Marvel Avengers Assemble - Tom Hiddleston interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
TOM Hiddleston talks about revisiting the character of Loki for Marvel Avengers Assemble and what he believes makes the character tick.
He also talks about working with Joss Whedon, getting smashed by The Hulk and his career path to date, including the opportunity it has afforded him to work with some really interesting people and characters.
Q. What’s it like to get back into the Loki costume?
Tom Hiddleston: Metaphorically, it’s just such a privilege to be able to revisit a character that you’re already built and that you love playing. Working on Loki with Kenneth Branagh was one of the great experiences of my short acting career because we were synthesizing so many different resources… we were using the Norse myths, we were using the comic books, I was using his understanding of storytelling and Shakespearean characterisation and trying to bring that to bear. Together I think we built a character who is really cool and fascinating and complicated and it sort of worked with Chris Hemsworth and with Anthony Hopkins… we had a really wonderful time on it. And Joss Whedon loved it. He loved that film. He was so sweet about it. I remember at the end of that shoot Joss said: “I want you to be in The Avengers as well… And now that you’ve built this thing, we can take it on. We can evolve it and develop it and make Loki more menacing and more dangerous.” And that’s fun. It’s like a journey. So, I really enjoyed it.
Q. Do you see Loki as evil or tragic or both?
Tom Hiddleston: Well, I do sort of believe that in life all manifestations of evil usually come from an emotional place. They come from some kind of emotional heartbreak or some psychological damage. I’m not a psychologist and that’s probably for the best but I am interested in it. Part of the reason I’m an actor, and part of my joy and my curiosity about the job that I do, is that actors have the privilege of exploring human nature in different ways. My understanding of people who make bad choices that end up being construed as villains are people who are motivated by some kind of damage, or broken spirit. If you look at all of the villains in the course of human history, they’ve all believed, delusionally, in the virtue of their actions – every villain is a hero in his own mind.
Q. Does that make you something of a psychologist anyway?
Tom Hiddleston: I don’t want to be quoted as ‘Tom Hiddleston, psychologist says…’ But there is a psychological aspect to being an actor. We are particular students of human nature – not every actor is, of course, but that’s what fascinates me about being an actor. I have been allowed to inhabit different shades of human nature and different colours of truth, if you see what I’m saying, and different colours of truth in different circumstances. And recently just very, very different colours in very, very different roles, which is really nice… just back to back I played a very decent and very kind British officer in War Horse and then the next thing I did was go back to Loki. So, that was two completely different shades of humanity very close together and in a way that’s part of what fascinates me about the job of being an actor.
Q. So, what is the real reason for Loki to be so evil?
Tom Hiddleston: I think it comes from a lack of self respect and self-esteem, and I don’t think he’s aware of this. I don’t want to name names because I don’t want to draw too many direct comparisons but the history of Fascism is populated by people who need to subjugate other people and elevate their status and power to a level which is supreme. Usually, any psychological study of those people will reveal a sort of lost, damaged child, who is somehow heartbroken and doesn’t have any self-worth. So, I think that’s what it is with Loki. In Thor, you saw this character who is brought up to believe in his entitlement to a kingdom – that he was born to rule. But then he finds out that his whole life and his whole history of his geniality is a lie. And yet he still feels entitled to a kingdom, so he’s come to Earth to refashion the entire planet into his own personal kingdom. And also he’s the God of Mischief.
So, in terms of whether I believe in pure evil, I haven’t experienced enough of it to know, I suppose. I don’t think I’ve ever been face to face with pure evil, so I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with my own eyes. But I do understand human frailty and I do understand the capacity of people to be intermittently noble and virtuous and fallible. We all have the capacity to feel everything: we’ve all been jealous and angry and proud and vein, but we’ve also all been courageous and noble and kind and generous. So, I suppose my understanding of villains is that they’re just people who are infected by all of the darker instincts – that they haven’t got the discipline to make the right choices.
Q. Do you think you’re such a good villain because, perhaps, you’re not the obvious choice for one?
Tom Hiddleston: I don’t know. That’s not up to me. I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity because I think it’s expanded and opened up my range a bit within the business and the industry. When you’re starting out as an actor people are very interested in who you are because they want to know where they can put you. And quite often, and we’re all guilty of this is our lives, we judge very quickly and we pigeon-hole people very quickly based on how they look and how they talk and how they dress and we think: “Oh yeah, we know who you are.” But actually, everyone is more interesting than that but it just takes a while to show people.
But the actors who I’ve grown up respecting are the ones who consistently surprise people and who are interested in playing away from home. My acting heroes are Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman and Ralph Fiennes… you know, Robert Downey Jr is a huge hero. I think people who essentially are expanding their experience into the roles that they’re playing… Daniel Day-Lewis is particularly a sort of beacon I’ve been following for some time. For God’s sake, I’m not even in his league but he inspires me because he’s not interested in playing himself; he’s only interested in playing other people and the whole thing is like an adventure for him, it seems to me. It’s some kind of spiritual exploration, which is an amazing, noble thing.
Q. What was it like to be built up by The Hulk?
Tom Hiddleston: Physically, that was quite intense because in that moment Mark Ruffalo wasn’t there. Mark performed The Hulk in motion capture but all of his motion capture performance was recorded at the studios of ILM in San Francisco. So, he was performing with a dummy doll the action of smashing Loki repeatedly on the floor. And when I was on set, I was just on my own. So, I was in dialogue with and shouting at a mark of tape on a box and had a wire attached to my ankle and was pulled away. I actually was then throwing myself to the floor, which is basically an act of lunacy [laughs].
