1:20 am - 11/01/2013

Tom Hiddleston: "Becoming an actor was a very unconventional thing in my peer group"

Tom Hiddleston is following in a great tradition. For decades, Hollywood has enjoyed casting posh Englishmen as master villains. Maybe it has something to do with a post-post-colonial distrust of America’s former overlords. Maybe the patrician demeanour of the crisp-voiced thespian triggers ancient egalitarian knee-jerks. Who knows?

At any rate, Hiddleston sounded like just the right fellow to play Loki – Norse god of mischief – in Marvel’s continuing Thor saga. The tall Londoner has excelled in the plays of Shakespeare. He is well-spoken. He has those clean, sharp features. And, by golly, he’s well schooled. Eton; Pembroke College, Cambridge; Rada: that’s not so much a CV as a survey of the English educational establishment.

Now 32, he finds himself the subject of a million blogs and many more tweets. His cheeky, sly, sarcastic Loki – a perfect foil for Chris Hemsworth’s blokey thunder god – attracted attention in Thor and nearly stole the show in The Avengers. He is back this week for the very enjoyable Thor: The Dark World.

So, how is Tom coping with all the adulation? Fans of the Marvel comic-book adaptations can be a demanding bunch.

“I have been in receipt of mostly nothing but the sweetest, most generous attention and affection,” he says. “It feels like it diminishes them to call them ‘fans’. They are not just one homogenous lump. Anyway, I Iove their enthusiasm. They are more sophisticated than people realise. They love the complexity of it. But they also love that it is tongue-in-cheek.”

What does he make of the abuses wrought on the London Underground map by Thor: The Dark World. At one point, the God of Thunder climbs aboard a train at Charing Cross and is told he is three stops from Greenwich. At the London press screening of the picture, every second audience member turned to his or her companion and whispered: “no it isn’t”.

“I know. I know. Did they?” he laughs. “Oh, I like that. I have pointed that out to Kevin Feige, the producer, and he is crushed. ‘It was shot in London. It was made by Londoners. Why did nobody tell me?’ If I had been on set that day I would have explained. But that screening must have been a very British experience. I love that stuff in the film: Thor hanging up his hammer in a flat in Borough, Thor getting into a Volvo. I love that.”

Now that we’ve become friends, let’s deal with this business of his blue-ribbon education. At the start of this year, in the same Mayfair hotel, I talked to Eddie Redmayne about his years at Eton (the star of Les Misérables was a year behind Tom). As we speak, Benedict Cumberbatch, an old Harrovian, is opening in The Fifth Estate. Damien Lewis and Dominic West also went to Eton. Over the past few years, more than a few pundits have argued that you now need a bit of independent income to survive the early tricky years as an actor. Coming from that sort of background helps. What’s going on?

“I don’t know,” Hiddleston says slightly warily. “It’s all about someone else’s interpretation. I would counter you with Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba and Tom Hardy. I don’t know that it is a phenomenon.”

Well, fair enough. We are not suggesting that nobody from outside the British elite is succeeding. But something odd is going on here. It would be easy just to say: it was ever thus. But, actually, it wasn’t. Ten years ago, you would be hard-pressed to name a single young actor who attended Eton or Harrow. Now there is a whole cadre of such performers. Never in the history of the British theatre have graduates of the major public schools figured so prominently in cast lists.

“I would say that my becoming an actor was a very unconventional thing in my peer group,” he says. “That was not what people did. So the idea that it’s become ‘a thing’ is very strange to me. I have always felt like I was going off-piste. To be told that I am the one skiing down the main track is so strange to me.”

Clearly just a little uncomfortable in this territory, he rallies to the defence of his fellow actors.

“One more thing I must say is that people like Dominic and Eddie are such specific talents. Every actor in every nation from every background is driven by their own curiosity and their own desire to excavate human nature through the characters they play. Those actors’ choices have been very different.”

Though Hiddleston, whose father was managing director of a pharmaceutical company, acted a bit at Eton, he did not head straight for drama school after completing his A-levels. Like Redmayne, Hiddleston advanced on Cambridge University. Given that he eventually ended up at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, it’s fair to wonder why he elected to take that classics degree.

