If you weren’t aware of Tom Hiddleston until the debonair Brit and possible future James Bond kissed Taylor Swift on a beach in Rhode Island last week, I am sorry for you. You’ve been missing out. But whether you’re a newly intrigued Swifty or a die-hard Hiddlestoner, you surely want to know more.
I had the pleasure of hanging out with Hiddleston for a couple of hours at the end of April — just a few days before he met Swift at the Met Ball — and he is as charming as advertised. And tall (six foot two). And well-dressed (custom-tailored navy suit with an open-collared white shirt and no tie). I can’t shed further light on whether the #Hiddleswift snogfest was a publicity stunt, but I can sate your curiosity about the snogger. Here are 28 things you learn from hanging out with him.
1. He loves to dance — and not just at the Met Ball with Taylor.
There’s an entire sector of YouTube dedicated to mash-ups of Hiddleston dancing (and doing celebrity impressions, and speaking different languages). My personal favorite would be this “dance-off” between him and close friend Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that I love dancing,” Hiddleston says. “At a party I’ll be the first person on the dance floor and the last sweaty mess at the end of the night. I don’t even think I can dance particularly well. I just have always had great enthusiasm for it and enjoy it.”
2. He’s not a party animal, though.
“I keep my head down in London,” he says. “It’s so boring. I just have long breakfasts and meet up with my sisters” — the older one is a journalist, the younger one an actress — “and go and play with my niece and go and catch up with my mom and dad. Just try to be normal for a bit, do normal stuff, read books, think about how I might want to redo the kitchen.”
3. All of the stuff the internet loves about him he’s been doing since he was a kid.
“Impressions and dancing, these are two things that if you ask my sisters and my oldest friends, they’ll be like, ‘This is literally what he has done since he was 5,’” he says. “I remember being 3 or 4 and we would clear the sofas back to the wall and my mom would play the piano and [my older sister] and I would dance. It’s just the sweetest thing, and it’s such a happy memory.”
Also, he says, “I used to do my own radio show — for an audience of one, I hasten to add. But I would do impressions of the newsreader and the weatherman and the DJ. I just always did all these different voices.”
4. Don’t read too much into the idea that he’s the perfect boyfriend.
“They’re all lies,” he says. He mentioned that work has sometimes “tested” his personal relationships. “Being away a lot is a real thing, but I’m getting better at that, too. I’m getting better at bridging the gap.” When I asked him for a status update on his dating life this April — he was last rumored to be dating Elizabeth Olsen, his co-star in the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light — he said, “I think some things have to remain sacred,” then added, “You could write that I’m single. There’s no ring on this finger.”
5. Tilda Swinton taught him the serenity prayer.
He recites it upon showing up late to meet me for lunch at the Crosby Street Hotel, then explains that Swinton used to say it when they played impossibly hip vampires living in Detroit in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. “I’d never heard it before until she said it. She’s a very wise woman.”
6. Menus are just suggestions to him.
Eggs Benedict is not on the lunch menu, but if you are Tom Hiddleston and ask politely and flash your Tom Hiddleston smile, that will not be an obstacle.
7. But he won’t eat just anything.
When offered goat at a dinner in Vietnam while shooting King Kong: Skull Island, he says, “I didn’t partake. I should have, but I was just thinking I needed to be in one piece for the shoot.”
8. He will ask you questions about yourself.
Is it a ploy to not have to talk about himself the whole time? Maybe. Or maybe he’s actually curious about people. Either way, it’ll turn you into mush.
9. He will also compliment your vocabulary.
“By the way, excellent use of ‘sui generis.’ People don’t use that enough.”
10. Yes, he knows he has a tendency to ramble.
“I wish this wasn’t being recorded,” he says, hiding his head in his hands, laughing.
11. There’s nothing high maintenance about him.
When the waiter asks if he’d be more comfortable with a clean set of silverware, he replies, “Honestly, don’t dirty any more plates. Keep these plates dirty and I’ll be fine.”
12. If you go back to his hotel room, you might get a serenade.
After playing Hank Williams, he brings his acoustic guitar with him everywhere. “It’s an enormous source of pleasure and joy,” he says. “I just noodle around, but I have a base musicianship I didn’t have before.” Picking up new skills — like instruments and combat moves and how to ride a cavalry horse — is partly why he loves acting. “The only thing that’s constant is that everything will change and people change,” he says. “The privilege we are afforded is that we get to have these very intense new experiences, which you then carry with you.”
