Tom Hiddleston on The Evolution of Loki: From Villain to Hero and Back

The God of Mischief has gone through a lot of changes since making his debut in 2011’s Thor.

Tom Hiddleston in Loki
Photo: Marvel Studios

After playing the cosmic superbeing and anti-hero Loki for a decade in six Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, actor Tom Hiddleston says he was “surprised, delightedm and in some ways completely thrilled” by the notion of continuing to personify the God of Mischief in the new Marvel/Disney+ series Loki.

“When I first started playing the character, I did a lot of research,” Hiddleston tells Den of Geek. “And the thing I realized at that time was the character has so much range and contains all these different characteristics sometimes which contradict each other. I loved what Marvel Studios had invented as a context for exploring and externalizing some of these things that he’s always contained.”

In Loki, an earlier version of the character than the one we have seen in recent years manages to escape the custody of the Avengers in 2012 with the help of an errant Infinity Stone. But he inadvertently creates an alternate timeline by doing so, bringing him to the attention of the extra-dimensional bureaucracy known as the Time Variance Authority, who are charged with keeping the timeline secure.

“I think the TVA, the institution that claims to govern the order of time, is a fascinating place to put Loki,” says Hiddleston. “Loki represents chaos and mischief and transgression and disruption, and he’s playful and charming and can be very dangerous. To have these two forces of order and chaos meet in the middle is really exciting.”

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We first met the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Loki, God of Mischief and member of the royal family of Asgard, in 2011’s Thor. He was a loyal brother to the title character and a dutiful son to Odin, ruler of the Nine Realms.

But doubt and ambition began to quickly chip away at Loki, especially once he found out he was not a true Odinson but the child of Laufey, leader of the Frost Giants, taken by Odin after the last major war between the Asgardians and the Giants.

Feeling hurt, betrayed and passed over in favor of the full-blooded Thor, Loki schemed to align himself with Laufey and his people, bring down Thor and Odin, and rule Asgard himself.

Defeated at the end of Thor, Loki survived a plunge into the void of space and aligned himself with the Mad Titan, Thanos, gaining possession of the Tesseract, vessel for the Space Stone, and leading an army of Chitauri to invade Earth in 2012’s The Avengers.

Although he was beaten back by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in that epic battle, Loki would appear in four more MCU films — Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Over the course of the first three, he would gradually evolve from a complex villain into an anti-hero of sorts — fighting once again alongside his adopted brother — and finally into a hero who sacrificed himself in a doomed, fatal bid to stop Thanos.

But it’s in Endgame that a trip back to 2012 by several Avengers goes astray and allows that version of Loki — the still unrepentant trickster who just tried to conquer Earth — to snatch the Tesseract and vanish into space and time. So the Loki we meet in the new series is not the regretful and ultimately noble warrior who gave his own life in Avengers: Infinity War.

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“I had to un-stitch some of the evolution that Loki had gone through in The Dark World and Ragnarok,” says Hiddleston when asked about resetting the character back to an earlier stage in his development.

“It was kind of like time travel in its own way, because I was going back to a time when I performed the character again in a particular context, in the first Avengers movie,” Hiddleston elaborates. “It was really interesting, because obviously Loki hasn’t lived through the successive evolution, but I have. I actually have real memories of doing those things. It was a really curious day at work.”

For director Kate Herron, who is guiding Loki’s progression as a character through all six episodes of the series, picking up with the God of Mischief as he was nine years ago was a “unique opportunity.” She explains, “I’ve loved Loki’s arc over the last 10 years of Marvel. I just was so pleased that I got to be the one that goes back in with him.”

Herron continues, “But he’s from Avengers, so he’s in a very different emotional head space. A really cool question I wanted to explore in the show was, is anyone truly bad or truly good or in that gray area in between? I feel Loki lives in that gray area so often for so many of the films. That to me was really exciting — can he move past decisions that he’s made in his past or will he always be defined by them?”

Although Hiddleston has had other successes on the stage, TV and in the movies — including hits like The Night Manager and Kong Skull Island — Loki remains his breakout role and, for millions of fans, the one that defines the actor in pop culture. But even after inhabiting Loki for more than a decade (and perhaps more to come), Hiddleston is careful to separate himself from the character.

“I can tell you, I am not an iconic character from ancient Norse myth,” he says with a laugh. “That’s not one of the strings in my bow, as it were. (But) I found him such a fascinating character and I understand that he means a lot. He means a great deal to a great number of people and that something he represents is something that’s part of the experience of being alive. He is unpredictable and spontaneous and playful, but he’s also emotionally complex and there’s some fragmentation there.”

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As for the appeal of Loki, Hiddleston adds, “I think his kind of chaotic energy is something that people are drawn to, as well as his vulnerability at the same time. Tricksters in all mythologies occupy this position, that you can’t ever pin them down. You can’t put them in a box or categorize them. It has been a real honor to step into those shoes for the time that I’ve been able to do it. Loki will live on in the minds of human beings for some time, I think, and I’m just a temporary passenger.”

Loki is now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes premiering every Wednesday.