Interviews · Movies

Interview: Tom Hiddleston on Being an Eloquent Badass

From 2011, we talked to the actor just before his big breakout performance as Loki in Marvel’s ‘Thor.’
Tom Hiddleston In Thor
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on May 2nd, 2011

“Eloquent badass” is not only how one would probably describe Thor’s brother/nemesis, Loki, but also the actor who portrays him, Tom Hiddleston. At last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Hiddleston was the only cast member that wasn’t tight-lipped as if they were hiding serious government secrets. The actor spoke off the cuff, even revealing a plot twist… and he did so in that ear-pleasing British accent of his.

Hiddleston’s voice is smooth, clear, and everything you’d want from a great British accent. Hearing my voice go up against his was quite an emasculating experience. My sometimes quick, Mark Zuckerberg-like mannerisms sounded even more idiotic, something I never thought possible. Hiddleston made me sound like one of those hicks from Deliverance in comparison, but that seemingly total gent would never be one to tell me so.

I, unfortunately, didn’t have the chance to see Thor before speaking with Hiddleston, but we covered an array of topics, including the film’s tone, finding humanity in a villain, what you get when angry Gods do battle, and how much of an honor it must be to have one’s face on a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup.

You’re in a Kenneth Branagh film, a Woody Allen film, and also a Steven Spielberg film this year alone. How was it, in such a short span of time, getting to work with these young up-and-comers?

[Laughs] I taught them everything they know! It’s absolutely amazing. Unless if I’m talking to you, I kinda forget what the list must look like, in a way. There’s something about doing the work where you get so caught up in the character in the world that each film is trying to create. I sort of forget that I’m working with the top three directors on many actors’ wish list. I somehow managed to do it in the space of one year. It’s absolutely ridiculous and utterly amazing.

But for the Allen and Spielberg film, I doubt you’ll be getting a 7-Eleven cup.

[Laughs] I have a lot of friends that are preforming King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and, apparently, in the 7-Eleven around the corner where they get their pre-show snacks, my face is on the drink machine. That’s a thousand kinds of awesome.

[Laughs] It is, for sure. Getting serious for a second: when you read a script for a film like Thor, is it difficult imagining certain ideas or getting that same sense of scope on the page?

Amazingly, the writers [Zack Stentz and Don Payne] and all of those guys had painted the picture so vividly. It was like someone describing the dreams I had as a child: the idea of traveling between space and time; that there were other planets; and an advance race living in a parallel universe. When I came onboard the visual effects team were so incredible. At the beginning of the shoot they were all on hand with laptops with sizzle reels of the type of things they were planning. We were so helped in refining and specifying our imaginations, in terms of what Asgard would look like and the Frost Giants and all those things. There were lots of brilliant people involved when it came to bringing Asgard to life.

Do you have to put a lot of trust into Kenneth Branagh, in terms of how he’ll make that world come to life?

Kenneth Branagh is so brilliant. You just jump in. He’s the captain of the ship and you have to abide by his rules. It’s about trust. Kenneth has such a love for the material and loves the Norse Gods. He seemed to have such an amazing handle on it. He was determined to make it relatable and human, not campy. He wanted to ground it in some intense human drama, and I think that kept us all quite level headed.

You mentioned at Comic-Con that you gave Branagh a lot of different ideas or tones to play with. What were those different tones and what would you say, ultimately, made it in the film?

Well, there were so many different sides to Loki that we thought we wanted to play with, in every scene. There’s a side to him that takes a relish in chaos. It’s, in a way, that Loki that doesn’t keep his cards close to his chest at all. He’s a little more revealing of his motivations. There’s another side to him where his cards are so close to his chest that they’re locked in a treasure chest that he’s thrown away the key to. There was another version that was a more emotionally volatile take. We hung these [takes] on great actors. The Peter O’Toole take would be the emotional volatility. The Jack Nicholson take would be our shorthand for relish. And the Clint Eastwood take would be having the cards close to his chest. [Laughs] We used those three actors as a shorthand.

A character like Loki could easily be a very mustache-twirling villain, but from what I’ve heard, there’s a great sense of sadness to him.

Kenneth and I both love complexity; I think what fascinates us both about acting is that there’s almost a psychological study involved. We’re quite interested in what makes different people do what they do and what makes them tick. We always wanted to make Loki a complicated and multilayered villain. We wanted him to be someone that kept you guessing whether or not he’s telling the truth or lying. We didn’t want to copy anyone else or be two-dimensional. That was really what we tried to do.

So he’s not someone that’s going to kill for the sake of killing?

No, no. Not at all. I think it all comes from a misguided intention to win the love and approval of his father. Loki is fiercely intelligent and has a chess master’s mind of someone who is capable of thinking six or seven steps ahead. What gives him his credentials as a bad guy is that all of his intelligence is rooted in a deep sadness and a sense of confusion as to what his place is in the family of Asgard. Odin is King and Thor is the eldest son who stands to inherit the throne, but what does that mean for Loki? What is his value? What does that make his place in the universe? He feels rejected, betrayed, lied to, and alone. When you add all that to the cocktail of his intelligence, you get someone pretty badass and dangerous.

Is that where Loki’s hatred for Thor comes from? The fact that he’s the thinker, while Thor is someone that only thinks with his fists?

Absolutely. Loki is the artist and Thor is the quarterback, which was something [producer] Craig Kyle said. If Thor and Loki were on their way back from the pub and someone started a fight, Loki would be trying to think of the best way to avoid fighting and Thor would probably start the fight. There’s a bit of an infuriation at the center of Loki; he is so frustrated by that instinct in Thor. Loki needs him as physical protection, but he resents the fact he’s so hot-tempered, arrogant, and quick to throw a punch.

When you actually see Thor and Loki fighting, it’s what it’d be like if real gods fought; it looks big. Was it important to Branagh for those fight scenes to feel sprawling?

We were quite specific about the superpowers, actually. The comics gave us different versions of how Thor can use his hammer: he can use it like a helicopter; he can use it as a boxing glove. There’s a lethal boomerang quality to it, too. The thing about gods fighting is that they’re not limited by gravity or particularly stuck having to use hand-to-hand combat. When Loki wields the Sphere of Odin up against Thor’s hammer, it creates an almost cosmic explosion. It’s really thrilling, in a visual sense. You see Thor and Loki flying around with each other and they can both take a hit. It’s really, really exciting.

Thor opens in theaters on May 6th.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.