Although a major player in Norse mythology, the character of Thor is known primarily to comics fans, and only recently to the general public, due to the news that famed director Kenneth Branagh (Peter’s Friends, Dead Again) will be helming a movie for Marvel Studios based on the character’s heroic exploits, due out in 2011.
For those not in the know, Thor is the Asgardian god of thunder, once worshiped by Vikings as a source of strength and bravery, whose name was co-opted by Marvel Comics back in 1962, when the fair-haired character (originally red-headed in the mythology) first appeared in Journey Into Mystery. Thor’s story broke with tradition in several aspects, mainly in the fact that his father Odin, chief of the gods, sought to teach his son humility by trapping him in the body of a mortal, Dr. Donald Blake. Over the years, Thor gained in popularity as he became a charter member of the Avengers (the character will also appear in a live-action Avengers feature, due out in 2012) and Journey Into Mystery officially became the Thor comic book in 1964. Although rooted moderately in Norse mythology, the thunder god’s stories only paid lip service to his true history, until artist/writer Walt Simonson’s epic 1983-1986 run on the series restored the character to his true glory and revitalized fans’ interests in the Norse superhero.
Now the god of thunder–who has had spotty appearances in non-comics media, including an okay run in the Marvel Super-Heroes anthology cartoon and a laughably horrible live-action turn in the 1988 TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns–faces another potential upswing in popularity with the still-casting Thor: God of Thunder. While Marvel Studios has achieved a true coup in nabbing Kenneth Branagh, a director well versed in Shakespearian lore (Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing) to take on a character whose mythic adventures preceded and in some ways partially inspired grand epics such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the true test of whether the film will succeed or fail will depend not so much on the script as on the actor who portrays the titular hero.
While rumored names such as Brad Pitt have been tossed about for being worthy of the role, and Alexander Skarsgard is supposedly cast (still just a rumor!), my own personal favorite choice of known actors for the role was Karl Urban, who played Eomer in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and will soon be seen as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek.
Note: Urban “was” my favorite choice…until I discovered James Preston Rogers existed.
James Preston Rogers is a Canadian who stands at an awesomely muscular 6’6″. He’s a former WWE wrestler who discovered acting was his true passion. Graciously released from his contract by the WWE, he went on to star in such nominal films as Outlander, Runaway and Rent-A-Goalie. While working with Rogers on the TV movie Jesse Stone: Sea Change, Tom Selleck was so impressed with his co-star’s skill that he chose a scene they shared together as the clip displayed during an interview on Live with Regis and Kelly. Selleck was also gracious enough to mention that JPR was one to keep an eye on. This undoubtedly aided him in his development as an Internet celebrity, along with a homemade video humorously demonstrating why he should be the one to play Thor. There’s even an online petition with nearly 1,000 signatures in favor of Rogers winning the role…proving the man definitely has a solid fan base.
In addition to possessing the physical looks to play the character, James Preston Rogers is also a very down-to-earth, approachable guy. Not being full of his own ego is a good quality to have as he tries to make himself known to Marvel, and gain a spot on the studio’s short list of who should win the coveted position. I recently asked him to answer a few questions about why he should be the one to play everyone’s favorite thunder god, and here’s what he said…
Aside from the obvious (more leading man roles, prestige, etc.), what is it that draws you to the character of Thor? What makes you want to play him?
Thor is one of the most complete characters that I may ever play, being 6’6″. There’s more to him than, say, Conan or He-Man. His is a true character arc. Maybe as close as I’ll get to playing Hamlet, especially with Branagh attached to the project.
Because of your height and build, is it harder to get called in to read for “good guy” parts as opposed to “villain” roles?
Yeah, I don’t get many reads as the good guy. Strange, huh?
Say Marvel Studios calls you in for a read. They like you, they choose to hire you for Thor–but then Branagh says (for whatever reason) he wants you to take another six months of acting lessons to more fully ready yourself for the part during the film’s prep time. Would you be willing to follow his lead on this?
I’m a team player and would do whatever it took to make the best product possible. Believe me!
Bruce Lee, who was pretty much at the peak of human health during his career, once injured his back while weightlifting. How do you stay in shape without damaging yourself, and what advice do you give to lifters just starting out?
I stay in shape by lifting weights and staying active. For people just starting off, I say stay focused on your motivation. Accept it as a lifestyle. This time next year will come whether you go to the gym or not, but if you can get to the gym, your life will be a lot different this time next year.
You win the part of Thor, the movie’s a smash, and two days after opening, the following directors leave messages on your machine to come read for their next film: Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, James Cameron. Whose call do you take first, and why?
I’d go with Spielberg, ’cause that was the name I heard first as a kid.
You’ve been a bouncer, a member of the WWE and now an actor. What drew you into acting? What is YOUR passion about?
I enjoy being creative. The whole film and TV process I fell in love with right away. I just have a need to express myself, and this is a great outlet.
What kind of acting career do you ultimately envision for yourself? Are there certain roles you’d be less likely to want to try than others?
I think it would be a great career for me to be involved with period pieces (LotR, Braveheart, Outlander, etc.). I am big with long hair, muscles and look like a warrior. Plus I have a lot of training and experience with combat and weapons. Here’s where it gets interesting: I was a human before I was tall and big. I’ve loved, lost, laughed, cried, done it all. So I would love an opportunity to really showcase my skills and life experience, but a warrior would be a FUN career.
Many actors eventually find themselves drawn into the darker side of the profession: drugs, too much partying, and being convinced to raise 250,000 kids with Angelina Jolie. What’s your support system, and how do you intend to keep yourself grounded?
I have a great group of friends and family. I’ve also worked in the nightclub scene for many years and have seen first-hand what happens to people who don’t have their head on straight. I’m well and ready for this.
What’s an average “day off” for James Preston Rogers? How do you chill?
My days “off”? I don’t really have ’em! I’d find my way to the gym, maybe lie in the sun. Invite my friends over for a BBQ. Play with my dog Deacon, a South African Boerboel.
Your promo video for yourself was great, but have you ever considered doing a mini-movie in full Thor regalia, such as the excellent fan films Grayson or Batman: Dead End in order to more fully cement your viability to play Thor?
It’s kinda funny how this whole thing started. The hardcore Thor fans found me and have put me out there. Then when asked the question by the media “Do you want to play Thor?” I said “yeah,” and away it went. The comedic Thor skit that’s on the internet was done at MTV Canada. They called me in to do the piece. Wasn’t my idea. I don’t want to be taken as a joke, this is how I make my living. I feel if I were to put out more little skits, I would be taken less seriously. When I’m looking for someone to look up to, those days are gone. Arnie and Sly are all grown up and no one has taken up the slack. I like to think I possess the skills to do that. What a great job that would be, huh?