Creator Michael Waldron Answers All Our Questions About ‘Loki’ And ‘Heels’
The following interview contains SPOILERS for Season 1 of Loki.
Michael Waldron is a busy man. After getting his start on animated series like Rick and Morty, Waldron is now one of the most in-demand screenwriters in Hollywood. His first television series for Marvel, Loki, just wrapped up on Disney+. His next show, the pro-wrestling drama Heels, about a pair of feuding brothers (Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig) who are the stars of a small-town federation in Georgia, premieres on Starz in a couple weeks. He’s also working on the scripts for Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Marvel President Kevin Feige’s upcoming Star Wars project.
He’s so busy, in fact, that our planned conversation last month got pushed back until this week. That actually worked out for the best, though, because it enabled us to talk about everything that transpired on the first season of Loki, and even discuss whether he’s going to be a part of the just-announced second season. During our phone call, Waldron also explained how his love of professional wrestling influences his writing, whether He Who Remains was always planned as Loki’s big villain, and whether he’s ever wanted to combine his loves of writing and wrestling by working for the WWE. Plus, he actually explained once and for all how time travel works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was very helpful.
Now that the season is over, what did you think of the reaction to Loki? Did anything surprise you about it?
No, I was thrilled with the reception. Audiences are really smart. And I think that we dumped a lot on their plate in the show, and they were up to the task and went along for the ride. So I was just very pleased that we didn’t lose anybody with all the crazy stuff we had going on.
Right. How early in the process did you get involved? Did Marvel say to you “We want a show about Loki”? Or did they say “We want a show about Loki and time travel and the TVA and variants”?
They wanted a show about Loki and the TVA. They had done amazing work, as they always do, just kind of like just laying the groundwork for what the general sandbox you’re going to be playing in is. That was what I came in and pitched on. And then it was me and my writing staff working on it and kind of figuring out like “Oh, you know what? Time travel basically is the multiverse.” And you sort of put all that together as a team.
Okay, so you mention time travel. That brings up a question I had from watching the show, and apologies if it’s about to get very nerdy.
I’ll answer as best I can without canonizing something that I then have to unwind three years from now.
[laughs] Okay, understood. So my question is if there is the one “Sacred Timeline” of the Marvel Universe that the TVA has been protecting for some significant stretch of time, then how can there also be so many alternate timelines and variants as well?
Okay, The best I can explain it is our approach with time travel was the philosophy basically that time is always happening. So there are infinite instances of time always occurring at once. So you and I are having this conversation right now. There’s another instance of us having this conversation 10 seconds ago. There’s another instance of time of us having this conversation 10 seconds in the future. Generally, those three instances — you could literally say they’re all different universes in a way different timelines — are all the same. There are minute little fluctuations in each instance of time. So in you and I’s conversation, five times out of ten, I pick up and I say, “Hello.” And four times out of ten, I say, “Hey, nice to meet you.” And then maybe one time out of ten, I’d say, “Hey man, f— you. I don’t want to do this interview.”
And that’s just how time works. There’s always like different permutations and instances happening. The TVA has their own barometer, their own gauge of what constitutes a deviation from the baseline, the way it’s supposed to go. The way it went that produced He Who Remains. That is their baseline. And so they are constantly calculating, “Okay, we see how time has always...” If you zoomed in on the timeline, it wouldn’t necessarily look like a straight line. It might look like almost the intertwined strands of a rope fluctuating and spiking here and there. When it becomes a problem for the TVA is when, according to their own rules, when could something branch off in a way that it could actually produce a new timeline that could produce a new version of He Who Remains? That is the practical thing that they’re guarding against. Does that answer your question?
Yeah, I think it does. A colleague and I were constantly discussing these nerdy things during the show, and this was a big question we kept batting around. And we sort of came around to an explanation like this. So yeah, it makes sense to me.
I would say all that with the caveat of what’s important is what we’ve seen on the screen. These things can always ... you know, how does the TVA really work? We don’t really know. But that was generally the time travel logic we were operating under.
You mentioned He Who Remains. Was he always the plan for who would be behind the TVA? Or were there other possibilities that you explored?
In the comic, we always knew, like, “All right, the Citadel at the End of Time, that’s the endgame for any story with the TVA.” And we wanted to explore that. And then very early on, I started pushing for “Can this be a version of Kang? Is there a way to combine He Who Remains with perhaps a little bit of Immortus mythology?” Because it was just right there for the taking.
Similarly, were there any ... like, I’m imagining you guys writing the show a little bit like the TVA and the Sacred Timeline, where there’s all these potential branches you could go down, and as you develop the story you prune this one off and this one off. Were there any kind of major deviations from the final story that got cut along the way?
There’s always stuff. There’s a hundred different variants of the show, if you will, that existed at some point or another. But by and large, over the first three weeks our writers room laid out a blueprint for what the six episodes were. And it was: The first episode was Loki being interrogated. The second episode was the police work episode with Moebius. The third episode was always Loki and Sylvie on Lamentis coming together. The fourth episode was the conspiracy coming undone. The fifth episode was the Void or some form of it. And the sixth episode was the Citadel. And we had that, think, in week three. So we did plant those flags and then the devil’s in the details.
There were so many fantastic variants of Loki on the show. What was the process of determining which ones to include in the series?
