Set Visit: Thor Interview with Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston in his Loki outfit on the set of THOR is an imposing figure to behold. He's slender, but he's tall. And he wasn't even wearing the trademark helmet!
Hiddleston is also no stranger to director Kenneth Branagh. The two have worked together on stage as well as in the British made-for-TV war drama CONSPIRACY. Hiddleston talks at length about Branagh, a creative figure you can tell he truly admires and respects.
How did you get the part of Loki?
So yeah, I was told I was being tested for the role of Thor and I had half a day, so in mid-March last year I came in and met producer Craig [Kyle] and met Ken and did a test for Thor with Thorís blonde wig and facial hair and twenty pounds extra muscle which I managed to find somewhere. And yeah, then I think it was about a month later that I was back in London and Ken and Craig and Kevin called and said, I just want to let you know that we have definitely and definitively found someone else for Thor. I was like, oh okay. But weíd like to offer you the part of Loki. At which point I screamed and had to sit down on the pavement somewhere outside of a grizzly pub in North London and think about the rest of my life for a bit. Contemplate my existence. So thatís how I got the part, yeah.
Did your history with Ken play into that?
Youíd have to ask him. Itís thrilling to work with him and to be directed by him because Iíve only ever acted alongside him and in very different things. And I think, initially, I probably felt like I was understood and he knew what I could do, so I suppose I didnít feel nervous about meeting him or acting in front of him in any sense. I was just ready to go. Jump straight in. Take risks. Be as big and broad and wrong... and risk being wrong basically knowing that he would steer me in the right direction if I was. So it certainly has given me a greater freedom, I feel because I feel like I am sort of... I can cook up whatever my instinct is cooking up and he will just say a bit less of that. A bit more of this. Itís a thrill. Itís a great privilege to continue to work with an actor that way, to keep a relationship going and moving, you know?
Go back to that moment where you found out you got Loki and you had this reaction. Was that a thank God I got something in this movie or was that just really the part you felt most comfortable with?
Well itís funny because I knew I was being considered for both. Craig tells a story that actually I was always going for Loki, itís just that I didnít know that. And Ken had intimated that he was looking for someone as the role of Thor was beginning to emerge on the page, he was looking for someone with a raw and physical intensity, that the actor playing Thor had to have a physical instinct that was immediately present and readable. He knew I could do that but it wasnít the first thing that came to mind. And he was very flattering about what I have and what my kind of gifts are as an actor and that maybe theyíd be better suited in a slightly more psychologically complex role that was less about the physicality and more about the machinations of his brain and whatís going on and speaking English badly Iím sure.
Could you talk a little bit about the journey? How the character's being played in the film?
Well weíre starting at the beginning I start in the film as Thorís younger brother and I think in the manner of all younger brothers I have a greater sense of freedom. Iím not the oldest therefore the parental expectations arenít as heavy, so itís like a lot of younger children in sibling groups. I think Loki has a bit more freedom. Heís not going to be king. He knows that. And so heís freer to... he has less responsibility on his shoulders so heís freer to have a bit more fun. And I think like everybody at Marvel has been very clear and brilliant about coming into this that Loki just has... theyíre both enormously gifted. Thor and Loki are a two-man team and theyíre both going to run Asgard when Odin steps down, and Thor has an ability and a physicality and a presence - a physical presence that is... heís the type of man you follow. You just do. In the same way they used to talk about all the leaders and the captains and the generals that came out of both World Wars that those captains and generals werenít necessarily elected just in battles. There were certain men who were followed. You know, leaders were born and Thor is that guy. And Lokiís gifts are different in that he is sharper, heís cleverer, heís more interested in tactics and strategy. Heís capable of thinking ahead and he enjoys chaos. So he enjoys reacting to chaos and that affects how given that heís the God of mischief. Mischief is essentially chaos. He likes stoking the fire of chaos and seeing what happens as a result. And so I think thatís where we start in that heís just physically not as strong, but he's quicker, sharper, more playful and then I think over the course of the story and I canít say the full story, but there is a kind of... a couple of major shocks about Loki and his history and who he is and why he is. Heís made aware of for the very first time in the films. There are certain things that fans of the comics will already know, but hopefully you see Loki learn certain things about himself for the first time. So itís a journey of self-awareness. He doesnít, at the beginning of the film, know his own power and I think through the course of the film he comes to learn his true nature and the extent of his power. But with a propensity for mischief, I think, as soon as he knows how powerful it is, thatís when it becomes dangerous.
We got to play with some of those fantastic weapons, how have you learned to wield them?
