Tom Hiddleston: From theatre to Thor
Tom Hiddleston turns up for breakfast dead on time and breathlessly thrilled. Though the 30-year-old has already had an impressive career, renowned as one of the most penetratingly intelligent actors of his generation, travelling on the London tube he had a Hollywood moment. He saw a poster of Thor for the first time.
"It's a wildly exciting time. I've never been in a film that has posters on the tube. And it's not even my face on the poster."
The poster shows a close-up of Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder; Hiddleston plays his Machiavellian brother Loki, the god of mischief. On screen, the two actors are brawn and brain, large and little. Hemsworth's Thor is a brash yet increasingly likable god; Hiddleston's Loki is ultimately just a kid who wants to please his dad, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. It's surprising, then, to learn that director Kenneth Branagh initially asked Hiddleston to audition for the title role.
Hiddleston was in Los Angeles when he was officially asked to audition. Hiddleston had acted alongside Branagh in Wallander, as well as in Ivanov, and though he knew a part as potentially huge as Thor could make him an international star, he wasn't nervous. "I thought, well Ken knows what I can do. Every English-speaking actor over six foot was being seen for the part."
The casting director gave Hiddleston six weeks to bulk up. The producers were impressed by his commitment and his newly ripped body, but didn't give him the part.
Branagh took him out for breakfast to let him down gently. "Ken told me that every actor has something for free. Jack Nicholson has an irreverence for free, Anthony Hopkins has a majesty and gravitas for free. Idris Elba, who plays Heimdall in Thor — and, by the way, anyone who's been complaining about a black actor being cast as a Norse god is just crazy; this is a fantasy world, for goodness sake — has a watchful gravitas for free. He explained that what I have for free is that I can't turn off my intelligence. Therefore Loki would be much more up my street."
Hiddleston managed to make Thor a kind of intellectual journey, with Loki not a typical bombastic baddie but a low-key, emotional antihero with an intense interior life. He and Branagh talked about the film as a dynastic drama, and compared Loki to Cassius in Julius Caesar and Edmund, the illegitimate son in King Lear. "There's the action in Thor, with big, muscle-bound men smashing things up. There's the humour. And then there's Loki's psychological depth. I hope it means that Thor can appeal to many people on many levels."
Hiddleston is set to have a star-making year. An old Etonian who graduated from Cambridge with a double first in classics, prior to Thor he was known for meticulously playing upper-class young men in Joanna Hogg's low-budget films Unrelated and Archipelago. Next up is a cameo in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris and a co-starring role in Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea opposite Rachel Weisz. Yet for the kid who grew up watching Indiana Jones on repeat, the most thrilling project might just be Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the National theatre hit War Horse, in which Hiddleston plays Captain Nichols.
Ask Hiddleston about Spielberg and he almost bursts with enthusiasm. "Towards the end of filming Thor, I did a video audition for War Horse, and then got a call from my agent saying that Steven Spielberg wanted to meet. ... He asked about Thor because he loves Ken, and then we were straight on to Vic Armstrong, who was Harrison Ford's stunt double in all the Indiana Jones films and who taught me to ride on Thor."
Hiddleston suddenly grabs my arms, as though to ground himself. "And then Spielberg said, ‘Well, if Vic taught you how to ride, I'd like you to do War Horse.' I nearly fell off my chair. I was stunned. He offered me the part right there and then! Let me tell you, this never happens. Never. An official offer usually comes in weeks later. I had to ask him to repeat it. At which point I almost burst into tears. Here was the architect of my childhood imagination telling me I'm the real deal."
He lets go of me, flops back and sits there grinning, unable to quite believe that he's gone from Hogg to Hollywood so quickly. Although he swears he doesn't know if Loki will return in The Avengers, Thor 2 or Iron Man 3, Hiddleston has recently signed a multi-movie deal with Marvel. So will he be moving to LA? "I love it there, but I've just bought a place in north London and I'm having a great time here. For now, I just want to enjoy seeing those Thor posters on the tube."