Will nothing stop Tom Hiddleston’s geek-crush level from rising? After his striking, bright-eyed turns in a variety of films, from a cringe-inducing, well-meaning upper class chap in Archipelago, to F Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, he’s only gone and done it again with his darker, more troubled reprisal of Loki in The Avengers.
And, as if that’s not enough, last week he wrote an article for The Guardian, praising contemporary superhero movies as ‘the pinnacle of cinema’, modern-day equivalents of mythology and morality tales. This actor, it seems, is quite the believer in the power of the comic book movie.
At the Avengers press junket that same morning, we had the chance to quiz Hiddleston about the article, as well as his mould-breaking career so far, and the projects he has lined up in the future.
Do you feel quite lucky to have broken out of the well-spoken, prim British mould by getting the role of Loki? It’s certainly not the Jane Austen-y type of role usually given to well-spoken, classically trained Brits.
It was completely different. I hope that the person you see sitting in front of you… I’m not obvious casting for Loki. I don’t have long, greasy black hair. It was funny, because I think it took a while for Marvel to come around to the idea, too, because I initially auditioned to play Thor. That was what I was being considered for, because I’m tall and blonde and classically trained, and that seemed to be the mould for what Thor was, he was to be a classical character. And it was in my auditions. I owe this entirely to Marvel and their open-mindedness, they saw something that they thought was interesting. They saw some temperament that they liked.
It was one of those things where [Kenneth] really couldn’t have given it to me on a plate, it was just going to cost too much money. So the people who hold the purse strings need to make sure that the money is being spent properly. It’s a big movie, it’s a big blockbuster, that’s a lot of responsibility. So I auditioned and auditioned, just like Chris Hemsworth did, both of us. It took us both four months to get the roles.
But I knew I had an advocate in Kenneth Branagh, because we had worked on television together, we’d worked on stage. And that is really where we got to know each other. When you act with someone on stage, there’s no hiding place. You see who somebody is, you see what makes them tick. You see their process, their professionalism. It is a job that we do and Ken and I just really connected.
So I knew that he trusted me and I trusted him, and we had the same taste. We’re in this business for the same reasons, because we just love it. Love cinema, love acting, love stories and characters. So when push came to shove, and Marvel were thinking, I hope, that I was an interesting prospect, then Ken was probably able to say ‘you can trust him on this’.
Your recent article in the Guardian said that one of the defining qualities of recent comic book movies is the psychological depth given to the characters. Do you not think that’s more of a trait in the more serious DC movies like Nolan’s Batman, than in the Marvel flicks like The Avengers, which are a little more entertaining in a purely popcorn way?
I see what you’re saying. It all depends on who’s interpreting it, though. The Batman television series isn’t particularly deep, I don’t think. [laughs] That’s what I was really trying to say with my article. In my lifetime, I feel there’s been a paradigm shift in the way that superheroes are perceived. I think, before Christopher Reeve’s Superman, comic book superheroes were dismissable as very light, pulpy entertainment, as evidenced by the campery of all those TV shows. And then, in the last 20 years, they’ve become a much more serious business. They’ve become a mythology, which people have invested so much significance in. It’s such an imaginative metaphor for our world.
It’s a parallel universe, where people have superpowers and people can do crazy things, but they are our modern-day gods and monsters upon which we can project all of our hopes and dreams and nightmares. And so, the heroes are emblems of everything that we hope we are. They appeal to the best in our humanity. They are noble and courageous and generous and self-sacrificial and honest and good. It’s who we all hope we would be in a crisis. And then the villains are everything we’re afraid of. They are incarnations of our darkest instincts. Fear, jealousy, pride, vanity, arrogance, rage.
And, if it all were just philosophical and worthy, it would be immensely boring. So there’s a huge amount of energy and light put into it, as well, so that it becomes a very compelling form of entertainment. Because you can sit there with your bucket of popcorn and your can of Coke, and have a great time, and be taken on this rollercoaster, but it also feels recognisably engaging, in some way.
I think we need superheroes to be reminded of the primacy of generosity and kindness and humility. Even when I watched this film… I love Loki, but I’m punching the air when the hero’s winning. I’m clapping along with everybody else when I get Hulk smashed. There’s something really innately inherited, I think, about redemption. We all are just intensely moved by it. And superheroes offer that redemption narrative really cleanly, I think.
We’ve spoken a lot about superheroes and mythology, I’d like to ask about history, or specifically Shakespeare’s history plays Henry IV and Henry V. We’re going to be seeing you as both Prince Hal and King Henry later this year. What was it like building up to the role that Kenneth Branagh famously played?
He sent me this amazing email when he found out that I was playing Henry V, and actually doing all three, saying he’d heard about me doing the Henries, and just what amazing plays they are, and how much fun I was going to have. It was just a really, very generous thing to do, because obviously we’ve worked very closely together, and I think he believes as much as I do that Shakespeare is our greatest literary and dramatic asset. It’s our extraordinary inheritance, and it’s like an Olympic torch that you pass on from generation to generation. And if you get to play that stuff, you’re really fortunate.
The plays themselves came about because Sam Mendes asked to produce Shakespeare plays for the BBC. He said, “You haven’t done it for a long time, this is what the BBC should be for. And, it’s 2012 coming up, you’ve got a cultural olympiad that you’re banging on about, and I think Shakespeare should be part of it, so I would like to produce as many plays as you’ll let me produce”.
And so they said, okay, you can do four. He and his producing partner Pippa Harris produced Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. And I think they’re really apt, because they are state of the nation plays. They’re plays about this island. This sceptred isle. This jewel set in the silver sea. It’s the Olympics, and it’s 2012, and the world is watching. They just seemed very timely.
And you have an amazing character arc for that character, too.
Yeah. Well, he starts off as a completely rebellious wayward, drunken prince, who has no interest in any of his inheritance. And then he slowly sheds that skin, and becomes the greatest warrior king that England ever had.
You’re also in the new Jim Jarmusch movie, which sounds like a very different project altogether. What can you tell us about that?
It’s Jim Jarmusch, who’s an amazing filmmaker. Amazing man. I’m just at the beginning of my relationship with him, I’m just preparing it, really. I’m excited. I’m going to be working with Tilda Swinton and John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska. It’s called Only Lovers Left Alive. And it’s completely antithetical to The Avengers, in that it’s a very intimate, natural love story about two people who love each other and love history. And it’s an exploration of what happens between a man and a woman, and all the tenderness and complexity of that engagement. Except that the man and the woman happen to be vampires.
Tom Hiddleston, thank you very much!