President Loki was somebody we knew we wanted to have in there because it’s just iconic imagery from the comics and everything. Alligator Loki, as has been said, that was in my very first pitch with Marvel. Classic Loki, we knew that we wanted to have a version of Loki in that original outfit who had lived a longer life than Loki’s are meant to live. And then from there, it was just like looking online, looking through different comic art, what are the different, fun versions of this character? A lot of that was Kate [Herron], our director, just kind of working with the production team, coming up with some amazing-looking characters.
Then the season ends not with a post-credits scene but with an announcement that Loki would return for a second season. At what point during the writing process did you know that Loki would continue for another season?
I think that was something that developed organically. We always set out to tell a complete story. That was always my intention with this one. And at the same time I think that part of that complete story was the idea that Loki would continue on in the MCU one way or another. And so as the stars aligned, it felt like “Wow, you know we could really do a second season here.” It felt like a natural pivot.
I know you have a lot of projects you’re already working on. Are you going to be involved in Season 2?
[laughs] I do have a lot I’m in involved with. I guess that remains to be seen.
My last Marvel question is, because I know you’re working on the Doctor Strange film, how is writing a television series for Marvel different from writing a film for Marvel? Is the process different?
It’s different in the sense that writing any show is different from writing any movie If anything, it’s a more similar experience writing a Marvel TV show to writing a Marvel movie than it is what it usually is writing just any TV show to any movie. Because ultimately there’s interconnectivity and all of that. But I never approached Loki as if it was just a six-hour movie split up into chapters. I tried to really embrace the fact that it is television, and let’s make incredible cinematic TV. Um, but that ultimately each episode should stand on its own the way that I think great television does.
As a segue into Heels, I’m curious whether you consciously think about wrestling dynamics and storytelling in your writing. And I ask that because when I look back at Loki, you can sort of cast the story in wrestling terms. It’s a show about a heel slowly turning face.
Yeah, of course. I mean you could say he and Sylvie kind of pull a double turn at the end.
Like, we did the Bret Hart and Stone Cold thing with the two of them, which I'm very proud of. Yeah, absolutely, Look, when I grew up, wrestling is the first thing that I can remember watching on TV. It is part of my DNA as a storyteller. So I think, yeah, it’s in everything. That mythic rhythm of the broader stories that are told over weeks and over the course of the different matches. But also what’s amazing about wrestling is that every match itself is an individual story, with builds and with swerves and turns and everything. There’s such a symphonic nature to how it works. It is art to me and, yeah, it informs everything I do as a writer.
Was Heels inspired by any specific territories or promoters from history?
It was thinking back to a little bit of the NWA a little bit, all of that stuff. I was a WCW kid. I came along after all of the territories had really been gobbled up by Vince McMahon. So a lot of that stuff I consumed watching old VHS tapes. But just the industry and the characters, these larger than life people. There’s a line in the show where a character says “It’s all a ring.” And I think that’s something a lot of these guys, certainly back in the day, that was really held true. And so I just pulled inspiration from all the folks that I was really entertained by growing up.
I know you started working on the show a number of years ago. And just in the last few years, the world of wrestling has changed so much. When you started Heels, AEW didn’t even exist. Have any of the changes in the real world of wrestling affected your ideas for where Heels will go over time?
No, our show is about a small indie promotion dreaming of ultimately competing on the biggest stage in the same way that somewhere like AEW is trying to do now with some success. So, no, it hasn’t really changed. I sort of always saw that on the horizon — not because I’m a fortune teller, but it was just clear that with the internet and everything — now it’s like the playing field has been equalized. You can get a few GoPros and shoot an indie wrestling match and then stream it online on a YouTube page. And if you’ve got folks who really know what they’re doing, you can pull off of a production that doesn’t look that much worse than what the WWE is doing.
For so long, the barrier was just the sheer production quality. How could you ever match them? It’s interesting now where it’s like if there was ever a time where maybe somebody could rise up and say, “Yeah, maybe our arena isn’t as big. Maybe our camera isn’t quite as HD. But we’re going to tell the best stories, and we’re going to have the best performers.” And that’s what the characters in the world of Heels are trying to pull off.
I don’t know if you saw but there was just a show last weekend for an indie called GCW that trended on Twitter because of exactly what you’re describing: A great story where a former WWE wrestler got this incredible reaction beating the local, beloved champion.
It goes back to what I said at the beginning: Audiences are so smart now.
Audiences now have been conditioned by watching Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and shows that are not s—y. I just think that what we want out of storytelling now — in the same way that people are like, “Okay, it’s not enough to just go see an action movie or a superhero movie that just has cool explosions and everything. I want something with great characters and a great story.” It’s interesting, and this is something I tried to apply and in Heels, I think that same thing could hold in wrestling. That if we’re telling the best story and if we have the best characters, if our soap opera is the most compelling, then people are gonna tune in.
As we wrap up, I was just wondering, because I know they hire a lot of people from Hollywood — even Freddie Prinze Jr. was a writer there — but did you ever try to become a writer for WWE?
I did not, only because I was fortunate enough to break in in animation on Rick and Morty. That was my first gig. I think that I quickly would’ve maybe turned to that. I absolutely would have been interested. I have so much respect for those writers. I’m not even sure I could have done it, just the level of the sheer content they have to put out. It’s probably much more akin to writing for SNL or late night or something. It’s such a specific talent, I’m not even sure I could have done it that well, Wrestling writers are just geniuses.
Season 1 of Loki is streaming now on Disney+. Heels premieres on Starz on August 15.