Itís been fascinating actually. And one of the first things I did when I came on board was that we started with stunt training. And we thought like what is... itíll be boring if Thor was a tank. Itíd be boring if Loki was another tank and they were just running into each other. So we thought if Thor is thunder and power and muscle and brawn and heís got his hammer, Loki should be like... he should be so quick heís like the wind. So if Thor is heavy, Loki is light. We thought what would be the weapon that Loki would be fighting with? So we thought throwing knives... because I think Loki doesnít like to get his hands dirty in a fight. He likes to be quick, efficient and lethal. Itís like one blow - slam. So we thought it would be throwing knives. And I thought if there was a way... if Loki could fight in a way that was as impressive as Thorís, but was completely different so in a way Loki is too quick and Thor canít catch him, you know? I kind of conceived of Loki as a kind martial artist with these throwing knives. Someone whoís like a dancer. He dances his way out of combat and these knives are his way of keeping his foes at arm's length but itís lethal. When you get one of those knives in, youíre gone. I had a great time actually, we were shooting on another set shooting a bit battle sequence. And the set was made of this stuff. It looked hard but it was soft. It was foam. And my stunt knives were rubber so they didnít like take out the grip or the camera operator. But we found like... Iíd always throw them and Russell Bobbitt, the Props Master, would always go and retrieve them for me for the next take. And he couldnít find one of the daggers and we were like looking all over the set for this dagger. And Iím like where the hell did it go? And like about half an hour later weíd thought we lost it somewhere in the green screen. And he said, Tom, and he pointed up and this rubber knife was stuck clean into the set, so I knew I was throwing them with some kind of velocity.
Can you talk about sort of how heavy and cumbersome or difficult is it acting with this giant horned helmet?
The horns. The horns are amazing. It was the last thing I got to try on when I did the costume fittings and for me it was the most important thing because I read all the... as soon as I got the part I had nine months to prepare. I read all the comics. I read right away through the history of their... that the journey of the stories and everything and the different illustrators and the different writers and I thought that the horns are... itís like Spider-Manís suit. Loki isnít Loki without those horns on. And initially we were fitted and it was kind of a conversation as to how much does it cover his face? How much does he use them as like a weapon or is it just a statement of intent? Itís like kind of a representation of his soul in some way like back off because Iím dangerous. And it has been... weíve had to work with it because they are very heavy. And because my ears are closed off, I canít hear very well. And it becomes quite claustrophobic so I have to kind of... itís a strange thing acting in it but I know it looks so good because Iíve seen it in playback, so itís worth it. And I read a story about Christian Bale complaining about the Batsuit and saying like Iím trying not to complain because I get to be Batman. So Iím trying not to complain about the horns because I get to be Loki, you know?
Marvel has said that youíre going to factor into THE AVENGERS. Is that affecting your performance or your thoughts at all these days?
I may... I may not. I know in the comics I do. Hoping I will. I genuinely know nothing. I havenít seen a script. Kevin mentioned it way back. He said, you know, thatís pretty exciting. But I think itís a long way off.
Does it affect your thoughts at all that maybe you could do this performance a second, third, or fourth time? Did you bring any bread crumbs or anything like that?
Yeah, I feel that way certainly. I havenít started... I can tell you this for free. I donít start the film with him like immediately gone to the dark side. I think itís good to see that Loki is genuinely Thorís brother and there is a complicated relationship there. So that it isnít just like... he isnít just an out and out villain. He isnít all black. He isnít someone who the audience can immediately say 'heís the bad guy' because I think itís more interesting if... because no character in real life or in comic books or any play or film or anything, nobody thinks theyíre a villain. You always think thereís a complete logic to what youíre doing and you know whatís best and you know whatís right. And I think itís really interesting to see Lokiís actions from his perspective and heís just someone who becomes more and more damaged by, I think, a sense of isolation from his family and a sense of... itís kind of a deep loneliness. I think when the world makes you feel rejected, you bite back. And I think over the course of the film thatís what you see in Loki. He feels continually cast out by different sets of people and his brother particularly and at a certain point heís pushed too far and he comes back with a vengeance.
A lot of the actors have been talking about working with Ken. Shakespeare is definitely a touchstone. Is that something thatís come up working with him?
Iíve talked to him very much about subtlety because I donít want to do any eyebrow twitching or mustache twiddling. I donít want to do sort of like a charactatured villain. Iíve tried very much to make Loki psychologically plausible. Someone whoís damaged and very, very intelligent and is able to sow the seeds of deceit. Like heís the Oscar-winning liar, you know? Heíd stand up there and you buy it. Youíd buy anything from him. Heís the perfect salesman. Because my background is Shakespeare as well, Iíve done a lot of Shakespeare in London and Yargo is kind of a touchstone for me. 'Edmund' in King Lear, if you know that story. But I draw my inspiration from all over the place. Iíve been listening to lots of the Prodigy. Like there was an album they released in the 90s called Music for the Jilted Generation, which has a real rage in it. It has a real kind of like donít piss me off because Iíll bark at you. And I find myself listening to that sometimes. And there are some great performances. Ken talked a lot about some of Peter OíTooleís greatest performances and how in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or THE LION IN WINTER he is on the edge of darkness. Heís on the edge of sanity. You can see it in his eyes that heís been pushed to the brink and youíre not sure if you can trust him because thereís a madness in there, you know? A greatness, too and a charisma and a power that you want to get close to and you want to see inside, but itís a little bit dangerous. And so Iíve been trying to kind of... I drive to work every morning and I try and light some kind of bonfire under myself which is adrenalized and hot and alone. Itís a strange feeling when youíre playing a character that feels so alone.
