Previous to Thor, Tom Hiddleston was mostly known for his TV work, but post-Thor, he’s been working like crazy and has three more picture due out this year – all with great directors. And then there’s The Avengers, which is also on his plate. And though Chris Hemsworth may be a star in training, it’s Hiddleston who walks away with the most interesting performance in Thor – no mean feat when your surrounded with Oscar winners like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. We got a chance to sit with Hiddleston and talk about this film and his impressive year. Check it out… We started by talking about the Diet Dr. Pepper I was drinking, which has Jamie Alexander’s Sif on it.
Is there one with your face on it?
Tom Hiddleston: I’ve got Cherry Dr. Pepper.
Did you have any say in that matter?
TH: No. (laughs)
With this film what’s great about your character is that you ride a line. You’ve said that villains don’t think of themselves as villains, and there are a lot of levels to your character, whether or not some actions are intentionally evil, or just serve a purpose that becomes more terrible. Did you always have a bead on that?
TH: Absolutely. One of the things we talked about was Iago – who was a real touchstone. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago is just annoyed that he’s been passed over for promotion in favor of somebody else, by the end of the play six people are dead because of him, and it’s not that he meant to destroy the lives of six people, it’s that he’s incredibly deft at improvising with situations and turning them to his advantage. I absolutely think that a massive strength of Loki’s. He’s like a chess master; he’s thinking six, ten moves ahead of everybody else. And I genuinely think at the beginning of the film he doesn’t mean to destroy Thor or Yodenheim, it’s only through what he learns in the course of the film – no matter how misguided his intentions – it’s fuel to his fire. The scene in the vault with Odin is a big deal, and the things that he finds out are the big dark secrets at the center of his soul, and that’s what sends him over the edge in a way.
Were there any sort of cinematic references? Was there anything you were trying to avoid?
TH: I remember skyping with Kenneth (Brannagh) when he was already in LA working on the film and I was still in London, and he said he wanted me to have a look at two performances. One was Peter O’Toole in the Lion in Winter, he plays Henry II with a degree of emotional volatility that is unpredictable. He’s capable of being incredibly charming and very dangerous in a second, and the second thing he said to take a look at that might seem left field is Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster. He said “I know these two are going to sound weird, and I don’t want you to copy them in any way, but I just want you to try to come to work with a layer of skin peeled away. Every time I point the camera at your face, I want to see your brain working like a ticker-tape machine, it’s just churning stuff out.” So that was an interesting handle on that.
Would you say Kenneth Branagh’s direction was like that normally, a lot of left field stuff?
TH: I think it’s his way of helping you get your arms around the part. Chris was given Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and Natalie Portman was given a book about a scientist who did a lot of research and was passed over for the Nobel prize when somebody stole her idea. And Ken says “It’s not going to give you the performance that I need, but it in some way informs the way you say one line or one look then I know it’s worked.” It’s his way of helping actors ground their performances into something relateable to them, instead of a bunch of in front of a green screen pretending to be gods.
You’re having what has to be one of the most amazing years in cinema. You’ve got a film with Steven Spielberg, you’re got a film with Terrence Davies, you’ve got a film with Woody Allen, was this the first?
TH: This was number one, yeah.
Did the others come from that? I’m guessing Woody Allen didn’t watch this film, but you never know.
TH: I don’t know if Woody is a big Marvel comic fan, I didn’t ask him actually. It was very strange, I went immediately from the end of Thor into the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, and then I was already doing my horse riding training for The War Horse before going to Paris for Woody and they’re all strangely interconnected. I haven’t said this on record, and I’m going to say it now. You get an exclusive. Every actor needs a break, and Kenneth Branagh has given that to me. Kenneth Branagh worked with Woody Allen on Celebrity, and I think when he found out I had been working with Ken that may have been some rubber stamp of approval that I was legit in some way. And when I met Steven, we talked about Kenneth a lot, and Steven expressed his admiration for Ken. And Ken really gave that to me, I think I’ll be eternally grateful to him. Thor wasn’t my first opportunity, but as Chris said, a year and a half ago he was knocking on door to get a chance to come and play, and people would say “you’re talented but not this time.” And Ken was the first man who said “Chris, Tom, up you come, come play with the big boys.” So I’m eternally grateful to him. They’ve all been so different, that’s the amazing thing. I’m playing the bad guy in Thor, and then in War Horse – to some extent – I play one of the heroes, I play a really decent upstanding Cavalry officer, and in The Deep Blue Sea I play an ex-RAF pilot in love with a woman, and it was about exploring the chemistry between man and woman, which I hadn’t done, and the Woody Allen I have to keep under my hat, because it’s a big surprise. It’s a really interesting surprise. But thank you for saying that about my year, because it has been amazing.
Well, it’s impressive, and Terrence Davies…
TH: Have you seen Distant Voices, Still Lives? A masterpiece.
How would compare working with an actor director like Branagh versus Spielberg? Can you tell the difference?
TH: Absolutely. When he’s asking me to go to some sort of emotional extreme, I know that he knows the challenges of doing that in a way, and the great enemy you have is self-consciousness. It’s almost like he’s going through it with you. Spielberg is so humble when he talks about acting, he says “I tried to be an actor, but I can’t do it. I defer to you. If there is ever a moment where what I’m asking you to do is not true, this is a European war, it’s a British, French and German story, and you’re playing the guy, and I trust you so let me know if I’m pointing you in the wrong direction. Which immediate makes me think: “Steven Spielberg is telling me that I can tell him to back off.” That doesn’t equate in my mind. But every director is different, and that’s the thrill of doing what we do. Woody writes his script and fine tunes it, and whittles it down, and then he expects you to shoot exactly what he’s written. The handle that Steven Spielberg has on storytelling, he’s steering a ship, and his mastery of keeping the audience in the exactly right place is extraordinary. The speed of creative execution is mind blowing. And Ken goes through it all with you. He is a director who has acted, so he pushes you that extra mile.
Did you talk to people who were adopted?
TH: I didn’t, I read an amazing book called “They Fuck You Up.” I don’t know if you know Phillip Larkin, a British Poet wrote it, and it goes:
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had,
And add some extra just for you.”
And the book takes its title from that poem, and it’s about the formation of the personality from the kind of parenting you get in the first ten years of your life, and he leans very heavily on nurture over nature in the big debate. “Are we who we are because of our nature, because of our genetic inheritance or are we who we are because of nurture?” And if all this sounds very pretentious, it’s just me trying to give a villain layers and I thought with Loki, he has questionable parenting. Who knows what happened in his infancy? Someone was talking this morning about rescue dogs, and sometimes you don’t strike it lucky and you’ve got a violent, angry dog on your hands because of what happened to them when they were puppies. I think when Loki was a puppy he went through some very serious damage, so that’s one of my touchstones for the character.
Thor hits theaters May 6, but you’ll be seeing a lot of Hiddleston shortly.