Jon Mikl “Thor” has been many things: bodybuilder, nude waiter, musician, actor, manager, pizza guy… but above all he’s been a persistent person with a dream. His band and theatrical feats of strength achieved some success in the ’70s and ’80s, but following a series of unfortunate events, he’s spent the last couple decades trying to reclaim the glory he felt was prematurely taken away from him. In the early 2000s, filmmakers Ryan Wise and Alan Higbee met Jon as he was about to mount the first of many comeback tours. They decided to follow him on his journey, resulting in I Am Thor, a documentary about perseverance almost fifteen years in the making. We caught up with them following their world premiere at Slamdance in Park City, Utah last January.
Dork Shelf: Congratulations on your first big public screening. How did that feel?
Jon Mikl Thor: I cried, as did the others. It was a really tremendous experience, the emotion in the room along with the other viewers. I would say Ryan Wise did a phenomenal job with this film. We both felt like giving up a couple times over the fifteen years. We never gave up and there it is. The ovation was something just phenomenal. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life.
DS: How did you first meet Ryan?
JMT: After I broke up from my wife in North Carolina, I went up to Seattle to start a new life. Sold everything, sold the house. I wanted to get into something different so I thought I’d see what the pizza business was like. I was making pizzas, delivering pizzas, thinking one day I’m going to have a Thor pizza business, “Lightning fast delivery”. One of the guys working at the pizza place named Carl said hey there’s these guys who went to film school and are planning on doing some shorts, we know that you’re Thor and you’re trying to get back into things and you want to get back into films so I said I gotta talk to those guys. I went over to the rival pizza place, and there was Ryan and there was Al.
Ryan Wise: So we started talking. He’s a really nice guy and there’s no way you’d think he’s a ‘Thor’, this big gladiator character. He says we have a show tomorrow night with the new back up band and you should come. We’re like alright, I guess we’ll come to the show, sounds kinda weird but it’s gotta be interesting. We go and there’s a lot of costumes and stuff, it’s in a really small bar where there’s not even a stage really. All of sudden he runs out with all the stuff, and he’s just pumping up the crowd of 20 people, getting everybody into it and doing all the stuff like bending steal bars, blowing up hot water bottles, smashing bricks on his chest, doing all this stuff. It was just amazing, we were like what is this? This is awesome. Everybody was into it. We were just blown away. When he said he was going on tour in a couple weeks I was like well we have to follow you, we just have to film this.
DS: After shooting for about a decade, how did you know it was time to go into post production?
RW: He always said he was going to retire, I thought I was going to retire too because it was hard. I just moved down to L.A. and my car got stolen and set on fire, it was a tough business and we were both struggling with out careers but we would still film him whenever we could and follow him on these tours whenever we could, and follow him marrying a couple in a laser dome, all kinds of crazy things happening. I thought after the first tour we had something, but we didn’t, I was editing it as we went. After the 2009 tour, going back and really seeing the big shows and the big reactions, going back to where he started, where he was the biggest. After that we were like we got it, except for a few more interviews. That was the point where we were like we’re good, it’s been ten years.
DS: After that 2009 show when Jon said he’s giving retiring a 2nd thought, did you think to yourself, ‘god, this documentary is never going to end’?
RW: Exactly. He’s never retiring, he said he’s going to retire so many times, but he’s still playing this crazy tour so we gotta follow him.
JMT: You just can’t stop with this, and they got absorbed into it too, this “Thorness”, it just keeps on going. You’re all consumed by it.
DS: Was the film completely self-financed?
RW: It was all our own funds, me and Al, whenever we had money. Just doing stuff cheap like we would follow him on tour and sleep in our car and that was rough because we’d get hassled by police and hassled by other people, it was just very uncomfortable too. It was a struggle the whole time, but we had to keep filming it.
JMT: As I said ‘no pain, no gain’, and I put a lot of pain in this and now there’s been a lot of gain and my life is really incredible right now. Multiple businesses and a lot of things branched out from not giving up, so never give up, ever. Believe in yourself.
DS: How much footage did you amass by the end?
RW: Hundreds of hours, there’s so much stuff. There’s so much great stuff that we couldn’t fit into it that I’d like to do something with.
DS: When Anvil came out in 2008, were you worried that there was some overlap or similarities?
RW: Yeah, when Anvil came out I was like that sucks, it’s kind of the same thing. But this is different because Thor had done so many different things, not just music.
JMT: I think this is a totally different schtick, it’s a totally different project. None of the Anvil guys were superheroes, or thought they were superheroes. It’s over a longer span of years and it’s a different concept. We did different things. So the Anvil thing maybe has some relation in some way but overall it’s totally different. Everyone has a quest. Anvil has a quest, they always had a quest to be successful, whatever it took and I feel the same way. There’s is a story of an underdog coming to try to attain the championship, the same with me. I’ve had ups and downs, ups and downs, I’m still trying to get the holy grail, it’s like true life Rocky story.
DS: What’s on your Dork Shelf?
JMT: George Reeves Superman TV movies.
RW: I collect a lot of Thor footage, that’s my biggest collection lately.