Following yesterday’s interview with Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner, my ongoing Avengers boast-fest continues with Tom Hiddleston, star villain of the Marvel cineverse and thoroughly nice chap.
: Logistically, how do you get everyone together for a film like this?
I know what Kevin [Feige, Marvel producer] would say. He would say 'it was a highly calculated risk' or 'a highly calculated high risk' and I doff my hat to him actually because he's very courageous about casting and he's willing to be very open-minded in a way that many studios in Hollywood aren't about getting the right people for the characters. I also think that when it came to The Avengers, it was easier than it might have seemed because everyone wanted to do it.
And the whole thing was set in motion by the brilliant success of Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr's performance in it, and it was really when Iron Man took off and it became the success that it became that [Marvel] started to believe that they could do it. And because of what [Robert Downey Jr] did, we all wanted to be a part of it. I mean, he changed the genre. Mark Ruffalo wanted to play the Hulk because of what Robert had done with Tony Stark, and Chris and I wanted to be in Thor because of what Iron Man was. And actually I know that's a big part of why Kenneth Branagh accepted the directing gig - because he had seen what they had done with Iron Man and Marvel had really announced themselves as a studio that was being very creative in a very professional way.
: Loki isn't your typical evil villain – it’s easy to feel sorry for him. How did you approach bringing that to the role?
I started building the character with Kenneth Branagh in Thor and we approached all characterisation in the same way - you have to start from a place of compassion, in that, no matter how evil and misguided and deluded the choices of a character are, in their own mind, they are the hero of their own story. And that is true of everyone - we are the lead protagonists in the movie versions of our lives. And the part that excites me about the job of acting is that it's an exploration of human nature - there's a psychological element to it. The part I love is that you are extending your understanding of human beings and examining truths that don't belong to you. And if you look at the villains in human history, quite often they've been motivated by emotional damage.
So that was really the interesting place to start with Loki - he was somebody that's been brought up a prince in a royal family with the expectation that one day he would be a king. And through the course of that film he learned that the entire narrative of his life is a lie; that he was actually the illegitimate son of a monster, left out in the cold, adopted and then cheated. So he's essentially this damaged soul whose heartbreak hardened into a menace and a megalomania and a vanity and an arrogance and a pride - which I hope is why you can't entirely hate him because underneath of all that villainy is a damaged soul.
: At what point did you know that you were going to be the villain in The Avengers? Was it before you started filming Thor?
Well, I knew that if I was rubbish in Thor, I wouldn't be allowed anywhere near The Avengers. Actually, when I finally got the job in Thor, I went and sat in Kevin's office and it was just to say hi and for him to say congratulations and shake my hand and to start the process. And I was so full of Thor and the world of Thor and what we were about to do, and then Kevin said 'Can we talk about the Avengers?' and I said 'What's that?' and he said 'Well, it's this idea we have - we're going to make Thor and then we're going to make Captain America and then hopefully we'll get to make The Avengers, which is when all of these superheroes come together' and I thought 'that is an extraordinary pipe dream'. And he said 'Well, you know what happens is, in the very first edition of the very first Avengers comic which was published in 1963, Loki was the villain...and I think it might be interesting to replicate that'. And he was really excited about it and I think, in his mind, he was thinking ahead because that's the kind of producer that he is.
: But he didn't actually ask you to be in it at that point?
Well that was him asking me I think. But in my own mind I knew that Thor was a huge undertaking in its own right so I wasn't going to plague myself with the pressure of 'Oh my god, I'm going to do The Avengers' until I had done Thor.
: Was there a difference in how you approached Loki for The Avengers, under a different director, compared with for Thor?
Y'know, there isn't. Because Joss was such a fan of what Kenneth and I did in Thor and he also knew that the arc of the character in The Avengers couldn't be as poignant because the Avengers have to have a reason to assemble. And what's beautiful about superhero films is that they are redemption dramas and the good guys have to win because that's what makes us feel good. And in order for them to win in the most satisfying way, you have to have a threat and a challenge for them to overcome, and in The Avengers, Loki is that challenge. So I had to accept all the work I did in Thor and all that heartbreak and then give myself up to the destructive elements of that character.
: But there's also a lot of humour in Loki's character as well. Was it fun to play that on set, opposite the rest of The Avengers?
