Tom Hiddleston talks about some of the challenges of playing jealous brother Loki in Thor and reuniting with Kenneth Branagh as director rather than co-star. He also discusses working with CGI and developing relationships with other actors...
When did you first become aware of Thor?
Tom Hiddleston: As a child, I had a deck of Marvel Top Trumps. You know, you can get Top Trumps with racing cars, or fighter planes, or football players... I had all of the Marvel superheroes and super-villains you could get, and I used to play them with my friends. They were all listed according to their height and weight and agility and their super-powers and Thor and Loki were in there. So, that was my introduction.
How did Loki do in those?
Tom Hiddleston: He would always lose if it was about strength and weight. But if you picked agility and intelligence and, strangely, super-powers, he would have the edge.
How important was it to nail the relationship between Thor and Loki?
Tom Hiddleston: Yeah, I think warring, competing brothers are, I think, intrinsically, inherently dramatically interesting... it doesn't matter if it's Cain & Abel back in The Bible, or Edmund and Edgar in King Lear or any story where, essentially, you have two opposing forces who are competing for the same thing. In this case, it's the love and affection and pride of their father.What's great about the two characters is that they're both enormously gifted. Thor is powerful and noble and strong, physically athletic and the leader of the pack and Loki is fiercely intelligent, he's a strategist and a master of magic, so the two of them together are a force to be reckoned with. But going up against each other is a whole other thing.I should also add that, as an actor, it's much, much easier to be really nasty to someone that you really like. You can't really ask for that, you can't buy that, and Ken [Branagh, director] must have seen something that made him think the two of us [Tom and Chris Hemsworth] would get on, or something. But when we first met, I remember the three of us came over and Natalie Portman was also there and while Ken was talking to Natalie we were despatched by Ken to go and train together! Chris was lifting tree trunks and logs [to impress her]!
Coming from a theatrical background, are there any similarities between stage acting and green screen acting?
Tom Hiddleston: At the very end of the film when the two of us are fighting on the Rainbow Bridge in Asgard, this shining city in the sky, it's very difficult for location scouts to go and find those two things! So, the two of us were in a green screen warehouse and, quite often, because of the position of the camera, and I'm doing all kinds of crazy things which really should be under special skills on my CV - like self-duplicate and disappear, re-appear and fly through the air - there were some times where Ken needed the camera to be in a particular position, moving in a particular way, to give a huge dynamism and vitality to the shot.In actual fact it meant that a lot of the time I'm looking or speaking to Chris and he couldn't actually be there because that would mean him hanging from the ceiling in the most uncompromising position unknown to man! So, you sort of have to light some kind of bonfire underneath your imagination. Instead of Chris, it might be his double, more often it's a tennis ball, or even a coloured mark of Sellotape next to the lens on the camera.But I think it's all about imagination anyway... it doesn't matter if you're on stage, or on TV or on film, you're imagination is working overtime and the great thing about having Ken do it is that he was always on hand with a microphone, quite often literally painting the picture on our behalf. So, in Yodenheim, the ice planet, we'd be walking along these brilliant sets of ice floes, surrounded by green screen, and Ken would be there saying: "To your left, there's an ice tower crumbling into pieces, to your right there are shadows and the frost giants could be coming out of those at any time. You're excited, you're freezing cold, you're terrified! Beyond you is a plaza..."
You've worked with Kenneth before, on stage and on TV [as Wallander's partner]. Now he's your director in this movie. How did that dynamic change?
Tom Hiddleston: It really is... I mean acting is a bit like tennis in that you can't really do it on your own. Also, acting takes a degree of mutual trust and respect, so over the years of doing Wallander and Chekhov's Ivanov in the West End we've exchanged a few words!It's actually a huge privilege to be directed by somebody who I felt so known, understood and trusted by... or trusted in rather. Ken asked me to go to some pretty extreme places from time to time, emotionally, and it's always nice to know that the man behind the eye, behind the lens, behind the camera is someone who knows what it's like to go to those extreme places in performance, and sometimes how challenging that is... but also somebody who is just very supportive and trusting.
Do you know anything about Loki's involvement in The Avengers at this point in time?
Tom Hiddleston: [Laughs] All I know is that it's being made.
How much does wearing the costume help when working against green screen and getting into character?
Tom Hiddleston: I think if you get up in the morning and put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, you feel like going to the beach. But if you get up in the morning and you put on a breastplate and a backplate and a cape and a horned helmet, you feel like striding around an enormous palace. So, Alex Byrne, who designed the costumes, did the most extraordinary job because they're so faithful to the hyper-real, almost unreal quality of the comic book costumes. Not only do they look right and look great, but she was able to design costumes that we could fight in, run in and roll around in the snow in. The great challenge was actually having a loo break!
Did Kenneth Branagh give you any good advice to take on board as an actor?
Tom Hiddleston: Actually, something that Ken probably doesn't know is quite specific to him is that he doesn't leave a single stone unturned. Everything in the story is excavated; every possibility is looked into with an extraordinary curiosity and the power of his intellect and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of different things.So, you can get any number of different sorts of notes from Ken... acting notes. It could be: "This is your Peter O'Toole take!" Or in one instance he came up to me and said: "Tom, this is the moment where the thin steel rod that's holding your brain together snaps..." He then walked away and suddenly turned on his heels, came back and said: "I'm aware by the way that that's quite a challenging thing to ask you to do, so we can have a couple of takes!"
Interview: Rob Carnevale