If you’ve ever read a Thor comic book, you know who Loki is. But for the people reading this who have never read a comic, Loki is Thor’s brother and let’s just say he’s not someone you want to piss off. In fact, many consider Loki to be one of the better villains in the Marvel universe. However, when you’re making the first movie in what’s sure to be a franchise, you can’t start the first movie off with Loki being the villain. You’ve got to show the how and why he got to that point.
But let me back up a second. Back in March, I got to visit the set of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor when the production was filming outside Los Angeles. While on set, I got to speak with most of the cast and the interview you’re about to read (or listen to) is with Tom Hiddleston (Loki). While Hiddleston isn’t a household name, based on what I saw and heard while on set, I think his role in Thor is going to propel him into a lot more movies. And even if casting director’s hate him, he’s going to be playing Loki for a long time as he’s a major part of The Avengers.
During the interview Hiddleston talked about how he got cast, his weapons and costume (including having to wear a helmet with horns), what he thinks of Loki, and so much more:
“I start in the film as Thor’s younger brother and I think in the manner of all younger brothers I have a greater sense of freedom. I’m not the oldest therefore the parental expectations aren’t as heavy, so it’s like a lot of younger children in sibling groups; I think Loki has a bit more freedom. He’s not going to be King. He knows that. And so he’s freer to…he has less responsibility on his shoulders so he’s freer to have a bit more fun. And I think like everybody at Marvel has been very clear and brilliant about coming into this that Loki just has…they’re both enormously gifted. Thor and Loki are a 2-man team and they’re both going to run Asgard when Oden steps down, and Thor has an ability and a physicality and a presence—a physical presence that is…he’s the type of man you follow. You just do.
In the same way they used to talk about all the leaders and the captains and the generals that came out of both World Wars that those captains and generals weren’t necessarily elected just in battles. There were certain men who were followed. You know, leaders were born and Thor is that guy. And Loki’s gifts are different in that he is sharper, he’s cleverer, he’s more interested in tactics and strategy. He’s capable of thinking ahead and he enjoys chaos. So he enjoys reacting to chaos and that affects how given that he’s the God of mischief. Mischief is essentially chaos. He likes stoking the fire of chaos and seeing what happens as a result. And so I think that’s where we start in that he’s just physically not as strong, but he has…he’s quicker and sharper and I guess that’s fair to say…then over the course of the story and I can’t say the full story, but there is a kind of….a couple of major shocks about Loki and his history and who he is and why he is come to him. He’s made aware of for the very first time in the films. There are certain things that fans of the comics will already know, but hopefully you see Loki learn certain things about himself for the first time. So it’s a journey of self-awareness. He doesn’t, at the beginning of the film, know his own power and I think through the course of the film he comes to learn his true nature and the extent of his power. But with a propensity for mischief I think as soon as he knows how powerful it is that’s when it becomes dangerous.”
Here’s the interview. You can either read the full transcript or click here to listen to the audio. Look for links to my other on set interviews and my full set report at the bottom of this article. Thor gets released May 6, 2011.
Question: How did you get the part of Loki?
Hiddleston: So yeah, I was told I was being tested for the role of Thor and I had half a day, so in mid-March last year I came in and met Craig and met Ken and did a test for Thor with Thor’s blonde wig and facial hair and 20 pounds extra muscle which I managed to find somewhere. And yeah, then I think it was about a month later that I was back in London and Ken and Craig and Kevin called and said, I just want to let you know that we have definitely and definitively found someone else for Thor. I was like, oh okay. But we’d like to offer you the part of Loki. At which point I screamed and had to sit down on the pavement somewhere outside of a grizzly pub in North London and think about the rest of my life for a bit. Contemplate my existence. So that’s how I got the part, yeah.
Now did your history with Ken play into that or…?
Hiddleston: You’d have to ask him. It’s thrilling to work with him and to be directed by him because I’ve only ever acted alongside him and in very different things. And I think, initially, I probably felt like I was understood and he knew what I could do, so I suppose I didn’t feel nervous about meeting him or acting in front of him in any sense. I was just ready to go. Jump straight in. Take risks. Be as big and broad and wrong…and risk being wrong basically knowing that he would steer me in the right direction if I was. So it certainly has given me a greater freedom, I feel because I feel like I am sort of…I can cook up whatever my instinct is cooking up and he will just say a bit less of that. A bit more of this. It’s a thrill. It’s a great privilege to continue to work with an actor that way, to keep a relationship going and moving, you know?