“Well, I actually hadn’t acted all that much,” he says. “And it’s not until you really invest time that you begin to realise this is not just an extra-curricular activity. Cambridge was the place where that came together for me. I was just reading a text from my sister. She’d been reading a book that says your frontal lobes stop developing at 23. So university neurologically forms your brain. If the book is right. Ha ha.”

Hiddleston was spotted by an agent while appearing in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Cambridge and was soon securing the odd supporting role in TV movies. Following graduation from Rada in 2005, he had a significant part in Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated and did much acclaimed work for the Cheek by Jowl theatre company, but he was not yet any sort of star when he was cast as Loki in the first Thor film. Like David Tennant before him, he has adroitly managed to juggle populist hits and serious, mind-stretching material. You can see him as the dissolute ex-fighter pilot in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea. He received massive acclaim as Prince Hal in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown: a huge translation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V.

Thinking back to his comments about actors trying to “excavate human nature”, I wonder if playing Prince Hal and playing Loki feel like the same job. Is there the same sort of pressure on him?

“Yes, there is,” he says. “When you’re playing Prince Hal you feel the weight of 400 years of dramatic inheritance. I had always dreamed of playing the role. Look, Shakespeare has a fan base and Loki has a fan base. The level of scrutiny is heavy across the board. The pressure I put on myself is to be precise about the meaning of each particular moment. That’s my job.”

He puts his case well. But the sheer challenge of wrestling with that much language must distinguish the Shakespeare experience from the Marvel Comics adventure. He doesn’t have to tackle much iambic pentameter in Thor: The Dark World.

“Yes, there’s a rigour to it,” he admits. “But it’s all about readiness. If you have done the work, then it’s easier. If it’s in your hard drive then you’re away. I compare it to Happy Birthday. If I asked you to recite that, you wouldn’t have to think about it. It’s just inside you. If I asked you to sing it a different way, you wouldn’t have to think. That’s my approach to Shakespeare: know it that well.”

Hiddleston has a varied array of entertainments in the pipeline. He has a role in Joanna Hogg’s upcoming Exhibition. He will play the Great Escapo in the follow-up to the excellent The Muppets. Earlier this year, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive premiered to deserved acclaim at Cannes. Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are perfectly cast as two weary vampires living out endless nights in a suitably deserted Detroit.

“I really fell in love with that place,” he says. “It changed my entire perception of America. I had been to New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and all those coastal places. This was something else. In the 1920s, it was the centre of the world. Now there are only 300,000 people and looks like the set for a post-apocalyptic movie. But the people are so incredibly kind.”

And it’s safe to assume that none of them ask him impertinent questions about his schooling.

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superdogbiter 1st-Nov-2013 12:47 am (UTC)
addicted_to_dan 1st-Nov-2013 12:58 am (UTC)
sleepymonster 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
emmakinney 1st-Nov-2013 01:43 am (UTC)
Omg, do you have a link to this interview? Such a dork. Sigh.
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 01:32 am (UTC)
title or description
bloolikejazz 1st-Nov-2013 12:49 am (UTC)
my dad is visiting me here in boston all the way from vancouver and he really wanted to watch thor so yesterday we watched thor being good canadians ignoring all that baseball madness. he was exploring the town on his own today and while he was gone i immediately watched the avengers. then i spent the rest of the time waiting for him watching tom hiddleston's videos on youtube. you succeeded ontd, this man is magical. i saw him in this costume on posters and couldn't understand why everyone was so obsessed with him but watching him play loki i'm team loki all the way and seeing what he looks/is in the real life... i'm in love. take me tom hiddleston, take me now.
nutmegdealer 1st-Nov-2013 12:51 am (UTC)
i've seen a few gifs an a couple of youtube videos, and now i think i'm starting to get it.
zoaster_toaster 1st-Nov-2013 12:52 am (UTC)
Welcome to the club!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
bloolikejazz 1st-Nov-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
even this silly video contributed because FINGERS.
houdini_splicer 1st-Nov-2013 12:52 am (UTC)
*laughs maniacally and rubs hands together*
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 12:54 am (UTC)
I'm glad you've succumbed to the Hiddles love! Welcome! :P
shimmeree 1st-Nov-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
I didn't understand until I heard him speak. Then it was clear.
addicted_to_dan 1st-Nov-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
gr8 taste. this man is flawless

title or descriptiontitle or description
genbu_no_miko24 1st-Nov-2013 12:56 am (UTC)
Welcome to the black hole

pastelstar 1st-Nov-2013 01:28 am (UTC)