What about Branagh's 'Iago'?
I didnít look at it actually. Iím lucky enough to be in the production Othello so I know the play very well, but itís... I hope and I believe that when the film is out that there will be a real sense of you just wonít be able to tell when heís telling the truth and when heís not. And I want people to be like 'is he lying?' And then later I think I hope that if people watch the film for a second time, theyíd be like... I canít believe he did lie, you know because a lot of the time heíll do something and all of the other characters in the story have no idea the depth of what heís doing. Like heís sown in seeds so deep and so invisible that if the super hero detective came in and tried to look for fingerprints, he just wouldnít find any.
Are there certain iconic gestures or poses from the comic book that youíre trying to use? When you think of Loki, you always think of him kind of slouched in the throne and brooding.
Yeah, thatís definitely like... I recall that Ken talks about the racing mind. He said I want to see... he said every time I put the camera on your face, I want to see your brain going at the speed of light. But I donít want anyone else in the scene to see it. So this is a very private thing of like someone whoís just thinking ten steps ahead of the game every time, but not making it so obvious that itíd be like guys, somebody look at Loki because heís cooking up something. Bad ass, you know? But I do feel like heís a sort of person who never sleeps. His brain never stops working. And heís always cooking up something. Youíre never quite sure if you can trust him and... what was the question again?
Were there certain...
Yeah, facial expressions. Certainly thereís this fantastic shot of me on the throne where itís like straight out of that sort of iconic image where heís got the staff and heís slouching in it. Heís like, got a problem with that? You know? But yeah, I guess as an actor I start from the inside out. Like the costume is enormously helpful but I always think like what makes him tick? What is human about this character? I donít want to play a cipher. I look at someone who is damaged, broken, alone, isolated from his family, doesnít feel like he belongs, someone whoís been lost, abandoned. And there are psychological tropes for those things, you know? And you see the lost and damaged and abandoned children of our world. Itís no accident that they grow up to fill our prisons, you know? And thatís kind of who Loki is. Heís just really clever, you know? So heís good at hiding his own intents I think. So I think the process of living through those emotions or feeling so angry with people because they donít trust him. And feeling angry with Thor because he gets everything. Heís the favorite son. I think just the process of living inside that anger, that rage, that hurt every day creates an intensity on my face which Iím not aware of. So itís not like Iím creating expressions but absolutely thereís a kind of a raw intensity that Ken said from the word go he said I want to see you every day with a layer of skin peeled away. I want to see that ticker tape machine inside your head like working at thousand miles per minute. Yeah, itís great man!
Jamie [Alexander] was telling us earlier that she closely modeled her accent after yours and used you as a sort of reference point. Is that something that you were aware of?
No actually itís not. Itís not. I think... I donít even know what my accent is, you know? Obviously it sounds very English but yeah, Iím flattered that they have. I think thereís something about, and this turns into what you were saying, youíre portraying gods and how do the gods speak without sounding ridiculous, you know? Because you want to be accessible but at the same time you donít want to be like hey, can I get a venti cappuccino, you know? It needs to be kind of... you need to believe that theyíre gods and theyíre old gods. And I think itís kind of standard and classical English does the job in some sense. I donít know why that should be, so I guess Iím...
The way youíre describing the character, it almost sounds like if the movie had been made 20 years ago, it would have been played by Kenneth Branagh.
Maybe. Yeah the first time I heard Ken tell me he was directing the film, I was on stage with him playing a Russian doctor with a goatee and a pair of wire rimmed spectacles wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch. And I picked up an empty water cooler as if it were Mjolnir and he roared with laughter and said Lokiís the part. Lokiís the part I want to play. So yeah, maybe he would. I donít know. Who knows? The accent thing is interesting. A friend of mine sent me a text message with a quote from Neil Gaiman. He wrote this book called American Gods. And it was just before I started shooting. It was this thing of like, he said youíve got to get with the god thing. Itís not about being big or being broad, itís about being the you that people believe in, about becoming the part, becoming the wind, becoming the thunder. I thought that was great. Itís like something to do with when youíre playing a god youíre just ever so slightly more than you normally are. Do you know what I mean? Like everything about you is a little more heightened, a bit more accentuated, you know? This all helps, too. I mean I was born with blonde curly Gene Wilder hair, so this is a good look I think for me. And everythingís been dyed black and my skinís been made paler than it normally is and so Iíve got black eyebrows and black hair and... just on my face mind you.