Go back to that moment where you found out you got Loki—you had this reaction. Was that a thank God I got something in this movie or is that really the part you felt most comfortable with?
Hiddleston: Well it’s funny because I knew I was being considered for both. Craig tells a story that actually I was always going for Loki, it’s just that I didn’t know that. And Ken had intimated that he was looking for someone as the role of Thor was beginning to emerge on the page, he was looking for someone with a raw and physical intensity, that the actor playing Thor had to have a physical instinct that was immediately present and readable and that he knew I could that but it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. And he was very flattering about what I have and what my kind of gifts are as an actor and that maybe they’d be better suited in a slightly more physiologically complex role that was less about the physicality and more about the machinations of his brain and what’s going on and speaking English badly I’m sure.
So could you talk about in the film how it’s being played?
Hiddleston: Yeah. Well we’re starting at the beginning; I think it’s safe to say. I start in the film as Thor’s younger brother and I think in the manner of all younger brothers I have a greater sense of freedom. I’m not the oldest therefore the parental expectations aren’t as heavy, so it’s like a lot of younger children in sibling groups; I think Loki has a bit more freedom. He’s not going to be King. He knows that. And so he’s freer to…he has less responsibility on his shoulders so he’s freer to have a bit more fun. And I think like everybody at Marvel has been very clear and brilliant about coming into this that Loki just has…they’re both enormously gifted. Thor and Loki are a 2-man team and they’re both going to run Asgard when Oden steps down, and Thor has an ability and a physicality and a presence—a physical presence that is…he’s the type of man you follow. You just do. In the same way they used to talk about all the leaders and the captains and the generals that came out of both World Wars that those captains and generals weren’t necessarily elected just in battles. There were certain men who were followed. You know, leaders were born and Thor is that guy. And Loki’s gifts are different in that he is sharper, he’s cleverer, he’s more interested in tactics and strategy. He’s capable of thinking ahead and he enjoys chaos. So he enjoys reacting to chaos and that affects how given that he’s the God of mischief. Mischief is essentially chaos. He likes stoking the fire of chaos and seeing what happens as a result. And so I think that’s where we start in that he’s just physically not as strong, but he has…he’s quicker and sharper and I guess that’s fair to say…
PUBLICIST I’m listening, don’t worry.
Hiddleston: Yeah, quicker, sharper, more playful and then I think over the course of the story and I can’t say the full story, but there is a kind of….a couple of major shocks about Loki and his history and who he is and why he is come to him. He’s made aware of for the very first time in the films. There are certain things that fans of the comics will already know, but hopefully you see Loki learn certain things about himself for the first time. So it’s a journey of self-awareness. He doesn’t, at the beginning of the film, know his own power and I think through the course of the film he comes to learn his true nature and the extent of his power. But with a propensity for mischief I think as soon as he knows how powerful it is that’s when it becomes dangerous.
We got to play with some of those fantastic weapons, how have you learned to wield them?
Hiddleston: It’s been fascinating actually. And one of the first things I did when I came on board was that we started with stunt training. And we thought like what is…it’ll be boring if Thor was a tank. It’d be boring if Loki was another tank and they were just running into each other. So we thought if Thor is thunder and power and muscle and brawn and he’s got his hammer, Loki should be like…he should be so quick he’s like the wind. So if Thor is heavy, Loki is light. We thought what would be the weapon that Loki would be fighting with? So we thought throwing knives….because I think Loki doesn’t like to get his hands dirty in a fight. He likes to be quick, efficient and lethal. It’s like one blow—slam. So we thought it would be throwing knives. And I thought if there was a way…if Loki could fight in a way that was as impressive as Thor’s, but was completely different so in a way Loki is too quick and Thor can’t catch him, you know? I kind of conceived of Loki as a kind martial artist with these throwing knives. Someone who’s like a dancer. He dances his way out of combat and these knives are his way of keeping his foes at arm’s length but it’s lethal. When you get one of those knives in, you’re gone. I had a great time actually, we were shooting on another set shooting a bit battle sequence. And the set was made of this stuff. It looked hard but it was soft. It was foam. And my stunt knives were rubber so they didn’t like take out the grip or the camera operator. But we found like…I’d always throw them and Russell Bobbit, the props master, would always go and retrieve them for me for the next take. And he couldn’t find one of the daggers and we were like looking all over the set for this dagger. And I’m like where the hell did it go? And like about half an hour later we’d thought we lost it somewhere in the green screen. And he said, Tom, and he pointed up and this rubber knife was stuck clean into the set, so I knew I was throwing them with some kind of velocity.