This is pretty much what happened to me. I just gave in.
emmakinney 1st-Nov-2013 01:46 am (UTC)
Congrats, hun. Just let it take you over.

I saw the film last night with my friend and, as the credits came up, she turned to me and went 'Yeah, the Loki thing? I get it.'

He takes you by surprise! Just run with it :)
yurasama_love 1st-Nov-2013 01:55 am (UTC)
Welcome to the club.
chocobeans 1st-Nov-2013 02:05 am (UTC)
Sis, I got caught by surprise with how much I've enjoyed these Hiddleston posts. I didn't get the love but then I slowly came in these posts and started reading and watching YouTube videos and listening him do a reading of that e.e. cummings poem (sweet mother of Moses, that voice and that poem...) and just before I got to the comments of this posts, I admitted how much I'm crushing on him. He's so damn charming. I want to be his friend. I want to bring him home to my parents. He's not that great at math. He's only a few years older than me. He really is that guy. I get it now.
mjspice 1st-Nov-2013 09:08 am (UTC)
No one can resist the Hiddles.
nanachic 2nd-Nov-2013 06:17 am (UTC)
Welcome bb! (and fellow Bostonian!)
zoaster_toaster 1st-Nov-2013 12:49 am (UTC)
I thought he handled the whole "elite education" bit pretty well but I'm not looking forward to the shitstorm people are gonna make from his comments.
emmakinney 1st-Nov-2013 01:46 am (UTC)
Nah, he's not Cumberbatch, there won't be much made of it, I don't think.

Your icon is smoking, btw.
zoaster_toaster 1st-Nov-2013 01:55 am (UTC)
Let's hope ONTD leaves him alone about it - I didn't see anything that would make him look especially pompous or elitist. (Besides, the actors he named as being not part of the elite-ly educated are technically more well known than Tom is, especially stateside.)

That photoshoot was so great and hysteric_23 made great icons from it. :)

nutmegdealer 1st-Nov-2013 12:49 am (UTC)
who's he doing, ontd?
colorstoobright 1st-Nov-2013 12:50 am (UTC)
numbedtoe 1st-Nov-2013 12:52 am (UTC)
take a number after me.

I require small mini-loki's tonight.

I swear Halloween is the one night a year I get baby rabies.
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 12:56 am (UTC)
ohmyglob. I think if I saw a mini-Loki tonight I would steal them from their parents. Adorable.
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
title or description
theblackwidow 1st-Nov-2013 12:53 am (UTC)
I read a spoiler for Thor 2 that made me really excited tbqh
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 12:57 am (UTC)
what spoiler?
theblackwidow 1st-Nov-2013 01:31 am (UTC)
About loki as captain america

Edited at 2013-11-01 01:33 am (UTC)
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 12:57 am (UTC)
I read quite a few big ones because I'm impatient and I wanted to know what I had to ~prepare for. I'm pretty excited.
numbedtoe 1st-Nov-2013 01:11 am (UTC)
an overlong naked shower scene with Loki? cause I could use that.

