Interview: Tom Hiddleston; star of Thor.

Interview: Tom Hiddleston; star of Thor. By Simon Miraudo.

The cast of big budget blockbusters aren’t traditionally hired based on their theatrical experience or their work in period TV dramas, but Thor is not your traditional big budget blockbuster. Directed by thespian Kenneth Branagh, the latest Marvel comic book adaptation has more in common with the works of Shakespeare than one would expect. It’s the tale of a dying king (Anthony Hopkins) forced to choose a successor from his two sons – brash Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – in the fictional realm of Asgard. I spoke to Hiddleston ahead of the film’s worldwide debut, and he admitted it sounds more like King Lear than Captain America, which suits the acclaimed stalwart of the stage just fine. Of course, that’s not to say he isn’t a little excited to have his own action figure…

SM: I always like to start at the beginning, so I’d like to ask, were there any films or performances you watched when you were growing up that inspired you to get into acting?

TH: Oh my God, that’s a great question. Uhh, wow, where do I start? I grew up on a diet of Indiana Jones, I have to say. Something about the Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Temple of Doom; I used to watch them over and over, because I think it was just that combination of action and adventure and humour and spirit, and I thought Harrison Ford in that hat, in that jacket, on that horse, with that theme tune, got me excited. I wanted to go to those places, and be with those women, and do all those things. Superman as well and E.T, and Star Wars too. George Lucas’ imagination was pretty influential.

SM: Well, you’re in your own blockbuster now, as Loki in Thor.

TH: I know.

SM: Have you got your own action figure?

TH: I have! (Chuckles) I can’t believe it. It’s absolutely wild when those things happen. I mean, it felt like a gift enough in itself to play Loki, but to suddenly have little action figures and slurpee cups…

SM: All the collectables.

TH: Crazy things.

SM: I understand you starred as Casio in a couple productions of Othello.

TH: I did, yeah!

SM: And Kenneth Branagh famously played Iago in the 1995 film. And Loki’s very much an Iago-type character…

TH: Absolutely so.

SM: … conspiring and putting ideas in Thor’s head. Did you discuss that character, or that connection, with Kenneth?

TH: We did actually. We discussed a lot of Shakespeare together; not in any kind of pretentious way, but just it’s sort of a mutual frame of reference for both of us. We both love it. The greatest of Shakespeare’s plays are the richest source of literature in the course of human history really. We talked a bit about Iago; we talked a bit about Edmund in King Lear, if you know that story. He’s the second son of the Duke of Gloucester, and he has a sort of bitterness towards his brother, Edmund, who’s the favoured son. Sorry, Edgar! Edmund is the illegitimate son and Edgar is the favoured son. And then also Cassius in Julius Caesar, who is described as having a lean, hungry look and is definitely not to be trusted.

SM: So you definitely had a bit of a reading list there, although I’m sure you were already familiar with those plays.

TH: Yeah, but I love all that stuff. In a way, that whole Asgard section of Thor feels like a Shakespeare play in lots of ways. Shakespeare wrote stories about kings and queens, and the repercussions of royal families falling apart. Hamlet’s a family falling apart; King Lear too. And Thor is that as well, it just happens to be a shining city in the sky.

SM: Absolutely. So, no inspiration from more current films? I remember the Jim Carrey film The Mask …

TH: Yeah, and that’s the mask of Loki that he puts on. We talked a lot about the many different shades and sides of Loki as a character, and obviously there is a side to him where he’s the trickster god; the prankster. He delights and revels in mischief and chaos. We talked a bit about having a manic, hysterical energy; but also it seemed that in the comics there was this damaged younger brother who envied his elder brother and was jealous of the favour that was bestowed upon him by the father. And we thought it might be interesting to root all his credentials as a bad guy in a psychological complexity; a sense of grief and sadness and a pain at not belonging anywhere in the world or in the universe.

SM: Elements that were definitely lacking in Jim Carrey’s performance in The Mask.

TH: (Laughs) Well, it’s got other strengths.

SM: Exactly. Tell me about shooting the scenes in Asgard. I’m kind of interested what the ratio of CG to practical sets was.

TH: I can pretty much evenly tell you that most of the interiors were all sets. Beautifully and brilliant designed by Bo Welch, our production designer. So the throne room, the healing room and Odin’s bed chamber, all of those were actual sets of kind-of shimmering gold and bronze and were amazing to act on. The exteriors were all green screen.

SM: I ask because a lot of actors can get lost in films shot in front of a green screen, but you’d almost imagine theatre actors, or actors who have that backing in theatre, are used to acting in front of a blank canvass.

TH: You’re right, yeah.

SM: Did you feel that way at all?

TH: I completely agree with you. Acting is all about imagination, anyway. And it doesn’t matter if you’re in a Shakespeare play and it’s set in Renaissance Venice, or if you’re doing a TV drama and you’re actually just walking around in the kitchen. Or if you’re in Asgard, and you’re not really where you’re pretending to be. So, as an actor, your imagination has to work overtime to fill in the blanks, and it’s exciting in a way. It’s like playing when you’re a kid; you’re imagining you’re in the Wild West, but actually you’re in your mum’s back garden. Whatever muscle that is, that enables you to not be self-conscious about committing to the imagined context; it’s the same thing really. Because in the theatre you’re not really where you’re pretending to be either, and in front of a green screen you’re having to supply all the extra information. So they are quite similar disciplines I would say.

SM: The internet, as you may or may not be aware, is not the most reliable place for information, especially when it comes to a film like Thor, and other Marvel properties, and especially The Avengers.

TH: Oh, yes.

SM: And I’m sure I’m the first person to ask you about this today, but will you have any involvement in that project?

TH: Well here’s the thing. I know that Loki … we might not have seen the last of him. Because I’ve spoken to the producers about Loki’s reappearance in further Marvel films. I don’t know at this point if it’s literally going to be The Avengers. Joss Whedon has a hell of a job on his hands; he’s got eight superheroes, and this is almost like bringing together a fleet of ocean liners and having them sail together. I still don’t know, I’m afraid is all I can say. I know that Loki will sort of reappear somewhere where we least expect him, but I don’t know if it’s The Avengers.

SM: Well, can you tell me a little bit about your role in War Horse?

TH: Yes, I can! War Horse is the story of one horse, through the period of the 1st World War – 1914 to 1918. It’s about the lives that it touches in a funny way, along the way; British officers, German soldiers, French families. I play Captain Nichols, who is the Captain of a regiment in the English cavalry, who are the very first line of troops that went to France in 1914 to fight the Germans. And what’s often not reported is that the British army didn’t know that the Germans had already developed machine guns – or certain kinds of tanks and machine guns. We sent cavalry regiments on horseback with swords in their hands, up against machine guns. I have the amazing acting pleasure of leading the very first charge across 400 yards of No Man’s Land, into the German encampment. It was just an enormous pleasure working with Steven Spielberg and spending three months on a horse, pretending to be Errol Flynn. It was such a thrill. I think the film will be a ‘classic Spielberg film’, to stand alongside some of his greatest works, because it’s about hope and redemption and survival and the power of love and courage. It’s kind of amazing.

Thor opens in Australian cinemas April 21.

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