Q. How was that experience for you?
Tom Hiddleston: Kind of painful [laughs] but fun! It’s all in the name of entertainment, though, and it gives me such pleasure that that is one of the biggest laughs of the night. Last night at the premiere it got a round of applause. I knew the more arrogant and hubristic I was, the more funny it would be. There’s nothing better as an actor than making people laugh… there’s no more satisfying feeling.
Q. Did you find it extra challenging making your character standout amid so many superhero characters?
Tom Hiddleston: I didn’t really think of it like that. I just thought about playing the character. And Joss Whedon had written it so beautifully. He’d written a character with such depth and charisma that I wasn’t worried about standing out. There were days when I thought I really had to bring my A game because the one thing I was worried about was being villainous enough and evil enough to justify all of these heroes coming together. But that’s just discipline.
Q. When you dreamt of becoming an actor as a child, I’d imagine it wasn’t so much about performing Shakespeare on the stage and more about playing someone like Loki? Did you have a superhero as a real hero as a child?
Tom Hiddleston: Christopher Reeve as Superman… I just worshipped him. That film is still amazing, you know. I’ve never told this story before but the weekend before my screen test for Thor I went to the local movie rental store in Santa Monica, where I was staying, and I rented Richard Donner’s Superman just because I thought if there’s one performance… I had the dialogue and stuff and I thought it was quite theatrical and stiff, so how do I make it real and fly and sing?
So, I thought that if there’s one actor that really nailed it, it was Christopher Reeve as Superman. So, I went and watched it again and it’s amazing. The effects obviously are not at all… the technology has moved on. But the story is so tight and the performance is so sweet and so endearing, I still believed in it. Christopher Reeve is amazing in that performance.
Q. You’ve since gone on to play Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Was that a weird shift to make?
Tom Hiddleston: It wasn’t funnily enough because artistically I was kind of excavating the same material. The plays of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V are about the nature of kingship and the weight of responsibility and the running theme can be summed up in one of Henry IV’s lines: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Hal is rebellious and immature and he’s got to kind of shrug off the skin of his adolescence and understand what responsibility means and kingship and fathers and sons and being a man. Strangely, that’s really what Loki is all about and the relationship between Thor and Loki. It feels odd and it will look completely different, of course, because the Henry plays were shot like a medieval drama… we’re all chain mail, on horses with swords and snow. It’s the British winter. So, it’s nothing like The Avengers. But as an actor I felt like I was excavating the same kind of ground.
Q. And you grow up to be Kenneth Branagh?
Tom Hiddleston: [Laughs] Well, who knows! I grow up to be Henry V. But he’s been very, very kind. When he found out I was doing them he emailed and said: “I heard you’re doing the Henrys, you’re going to have the best, best time. Good luck. They’re so lucky to have you. I can’t wait to see them.” So, it’s nice. I feel like I have his blessing.
Q. When did you choose to become an actor?
Tom Hiddleston: It took place over the course of a year. I did lots of acting at school but I didn’t ever have the confidence to ever dream it up as an ambition. In 1999, I was 18-years-old, and I was in a production of the First World War play Journey’s End, which was set in the trenches. It’s by RC Sherriff and it’s amazing. It’s one of the greatest literary documents of the First World War. I was kind of the same age of the character I was playing, the captain of the company who was probably 19 or 20 and he was ruined. He was someone who had been captain of the cricket team and captain of the rugby team and he’d enlisted and he’d been captain of the company, but the First World War had completely destroyed his soul and he was an alcoholic.
He was still an impeccable leader but also somebody that had been completely destroyed by the horrors of warfare. I had no emotional experience to play this part. But we took it to the Edinburgh Festival and it just resonated with audiences and was a huge success. The production was a big hit in a way that none of us had anticipated… and that was when people that I trusted and loved – my family and my mum and my sisters and friends of mine – came up to see it and they all said: “That was really good, you could really do this if you wanted to.”
I then went up to Cambridge University and it’s such a hotbed of talent up there, there’s such an amazing theatre scene, and everyone’s aware that people who have started at Cambridge have gone on to great things, such as Sam Mendes, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, Peter Cook, Simon Russell Beale, Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi. I thought I’d do as much acting as I can and, in my second term, I was spotted by an agent in London – Emma Thompson’s agent in fact – and then I was off and working. So, I think that was when I thought: “Here I am, this is what I’m going to do!”
Q. How is life for you when you’re not in front of a camera or on stage? Is London still home?
Tom Hiddleston: Yeah, London is still home. I live in London, all my stuff is in London, my family and friends are still here. But it’s amazing. I’ve had the amazing fortune of travelling a lot at the moment. I go where the work is. I always wanted to see what America was like. I had that curiosity in my 20s when I was working in the theatre here… there was the mystery of LA and I wondered what happened over there. I wanted to go and check it out and I’m pleased that I have. So, in a way I’ve seen behind the curtain… I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz!
Q. Was it what you expected?
Tom Hiddleston: It was… yes and no. It’s an incredibly optimistic place. It is a place where people go to make things and that’s not just actors but cinematographers and production designers… It’s a great place to be an artist and artist isn’t a dirty word. People really believe in it. But of course a lot of that sunshine thinking is empty and sort of elusory. But there are people with real substance. It’s a real place of opportunity. I love the weather and the outdoors lifestyle and the fact you can have quite a healthy life and be creative. But I like a mixture of both. Whenever I come back to London, which is home, I get that cosy, comfortable feeling of being home, as well as the sophistication of this city. It’s funny because when you jump back and forth a lot you realise how different the two continents are… America and Europe are so different in the way they conceive of themselves and art and cinema.
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