Yeah, it was the time of my life actually. Because these are actors I've respected since before I was an actor and when I was just somebody who went to the movies a lot. And it thrills me to sit in an audience and hear people laugh at [Loki].
: There is a scene in the film where Loki tries to command control over a group of humans and he starts to sound like a Fascist dictator. Were you deliberately making this comparison while you were filming it?
I think Joss was. He’s a really intelligent man. He’s fascinated by the different complexities of human beings. And it’s true – as human beings we do find it reassuring to be led. That’s why we’re so inspired by new political leaders who seem to possess the self-confidence that reassures us. So Loki is playing on an idea. Sometimes, being led and being united by leaders can be a cause of great good, but often it can be a cause for great evil.
The Second World War is a good example: Winston Churchill was an extraordinary leader, people found it reassuring to follow him and be ruled by his instincts and he saved the world in many respects. And Adolf Hitler had the same charisma and he appealed to the same sensibility, but he completely manipulated the instinct. There are no certainties about human nature but sometimes there is a flock mentality – people like to follow and some people like to lead and all Loki is saying is [quotes line from movie] “it is the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation”.
: While you were filming, you got to wear very elaborate costumes with big head-pieces. When you were wearing this on set, how happy were you…that Mark Ruffalo had to wear an even sillier costume than you?
(*laughs*) It was sillier but lighter. No, you know, we all had moments of wardrobe embarrassment…
: Did that help to keep egos in check?
Well, there was no room for egos on this set – it’s so funny how that’s the thing that everyone asks about. There was no place for an ego in a film of this size because everyone wanted it to be brilliant so that demanded the commitment and the professionalism of every single person. And apart from anything else, it’s a film about a team! And it would be so ironic if we were trying to make this film about how the achievements of the team are greater than the achievements of the individual and there were a load of individuals throwing their toys out of the pram and behaving like divas.
But back to the wardrobe thing, it was very funny. There was a moment when I saw Chris Hemsworth being drilled
into his costume because one of the discs on his breast-plate had fallen off and they literally had to get a power drill and drill it into his chest. And Mark Ruffalo – great classical actor of his generation – reduced to a Chinese chequerboard [wearing a black and white checked motion capture suit] and, y’know, Chris Evans and Scarlett flying the flag for spandex. And then there was me and my Rock Of Ages/Reindeer Games outfit. It was absolutely crazy.
: I read your piece in the Guardian about respect for superhero movies and how Christopher Reeve was looked down upon by his peers for taking the role of Superman – have you had any similar experience with other actors since appearing in Thor?
No, I haven’t actually because I think there’s a much more refreshing respect for how much craft it takes to make a film like this, but from some people who have never done it and have never actually experienced the challenges that come with making a film of this size, and the stamina and commitment required, there have been interesting moments of presumption.
: Presumption that it’s easy?
Yes, that it’s easy or that we’re somehow slumming it in superhero films, as if it is an ignoble thing to do with your training, as it were.
: How do you react to that?
I try to react with decorum! I just have to let it be water off a duck’s back. There was one instance where I was marginally insulted by somebody who dismissed Thor as a piece of ridiculous paper-thin lightweight entertainment. As if somehow it wasn’t deemed ‘proper work’ for a young actor. But that particular person had never attempted anything of that scale and I just had to say [to myself] ‘he doesn’t know – it’s fine’.
: But is there anything wrong with paper-thin lightweight entertainment anyway?
No – absolutely not. People love escapism and there should be a place for it. Part of the reason children love superhero films, and part of the reason I loved them as a child, is that it’s fantasy – it just appeals to your imagination and the whole point of having imagination is that you can escape into it and that’s what cinema still is. So absolutely – entertainment first, and if you’re lucky to make a piece of art at the same time, that’s good.
: Where do you go from this? First Thor and now The Avengers – both huge-scale films – do you want to do something more intimate now?
That’s actually what I am about to do. I’m just about to start work on a Jim Jarmusch film. It’s a love story called Only Lovers Left Alive and it’s a very small-scale, intimate piece about the nature of love. It’s about a man and a woman and all of the tenderness and complexity of that engagement. Tilda Swinton and I will be playing lovers in that film…and the only twist is that they happen to be vampires. (*laughs*)
Don’t forget, Avengers Assemble is released in the UK on Thursday April 26th. Have I mentioned how awesome it is? If not, come back tomorrow when I’ll post an interview with Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo and remind you once again.