Yes I am thirst and idgaf.
shimmeree 1st-Nov-2013 12:53 am (UTC)
His grasp of grammar and, really, just the entire English language is highly attractive.
addicted_to_dan 1st-Nov-2013 12:56 am (UTC)
Right? He makes the average guy sound like a grunting caveman ffs.
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
This is the problem I'm having. He's just so nice and articulate and intelligent that normal dudes are becoming so unappealing... OOPS.
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 12:56 am (UTC)
mte. i start drooling whenever he uses some complex word i don't understand lol.
chiihiro 1st-Nov-2013 01:02 am (UTC)
beanie_chic 1st-Nov-2013 01:31 am (UTC)
mte I seriously just want to have a conversation with him over lunch or something. That's not even a euphemism, I just want to hear him speak!
reasontorhyme 1st-Nov-2013 01:55 am (UTC)
This is exactly what did me in, tbh.
mjspice 1st-Nov-2013 09:09 am (UTC)
This x 1000000!
25th_hr 1st-Nov-2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
The man literally speaks in full paragraphs.
tailzz0666 1st-Nov-2013 12:55 am (UTC)
saw Thor 2 with my little brother yesterday. possibly the best marvel movie yet imo. my brother loved it and spent the entire time giggling hsi little head off!

also god bless the local cinema for finally doing "autism screenings" so my brother can go without being judged or freaking out
zoaster_toaster 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
Your local movie theater does special screenings for low-functioning autistic kids? Awwwwww.
tailzz0666 1st-Nov-2013 01:07 am (UTC)
yep! they turn the volume down dont turn off the lights you can move around and make as much noise as you want and every half an hour there is a break for bathroom/more drinks and sweets/to run wild for 10 minutes. they also bring in toys and shit and bean bags and goody bags for them as well its amazing
addicted_to_dan 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
I've never even heard of autism screenings, but that sounds amazing.
sarahsumbrella 1st-Nov-2013 08:33 am (UTC)
My local cinema here in NYC does this too. They also do mommy screenings where moms can bring their babies - same kinda thing, low volume etc but lots of strollers and women breastfeeding lol
springpeach 1st-Nov-2013 09:08 am (UTC)
That doesny exist in my country, too bad. But I'm really happy your little brother got to see it!
binyah 1st-Nov-2013 12:58 am (UTC)
WHAT IS THAT COMMERCIAL ON MTV FOR????? http://whatjanesays.tumblr.com/post/65638829487/i-finally-caught-the-whole-thing-i-dont-even

Edited at 2013-11-01 12:58 am (UTC)
justkeepworking 1st-Nov-2013 01:01 am (UTC)
We think it's "After Midnight w/ Chris Hardwick" b/c that's what's scheduled on Tuesday @ 8. Idk I'm just gonna turn of the TV at the date/time and see what happens lol.
binyah 1st-Nov-2013 01:02 am (UTC)
So next Tuesday? Gonna have to set an alarm!
misoras 1st-Nov-2013 12:58 am (UTC)
"Eton; Pembroke College, Cambridge; Rada"

lol of course..
misoras 1st-Nov-2013 01:00 am (UTC)
if his peer group are elitely educated actors then um he wouldn't be so unusual...

don't try it
aquaecolore 1st-Nov-2013 02:11 am (UTC)
I doubt he's talking about RADA here, and i'd venture that most Cambridge kids he hung out with did not end up actors.
sarahsumbrella 1st-Nov-2013 08:35 am (UTC)
I'd like to know what his parents do for a living because damn, that is a lot of cashish spent on his education.
justkeepworking 1st-Nov-2013 12:59 am (UTC)
Now that we’ve become friends

LOL I kinda like this writer.

Tom's always been rather diplomatic about his background playing a part in his success. He should write canned answers for Benedict 'cause he always makes a hash of it.
zoaster_toaster 1st-Nov-2013 01:02 am (UTC)
Tom could give Benefiber a shitton of lessons about how to conduct himself in interviews.
numbedtoe 1st-Nov-2013 01:07 am (UTC)
I think part of that is that Ben is just very socially awkward, and Tom is so comfy in his own skin and an extrovert.
curdlesnoot 1st-Nov-2013 05:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, boy is very bad with his anxiety. Anybody can see that with the way he overanalyses everything and his crippling self criticism. I don't give him a pass for his bullshit comments but his verbal diahrroea doesn't help.
saltireflower 1st-Nov-2013 01:15 am (UTC)
Benedict really needs either stfu, or get coached on how to respond, or read a damn book or something.
grapefruitzzz 1st-Nov-2013 01:46 am (UTC)
I love it when Benedict tries to claim he deliberately chose to live the harsh urban working-class life by going to Manchester University instead of Oxbridge :D
kate_fkn_does 1st-Nov-2013 01:00 am (UTC)
I actually really enjoyed Thor. Didn't think I would cos the first one is not my favourite.

