Sionhan Synnot chats to Thor actor Tom Hiddleston on playing Loki, not giving away plot twists and returning to the stage.
Tom Hiddleston may be best known for playing the bitter brother Loki to Thor in the Marvel Studios movies, but unlike the Prince of Asgard, he has beautiful old school manners. “Ohh, oatcakes?” he says. “How lovely! I’m going to have one right now.” It’s a dour winter afternoon in London, and Hiddleston is holed up in a five star hotel room with an array of leaf teas but no sign of biscuits, so I have brought a pack of low GI treats.
“Haggis flavoured,” muses Hiddleston, as he checks out the packaging. “And yet ‘vegetarian-friendly’! It’s yummy, but one wonders where the flavours come from.”
Three years ago, when the 32-year-old son of a Greenock pharmaceuticals executive was announced as the evil sibling to Chris Hemsworth’s blonde norse god, many were asking where Hiddleston had come from, especially if they had missed his handful of TV roles in Wallander, Cranford and Casualty, or stage parts in The Changeling, Cymbeline and Othello. Back then, it was Rada classmates like Eddie Redmayne and Gemma Arterton who attracted star-making talk, and Hiddleston’s Wallander co-star Kenneth Branagh had to lobby Marvel executives to get them to consider casting an unknown in their blockbuster.
Originally, the lean angular actor was asked to bulk up and apply to play Thor, but fortunately for the forces of darkness, after his audition he was diverted to Loki. Using James Mason as his villain acting guide, Hiddleston’s Shakespearean putdowns proved a hit, prompting some reshuffling in the Marvel movieverse to accommodate more Loki in Avengers Assemble and now Thor 2. “A good villain is a character an audience can relate to,” he says. “Loki’s an unbalanced, anarchic villain but his motivations and psychology are accessible. But I still never expected him to be so popular.”
The rapturous welcome Hiddleston got for an appearance as Loki at San Diego’s Comic-Con in July has been an indication of the strength and devotion of his fandom, and his playful treatment of this new level of fame. “Say my name!” he commanded in character, and they did, loudly and enthusiastically. Over three appearances, Loki‘s personality has developed an arc. After seeing Thor, Joss Whedon pushed for a more feral villain in Avengers Assemble, and it turns out that when jetting from press event to press event, the Marvel actors and production team tend to toss ideas around their private jets about the future of their heroes and villains.
“I was quite vocal that after seeing Thor and Loki as antagonists in two films, we couldn’t just do that again,” he says. “And Chris was equally vocal about avoiding identikit scenes. Everybody pitches in ideas, so when I said ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to see them fight side-by-side?’, Kevin Feige of Marvel immediately said ‘yeah, let’s see how that works.’”
As the title implies, Thor: The Dark World has an angrier, grimmer setting for Loki’s third outing, but even though he spends a lot of time in galactic jail, Hiddleston still scores the best quips, steals scene and gets a smack in the chops from Natalie Portman, as Thor’s longtime love interest Jane Foster.
“The first five times, she faked the punch but eventually I said ‘Look, it’s OK just go ahead,’ So she clocked me on the jaw, quite painfully. It turns out she’s quite an athlete,” he says, with mock-ruefulness.
It’s got to the point that Thor without Loki feels like Tom without Jerry: but that scenario is now up for grabs. Disney recently announced that Loki would not appear in Avengers sequel Age of Ultron, and while a Loki spin-off has been mooted, the question hangs on Hiddleston being willing to pick up the gold-horned helmet again. “I’m very aware of the danger of overstaying my welcome,” he concedes. “It would be awful if people got bored with the character, and from where I’m standing, it’s very hard for me to tell because I enjoy playing him and finding new psychological details. I leave it to Kevin Feige, he’s expanding the Marvel Universe and with Guardians of the Galaxy just around the corner, he’s steering a fleet of ships at the moment. Loki’s place in that is uncertain, but I’ve had a really great time.”
Parting from the superhero world would remove Hiddleston from a certain level of fanboy scrutiny, where every quote is examined for clues to forthcoming film plots and character progress. “This time last year, there was a lot of pressure because we were shooting Dark World around the time of Avengers Assemble’s release.” he says. “People were impatient for details, and I just had to close down and say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you.’” The appetite for spoilers baffles him. Even when discussing Thor 2, a film we’ve both just seen, he’s wary that this feature might contain details that give away a plot twist: “I hate going into films and knowing what was going to happen.”
“I remember with Midnight in Paris, Woody was very keen before the film was released that nobody knew there was time travel in it. The trailer in Midnight only showed the modern world of Owen Wilson, Michael Sheen and Rachel McAdams wandering around Paris, and since Woody asked us not to talk about it, I couldn’t tell anyone ‘I’m in Midnight in Paris and I play F Scott Fitzgerald.’”
There’s another reason why Hiddleston may not return to the Marvel: roles are coming his way faster than a Loki-motive. He returns to the stage in Shakespearean mode with Coriolanus next month in London, has a biopic of the photographer Robert Capa, and a role in Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak in the works, and later this winter stars in cult director Jim Jarmusch’s languid vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. Hiddleston learned the violin and lute, and brushed up his piano and guitar skills in order to play Adam, a suicidal rock star with hints of Shelley, Keats, Byron, Mick Jagger and David Bowie, partnered over the centuries by Tilda Swinton’s Eve. “According to Tilda, Jim has been making vampire movies all his life. It’s just this is the only time we drink blood,” he says.
The film has been a passion project for Swinton and Jarmusch for ten years, but finance was always the stumbling block. At one point Michael Fassbender was set to play Adam, but withdrew. It says something about Hiddleston’s new bankability that his participation brought the deal back from the undead. The actor’s fan base - the Hiddlestoners - has grown exponentially since Thor and War Horse. Last month, when he landed in South Korea, hundreds came to Incheon airport, and 6,000 showed up in Seoul, where he bust some moves spoofing the local Spice Girls act, Crayon Pop.
The frugging, captured on YouTube, works well, especially since no-one expects a tall, pale classical Brit to be such an enthusiastic improvisational hoofer. “It’s organised flailing,” he grins. ”I didn’t learn any steps, I didn’t train - that’s my misspent youth in the 1990s, I have always loved dancing. When my sister got married in India, I missed the dinner because I was dancing. And Tilda has a line in Only Lovers that she wrote herself ‘Life is about appreciating nature, nurturing kindness, friendship - and dancing.’”
Thor: The Dark World is in cinemas now.