Can you talk about sort of how heavy and cumbersome or difficult is it acting with this giant horned helmet?
Hiddleston: The horns. The horns are amazing. It was the last thing I got to try on when I did the costume fittings and for me it was the most important thing because I read all the…as soon as I got the part I had 9 months to prepare. I read all the comics. I read right the way through the history of their… that the journey of the stories and everything and the different illustrators and the different writers and I thought that the horns are…it’s like Spiderman’s suit. Loki isn’t Loki without those horns on. And initially we were fitted and it was kind of a conversation as to how much does it cover his face? How much does he use them as like a weapon or is it just a statement of intent? It’s like kind of a representation of his soul in some way like back off because I’m dangerous. And it has been…we’ve had to work with it because they are very heavy. And because my ears are closed off, I can’t hear very well. And it becomes quite claustrophobic so I have to kind of…it’s a strange thing acting in it but I know it looks so good because I’ve seen it in playback, so it’s worth it. And I read a story about Christian Bale complaining about the Batsuit and saying like I’m trying not to complain because I get to be Batman. So I’m trying not to complain about the horns because I get to be Loki, you know?
Marvel has said that you’re going to factor into the Avenger’s movie. Is that affecting your performance, your thoughts at all these days?
Hiddleston: I may do…I may not. I know in the comics I do. Hoping I will.
I’d love to see that.
Hiddleston: I genuinely know nothing. I haven’t seen a script. Kevin mentioned it way back. He said, you know, that’s pretty exciting. But I think it’s a long way off.
Does it affect your thoughts at all that maybe you could do this performance a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time? Did you bring any bread crumbs or anything like that?
Hiddleston: Yeah, I feel that way certainly. I haven’t started…I can tell you this for free. I don’t start the film with him like immediately gone to the dark side. I think it’s good to see that Loki is genuinely Thor’s brother and there is a complicated relationship there. So that it isn’t just like…he isn’t just an out and out villain. He isn’t all black. He isn’t someone who the audience can immediately say “he’s the bad guy” because I think it’s more interesting if…because no character in real life or in comic books or any play or film or anything, nobody thinks they’re a villain. You always think there’s a complete logic to what you’re doing and you know what’s best and you know what’s right. And I think it’s really interesting to see Loki’s actions from his perspective and he’s just someone who becomes more and more damaged by, I think, a sense of isolation from his family and a sense of…it’s kind of a deep loneliness. I think when the world makes you feel rejected, you bite back. And I think over the course of the film that’s what you see in Loki. He feels continually cast out by different sets of people and his brother particularly and at a certain point he’s pushed too far and he comes back with a vengeance.
A lot of the actors have been talking about working with Ken, Shakespeare is definitely a touch stone, is that something that’s come up working with Ken? Of any characters you’re sort of…
Hiddleston: I’ve talked to him very much about subtlety because I don’t want to do any eyebrow twitching or mustache twiddling. I don’t want to do sort of like a charactertured villain. I’ve tried very much to make Loki psychologically plausible. Someone who’s damaged and very, very intelligent and is able to sow the seeds of deceit. Like he’s the Oscar winning liar, you know? He’d stand up there and you buy it. You’d buy anything from him. He’s the perfect salesman. Because my background is Shakespeare as well, I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare in London and Yargo is kind of a touch stone for me. Edmund in King Lear, if you know that story. But I draw my inspiration from all over the place. I’ve been listening to lots of the Prodigy. Like there was an album they released in the ‘90’s called Music for the Jilted Generation, which has a real rage in it. It has a real kind of like don’t piss me off because I’ll bark at you. And I find myself listening to that sometimes. And there are some great performances. Ken talked a lot about some of Peter O’Toole’s greatest performances and how in “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Lion in Winter” he is on the edge of darkness. He’s on the edge of sanity. You can see it in his eyes that he’s been pushed to the brink and you’re not sure if you can trust him because there’s a madness in there, you know? A greatness, too and a charisma and a power that you want to get close to and you want to see inside, but it’s a little bit dangerous. And so I’ve been trying to kind of …I drive to work every morning and I try and light some kind of bonfire under myself which is adrenalized and hot and alone. It’s a strange feeling when you’re playing a character that feels so alone.
What about Branagh’s Iago?
