COMPULSIVE movie reviewer Ben Harkin spoke to British actor Tom Hiddleston about his role as the complex, driven, and smooth villain Loki in Marvel's latest movie, Thor.
First off, I must say I thought your performance was stand out. I felt in the movie you made Loki a morally ambiguous kind of character.
That’s so kind of you to say so. Thanks man, that’s really kind.
You made him different from most superhero, or indeed supervillain, portrayals. How did you come to take this approach with Loki?
Well, I guess I always wanted to make his credentials as a bad guy rooted in a psychological complexity. Because I think it’s always more interesting if you’re playing a villain, to see the motivations of that villainy in a way. I think in the modern world, in modern society, there’s always a reason behind why people do terrible things. I’d read a very interesting book actually about the formation of personality and the book leaned very heavily on nurture over nature in terms of why people become who they become. It’s not actually our genes, it’s what happens to us between the ages of nought and six or seven years old and that determines a character. With Loki, that was really interesting and I thought that would be more interesting to watch in a way. At the same time, I took it all from the comic books, I mean, the comic books are full of all of those incredibly truthful reasons as to why Loki is a villain. He’s the younger brother of Thor, he’s jealous of his elder brother and all the favour that is owed and bestowed upon Thor and Thor stands to inherit the throne. Thor is the favourite son, the alpha male, the leader of the pack, and Loki is smarter, magical, fiercely intelligent, a strategist, and the trickster with a predisposition to mischief, an agent of chaos if you like. I thought about those attributes and really I was just expanding on those themes. The jealousy and the anger of a brother who feels he’s been left out in the cold.
Loki appears in quite a few forms throughout comic book history and in multiple Marvel series. Which series did you mainly draw upon, and which characteristics from the Marvel Loki did you put emphasis on in the character?
That’s a really good question! I read them all, actually.
Yeah. I thought I would do due diligence to the material by going back to the beginning, and initially what I loved about the early run of the Stanley/Jack Kirby illustrations, was that Loki seemed to be having such fun with his mischief. Then I found the J. Michael Straczynski run to be really compelling, and even though initially in his run of the comics Loki is actually a woman, there are flashbacks to Loki’s origins as a man. And then there’s a terrific Robert Rodi series where the name of the comic is Loki, not Thor, and it’s an expansion of the themes that I’ve kind of taken at the centre of my performance in the film. It imagines that Loki has succeeded to the throne, and it imagines that there’s a time when Loki actually gets everything he’s always wanted. He gets all the power that he’s wanted, and in that particular comic he’s painted in a very ambiguous and sympathetic light, and you realise that the Thor/Loki relationship, the brotherhood between them, is intensely complex. And it’s not one they mention, that there are definitively two sides to the coin, of huge love and deep, deep hatred. I thought that was an interesting fulcrum to balance my performance on.
I felt throughout the movie that even though you were the villain, there was still a compassion for Thor, right up until the end.
That’s what we really wanted to play with, man. Kenneth Branagh and I really wanted to create a Loki where the audience was always fighting for his redemption, right up until the last minute. That maybe Loki could be brought back from the brink and somehow, to take his position again as part of the pantheon of Asgard. I just think it’s more interesting for the audience in a way, you’re still hoping that maybe he can be saved until he lets go in more ways than one.
Were you a big comic book reader as a kid?
I knew about them, actually where I lived we didn’t have huge access to Marvel comics, but, and this is before the days of the internet and stuff, but I did have a deck of cards, and they were called Top Trumps, and basically you could get Top Trumps of fighter planes, racing cars and motorbikes. But I had the Marvel superheroes. Essentially it’s got all of the characters from the Marvel universe and all of their vital statistics, like intelligence, weapon weight, agility and speed. And Thor and Loki were part of my deck, so I knew exactly who they were.
Loki, as it makes reference in the film too, takes shape in Norse myths and legends.
Did you look to that Loki for inspiration too?
I did actually. It’s amazing how the character has been around for such a long time and he turns up all over the place. The Norse sagas are fascinating and he forever seems to be the puppet master behind the curtains pulling the strings. And also he turns up in Wagner’s Ring cycle, the grand opera. His name isn’t Loki, but it’s Loge, and Thor is also in it, and Wotan is Odin. So these are stories that have been circling around in the minds of men for so many years.
I gotta say, your helmet in the movie is pretty hardcore, how was it to wear?
Well, as I’ve been saying, you know clothes are quite influential with how you feel. I guess if you walked out of the house wearing a baseball cap, it might be a funny day and you were feeling relaxed about life. If you walked out of the house wearing a bowler hat, or a trilby, you might be off to a party, but if you walk out of the house wearing a pair of golden satanic horns, you feel like stirring up some pretty terrible things. I must take my imaginary hat off to Alexandra Byrne, who designed the costume set. They are so beautiful I think and they do 90% of the work of fuelling the audience’s belief in Asgard. But actually wearing the helmet itself, it came in two pieces: there was a top part, almost covering the top of my head, then there was a cheek plate. And it was both thrilling and also intensely hot under there. Sometimes if I’ve been wearing it a long time, in a scene or if the film lights are very bright, my brain would slowly turn to scrambled eggs. But then I think Loki’s brain is often turning to scrambled eggs, so it must have helped in some way.
You have some loyal fans on Twitter, and I asked if there were any questions they would like to ask you. Girl_vintage wanted to know if you’re excited about all your other movie releases that are coming out this year and also wanted to know what is your favourite film genre?
Oh wow! I’ll respond to girl_vintage. Okay. The last eighteen months of my life have been the kind of experiences that I never dared to dream of when I was a child. I’ve essentially got to work with all my heroes: Anthony Hopkins, Kenneth Branagh, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, Rachel Weisz. It’s so hard to pick a project as my favourite, because they’ve all been so different and so extraordinary. And it’s still...even reeling off the list to you now I’m still pinching myself. I haven’t seen Midnight in Paris yet, the Woody Allen film, I can’t wait to see that. It’s opening in the Cannes Film Festival in a month. Warhorse, the screenplay for Warhorse is one of the most moving things I’ve ever read in my life, and Steven Spielberg’s handling of the story was so adept, and the speed and clarity of his creative execution is one of the most thrilling things I think I’ll ever see as an actor. And then The Deep Blue Sea, with Rachel Weisz, is again very, very moving and very raw on quite a simple, emotional level.
I’m a huge fan of...I mean, the thing is I’m a fan of everything. I often spend huge movie weekends watching an arthouse film, and then a romantic comedy, and then a superhero film, and then a thriller, and then a courtroom drama, and then a period drama. So it’s always hard for me to settle on one, but I think if I had to settle, I would say... I’m a massive fan of the thriller. Any kind of crime thriller, if they’re well made, they can be among the greatest films of all time. One of my favourite films is Michael Mann’s Heat, with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. I think it’s almost a complete experience. And also The French Connection, with Gene Hackman, L.A. Confidential, The Insider, two films of Russel Crowe’s. I just love a good thriller. I think thrillers are terrific.
It was great talking with you, Tom!
Thor is out at cinemas around the country right now. Ben Harkin reviews movies from his secret bunker hidden somewhere on the moon.
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