely a nod.
Was there any pressure as the first director to portray Kang the Conqueror in the MCU, knowing that he will be in future works?
Something that alleviated the pressure was that I knew He Who Remains was a variant. So I think for me and Jonathan, it was really about working out, "What version of Kang is this then?" And also Immortus as well. It was really making sure our character made sense. I love that line where he says, “If you think I'm evil, just wait till you meet my variants,” which as a fan makes me very excited because I'm like, "Oh my God, how scary are the other versions of him going to be?"
But I think also he's the best version of himself. Obviously, there's definitely a level of pressure that comes with it because it's such a massive thing for the MCU. But we wanted to make sure we got at least He Who Remains right in that sense.
So is He Who Remains also Immortus?
It's almost like Sylvie. She's pulled from multiple characters, and He Who Remains is the same because he’s very loosely based on a character in the comics while also drawing inspiration from Immortus and Kang obviously as well.
Richard E. Grant appeared in Loki as the Classic variant of Loki. What was it like working with him? Do you think that Classic Loki is really dead?
I'm very passionate about this. He's dead! He's dead! And I know because we have that story in the palace where he talks about how he got away, people are gonna think he's turned into a blade of grass, and that he's not dead, he somehow turned into the helmet!
I feel his sacrifice was such a big thing because his whole story was about being a coward and hiding away, and then finally, he decides I want to go see my brother. And that's when he's caught by the TVA. I thought if his nexus event was breaking out of this cowardly cycle, to me, there was something very beautiful to then say, I'm going to go be really brave. And I know it means that I will die, but I'm going to be brave anyways.
On the other hand, I guess Lokis always survive, but in my head, he's passed on. He's dead. Working with Richard was a dream. He's one of my favorite actors and what a champion.
“He's dead! He's dead!”
There's always been a trope with the MCU TV shows of having a big villain reveal. What did you think when you saw all the Kang speculation that ran rampant up to the finale?
I was really happy because I knew we were going to deliver on it. I remember when we had our Devil in the window in the cathedral, and people were like, “Oh, Mephisto!” Sometimes it can be fun to throw people off the scent. But at the same time, I just didn't want to drive people crazy. So I was like, "No, this is a reference to Loki.”
It was fun to see the speculation about who people thought would be in the Citadel, but obviously, the amount of excitement around Kang was great because we delivered on that in some sense. I think the interesting thing for me was some people were saying, "We think it will just be in a film. Maybe it'll just be a photo, or maybe it will just be a statue." I'm really happy that we got to deliver a whole hour.
What research did you do going into this aside from, of course, the famous Loki lecture?
I think for me, honestly, it was like in terms of research, I delved back into the comics that I enjoyed from Loki, just to see if there's any characters or references we could pull. Particularly in Episode 5, I remember we had the bandit Lokis, and we didn't have a leader for the bandits. And so I said, “President Loki could be really fun.”
I built this kind of world-building document as we were building out everything to make sure I understood the rules of the TVA. The VFX team and I had almost like [Dungeons & Dragons] character sheets for Loki and Sylvie for their magic and being like, "Okay, we're going to show this, this will be something new we introduce" to make sure we are tracking it all. And it all made sense. So it was more that kind of research — lots of documents tracking all the different things.
So if you could give any other Marvel character a Loki-esque series, who would it be?
Oh, that's really interesting. Maybe Alligator Loki. Cause I just have so many questions about him. Is he an alligator? Is he not an alligator? Maybe you should never find out in the show. Maybe it should always be up for debate, but I just think there are more roads to travel with that Loki.
Well, there is Kang-aroo the Conqueror in the comics, so who knows, right?
Maybe they could team up!
Loki is now streaming on Disney+.