Hiddleston: I didn’t look at it actually. I’m lucky enough to be in the production “Othello” so I know the play very well, but it’s….I hope and I believe that when the film is out that there will be a real sense of you just won’t be able to tell when he’s telling the truth and when he’s not. And I want people to be like “is he lying?” and then later I think I hope that if people watch the film for a 2nd time, they’d be like…I can’t believe he did like, you know because a lot of the time he’ll do something and all of the other characters in the story have no idea the depth of what he’s doing. Like he’s sown in seeds so deep and so invisible that if the super hero detective came in and tried to look for fingerprints, he just wouldn’t find any.
Are there certain like iconic gestures or poses from the comic book that you’re trying to use, because when I think of Loki I always think of him kind of slouched in the throne and kind of brooding.
Hiddleston: Yeah, that’s definitely like…I recall that Ken talks about the racing mind. He said I want to see…he said every time I put the camera on your face, I want to see your brain going at the speed of light. But I don’t want anyone else in the scene to see it. So this is a very private thing of like someone who’s just thinking 10 steps ahead of the game every time, but not making it so obvious that it’d be like guys, somebody look at Loki because he’s cooking up something. Bad ass, you know? But I do feel like he’s a sort of person who never sleeps. His brain never stops working. And he’s always cooking up something. You’re never quite sure if you can trust him and….what was the question again?
Well, like were there certain…
Hiddleston: Yeah, facial expressions. Certainly there’s this fantastic shot of me on the throne where it’s like straight out of that sort of iconic image where he’s got the staff and he’s slouching in it. He’s like, got a problem with that? You know? But yeah, I guess as an actor I start from the inside out. Like the costume is enormously helpful but I always think like what makes him tick? What is human about this character? I don’t want to play a cipher. I look at someone who is damaged, broken, alone, isolated from his family, doesn’t feel like he belongs, someone who’s been lost, abandoned. And there are physiological tropes for those things, you know? And you see the lost and damaged and abandoned children of our world. It’s no accident that they grow up to be…to fill our prisons, you know? And that’s kind of who Loki is. He’s just really clever, you know? So he’s good at hiding his own intents I think. So I think the process of living through those emotions or feeling so angry with people because they don’t trust him. And feeling angry with Thor because he gets everything. He’s the favorite son. I think just the process of living inside that anger, that rage, that hurt every day creates an intensity on my face which I’m not aware of. So it’s not like I’m creating expressions but absolutely there’s a kind of a raw intensity that Ken said from the word go he said I want to see you every day with a layer of skin peeled away. I want to see that ticker tape machine inside your head like working at 1,000 miles per minute. Yeah, it’s great man!
Jaimie was telling us earlier that she has closely modeled her accent on yours. And used you as sort of a reference point.
And several of the non-UK actors have done the same thing. Is that something that you were aware of and…
Hiddleston: No actually it’s not. It’s not. I think…I don’t even know what my accent is, you know? Obviously it sounds very English but yeah, I’m flattered that they have. I think there’s something about, and this turns into what you were saying, you’re portraying gods and how do the gods speak without sounding ridiculous, you know? Because you want to be accessible but at the same time you don’t want to be like hey, can I get a Venti Cappuccino, you know? It needs to be kind of …you need to believe that they’re gods and they’re old gods. And I think it’s kind of standard and classical English does the job in some sense. I don’t know why that should be, so I guess I’m….
Hiddleston: Maybe. Yeah the first time I heard Ken told me he was directing the film, I was on stage with him playing a Russian doctor with a goatee and a pair of wire rimmed spectacles wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch. And I picked up an empty water cooler as if it were Mjöllnir and he roared with laughter and said Loki’s the part. Loki’s the part I want to play. So yeah, maybe he would. I don’t know. Who knows? The accent thing is interesting. A friend of mine sent me a text message with a quote from Neil Gammon. He wrote this book called American Gods. And it was just before I started shooting. It was this thing of like, he said you’ve got to get with the god thing. It’s not about being big or being broad, it’s about being the you that people believe in, about becoming the part, becoming the wind, becoming the thunder. I thought that was great. It’s like something to do with when you’re playing a god you’re just ever so slightly more than you normally are. Do you know what I mean? Like everything about you is a little more heightened, a bit more accentuated, you know? This all helps, too. I mean I was born with blonde curly Gene Wilder hair, so this is a good look I think for me. And everything’s been dyed black and my skin’s been made paler than it normally is and so I’ve got black eyebrows and black hair and…just on my face mind you. Yeah, and I’m wearing a pretty sick costume thanks to Alex Burns, so.
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