How Thor breaks down racial barriers in Asgard

Kenneth Branagh's Thor movie takes the idea of color-blind casting to a new level: Idris Elba, the charismatic British actor best known as Stringer Bell in HBO's The Wire, will play Heimdall, Odin's guardian sentry of Asgard, described in some texts as "the whitest of the gods."

Elba—whose film roles include 28 Weeks Later, RocknRolla and the upcoming The Losers—acknowledges the breakthrough.

"Yeah, casting now is taking definitely a more open-eyed approach to it," Elba said in a group interview on Sunday in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he was promoting The Losers. "I was cast in Thor, and I'm cast as a Nordic god. If you know anything about the Norse, they don't look like me, but there you go."

In The Losers, Elba also plays the part of a character drawn in the comic books as a white guy. Maybe Elba doesn't look like the artist's conception of Roque or Heimdall, but we think it's cool to have a multi-ethnic cast of Asgardians.

"I think that's a sign of the times for the future," Elba continued. "I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that's good."

Elba still strove to be faithful to the comic books. He favored the Marvel library over Norse texts in his research. "I looked at the comic books, actually, because Heimdall, he's a very central character, and I wanted to reflect him as he is in the comic books."

Thor is coming to theaters May 6, 2011.

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