Some grow up loving stories and some grow up writing them—Michael Waldron grew up doing both.
Most recently, audiences have seen screenwriter and producer Waldron’s work with Marvel’s latest show ‘Loki,’ the hit Adult Swim series ‘Ricky and Morty,’ and will soon see his latest one-hour drama series ‘Heels,’ premiering next month on Starz. But all of this came to fruition through a fascination with story-telling and ultimately a look into what makes characters and people tick.
“It came from a love of movies and I guess a love of storytelling,” says Waldron when talking about his career. “For as long as I could remember, even when I was playing with action figures as a little kid, I couldn’t just dump my action figures out and have them pretend to fight each other. There had to be a conflict, and [I would wonder] what’s this conflict about? So, eventually, I figured out maybe I could use that as a career.”
Waldron got his start on the first season of ‘Rick and Morty’ through an internship that he learned about from a classmate at Pepperdine University. From there, he built a relationship with show co-creator Dan Harmon and eventually got to work on the fifth season of the hit show ‘Community.’
“That was cool because Dan let me be in the writer’s room with them,” says Waldron. “That was my first real professional exposure to it all.”
From there, Waldron landed a role in what virtually has become the most popular franchise of all time in pop culture—The Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a fan of the superhero world himself, Waldron was excited to take on the role of head writer for the Disney+ series ‘Loki,’ which follows the title character on his own adventure after the events of ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’
“Marvel continues to evolve and it felt like you saw how Marvel was not just making superhero movies, but they were taking chances,” he explains. “I remember seeing Black Panther and Ragnarok at the Dome in Hollywood and being like holy sh*t…there’s not a cooler movie experience than this. So, obviously, a chance to be a part of that world was really exciting.”
Waldron says Loki was a character he was always particularly drawn to, partially because of Tom Hiddleston as an actor. As a writer, he knew he could go to really cool and dramatic places with an actor having those chops. In ‘Loki,’ fans see Hiddleston’s character embark on a new adventure involving something called the Time Variance Authority, which you guessed it, involves time travel. But the story is in a category of its own.
Firstly, audiences get to see a different side of Loki—one where he is examining why he does what he does. The mask of a snarky, cocky counter-part to his brother, Thor, starts to melt away and a question is posed in the series: Are bad people really all bad, and are good people really all good? That idea is examined through Owen Wilson’s character Mobius, who works for the TVA and establishes a relationship with Loki and Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie, who Loki begins to gain some affection for.
“He’s a fun kind of rascally villain but has a real vulnerable and emotional core. So, it felt to me like a character really uniquely suited to do what felt like a really great prestige TV show about,” explains Waldron. “Obviously, the show is a deconstruction of a villain. Why does this guy do what he does? What makes him tick? What is his trauma? What are the insecurities that would drive him to do these things? That’s what Mobius, Owen Wilson’s character, is trying to uncover in the first episode. That felt like really rich ground to cover for us. Beyond that, with the love story, the question the show poses is can you change? Are we who we are meant to be and is that who we will always be or can we change, and what can make us change?”
The series is one that involves some notes from previous Marvel chapters, but it really does go into a story that is compelling, one that anyone could watch, even Waldron’s grandfather—”And he did,” says Waldron.
‘Loki’ investigates what exactly it means to change, and through that exploration of identity, there are other characters around him that equally are going through their own inner struggles—all under the guise of a sci-fi adventure that has twists and turns at every corner. And although Waldron’s other upcoming show, ‘Heels’ is set in the “real world” involving a small-town wrestling family in Georgia, it holds similar themes to ‘Loki.’
“It’s a story that’s pretty similar to Loki in that wrestling is your identity with family legacy and with the idea of can I change who I am? I think great television is stories about characters becoming aware of how they’re flawed and perhaps why—and it’s up to them whether or not they change,” he explains.
Waldon first wrote ‘Heels’ while working on ‘Rick and Morty’ in 2013-2014.
“It was the script that launched my career,” says Waldron. “It got noticed by my potential representatives and got me that first round of meetings with people around town.”
In 2016, the script was sold to Starz and then in 2017, they ordered a writers room and even wrote a chunk of the first season. But when it came to casting, the show at that time didn’t quite come together and it got shelved. Waldron then went on to work on ‘Rick and Morty’ in 2018 and then in 2019, he was running ‘Loki,’ and that’s when Starz reached out again and said that they were ready to revisit ‘Heels.’ They brought on showrunner Mike O’Malley, who became his partner to launch the show years later.
“It’s crazy the winding roads it takes, it paid off for me and then some. To see it get made is just a nice cherry on top,” says Waldron.
With ‘Heels’, Waldron does what he does best: Write about the human spirit and the questions that formulate during pivotal moments in our lives, much like with ‘Loki.’ And even though it’s set in vastly different circumstances, it does comes down to the storytelling to input those ideologies.
“The world of wrestling is interesting because it’s such a binary form of entertainment and every match there is quite literally a good guy and a bad guy,” says Waldron. “It’s very clear who the audience is shooting for and who they’re not. It’s interesting, in the world of these wrestlers they get to step in and play these parts that are again, very binary, but what they carry into the ring with them every night is the much more complex grey area real-life struggles of exactly what Loki says: Nobody bad is ever really truly bad and nobody good is ever truly good. So, it’s just an interesting thing that if you’re the bad guy in the ring, does that mean you’re a bad guy outside of it? If you’re a good guy in the ring, does that mean you’re a good guy outside of it? What are the parts that we play and the parts that we want to play say about who we are and who we wish we were?”
Well, we’re about to find out.
‘Loki’ is available to stream on Disney+ and ‘Heels’ is set to premiere on Starz Aug. 15.