Loki made the film though.
amkf 1st-Nov-2013 01:07 am (UTC)
So do people acknowledge that he's a trust fund baby?
365reasonswhy 1st-Nov-2013 01:09 am (UTC)
I thought it was commonly known that he is highly privileged?
amkf 1st-Nov-2013 01:12 am (UTC)
There's degrees of highly privileged. Getting your education paid for is one thing. I don't think most people are aware that he basically has no need to work.
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 01:10 am (UTC)
I would assume so, they bring up his education in every interview. Does it really matter though? He's talented and charming as fuck, I don't really care that he was lucky enough to grow up well off.
justkeepworking 1st-Nov-2013 01:12 am (UTC)
He's not a trust fund baby per say: he's dad was middle class and then did very well for himself...or maybe it was his dad was working class and became middle class? Idk, point is that his dad move up the ranks. I think his mom's family had some money, but she was a stage manager. But yeah, he's always been more than comfortable and that must have contributed to his ability to be seen and to study well. After all, I doubt that agent, that any agent, would have spotted him if he wasn't in fucking Cambridge.
chiihiro 1st-Nov-2013 01:42 am (UTC)
The thing is, he certainly doesn't try to hide the fact that he's of a very privileged background. At the same time, he doesn't flaunt it, but remains rather matter-of-fact about his education and upbringing.
imabadkid 1st-Nov-2013 01:11 am (UTC)
It's so crazy thinking back on like high school and how the theater kids were seen as like the un-cool kids or w/e because those are usually the ones who go on to become famous.
saltireflower 1st-Nov-2013 01:12 am (UTC)
“I would say that my becoming an actor was a very unconventional thing in my peer group,” he says.

I don't remember this many upper class British actors in one generation before, so I wonder what this is about. Because I'd expect these guys to go into law or medicine. Only a handful of the kids who went to my fantsy pants high school did anything remotely creative.
amkf 1st-Nov-2013 01:25 am (UTC)
I don't see how it's that unusual? I can think of more than a few actors off the top of my head who went to the Dragon School/Eton/Cambridge/Oxford. Hugh Laurie has that background. Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Eddie Redmayne. I know I'm missing a few. Other than Eddie, they're not really his generation either.

Edited at 2013-11-01 01:26 am (UTC)
sher_locked0 1st-Nov-2013 01:32 am (UTC)
Richard Ayoade, Jimmy Carr, Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, and Dan Stevens. Those are just Cambridge Footlights Alumni from the 00s.
curdlesnoot 1st-Nov-2013 05:24 am (UTC)
Nearly all the top actors, writers, directors and theatre guys come from a privileged background. It's been that way for years. It has been unusual to see quite so many Brit film actors come from the upper classes, they usually stick to the boards, but it is hardly rare. The entertainment industry in the UK is stacked with the upper class/wealthy/Etonian set.

It's quite sad because in recent years it has become prohibitive for those of poorer backgrounds to get into entertainment. That's not necessarily the fault of those with wealthier backgrounds but it has meant a bit of a monopoly has formed.
ghost_busting 1st-Nov-2013 01:12 am (UTC)
Saw Thor 2 last night and LOVED it. It's so much fun. Probably my 2nd fave Marvel movie after Avengers.
ghost_busting 1st-Nov-2013 01:13 am (UTC)
Btw, Loki & Thor's mini adventure is the best bit.
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 01:16 am (UTC)
yeah i wasn't expecting it to be so hilarious tbh
cekhmet 1st-Nov-2013 01:18 am (UTC)
Glad to hear that fans are liking it. I'd heard some rough things from critics.
tobesurrounded 1st-Nov-2013 01:22 am (UTC)
i think the critics have been mostly positive tho?
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