13. He actually read Norse mythology to play the Marvel supervillain Loki, and he can recite it from memory.
Hiddleston tells me about an obscure myth in which Loki was female. “He/she, Loki the demigod, had changed his or her shape and now represented as a woman. If that ever happens in the movies, I’m not sure I’ll be able to deliver on that.” He’s willing to try, though. “I would dress in drag if called upon to do it,” he says, “but I don’t think that’s quite what they meant. It’s not Loki in drag. It’s actually a woman, so they would cast a woman. Or somebody who identifies as a woman.” Hear that? He’s woke, too.
14. The man can keep a secret.
Hiddleston has known since 2012 that he’d be in Thor: Ragnarok, but he never slipped up to the press. “People were trying to pry that information out of me last year,” he says, but he stayed rigorously coy and on message about Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, which he was promoting at the time. But he never worried about Loki coming back. “Thor 2 finishes with Loki on the throne. I knew that eventually the Thor narrative and mythology would have to pick up where we left off.”
15. The last book he read was Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.
“It made me laugh and laugh and laugh.”
16. Mistaking him for Michael Fassbender is so 2012.
“There was a moment when Prometheus came out that people congratulated me on my performance in Prometheus,” Hiddleston says. That’s over, but he still managed to go undercover while working at London’s fancy Rosewood Hotel as prep for The Night Manager, an adaptation of the John le Carré novel in which he played a soldier turned hotel worker turned spy. “It was hilarious,” Hiddleston says. “Nobody recognized me until the morning. Under the cover of night I was invisible, and then at breakfast time, people were like, ‘Hang on, are you that actor? I would say, ‘I couldn’t possibly comment.’” Later, during filming, he worked the front desk of a functioning hotel in Marrakesh, handing out keys to actual guests who had no idea who he was. The Marvel fans among the staff called him “Mr. Loki,” though.
17. He’s got a sensible view on his sudden fame.
“It’s not that you change but people around you change and that takes some getting used to,” he says. “It has to do with visibility and anonymity. It’s odd. There’s a before-and-after. Before is you walk into a room and you meet someone and they don’t know you and you don’t know them and you get to know each other. The after is you walk into a room and you meet someone and they know who you are and you don’t know them and that interaction is changed as you get to know each other.”
Hiddleston finds fame hard to conceptualize because it’s a construct. “I’ve said this before, but fame is a collection of other people’s opinions, and nobody has any control over that. You can only control who you are. In a way, that gives me peace. It’s a corollary to the work, and if you’re lucky then you start to have a platform to then say what you want to say and make choices.” Playing Loki gave him the chance to pursue passion projects during breaks in Marvel servitude: Coriolanus onstage in London, Crimson Peak, I Saw the Light, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s bonkers dystopian novel High-Rise, and The Night Manager.
18. His friendship with Benedict Cumberbatch began with bruises.
The Brits who would each become the internet’s boyfriend first bonded while training to play cavalry officers in Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse. “There was no faking it,” Hiddleston says. “We had to ride those horses at the front of a phalanx of 90 on a double rein, single-handed, holding sabers out in front of us. So it was very intensive. We both fell off the horses a lot in training. It was very humbling. You get to know someone very quickly when you’re both learning something like that together.”
19. He’ll show you King Kong: Skull Island footage on his iPhone. (And it looks amazing.)
At one point, Hiddleston whipped out his phone to show me a slow-motion video of him running through a swamp in Vietnam with (presumably fake) bullets flying at him and a helicopter carrying the camera right overhead. The entire shoot, he says, “was incredibly sweaty and physical. The most physical thing I’ve ever done.” He’s also very proud of the movie being the first big-budget American picture to be allowed to shoot in Vietnam since the ‘60s. “It was a big deal, and I don’t say that lightly,” he says. He also hints that his character, a British Special Air Services officer, will clash with the American characters over military strategies, specifically because of his outsiders’ perspective on the war.
20. You don’t want to corner him in a dark alley.
In the past two years, Hiddleston has learned spy techniques from a British paratrooper for Night Manager and jungle tracking from a Navy SEAL for Kong. Improvisation is key, he says. “What you want to do is distract the person you’re being cornered by and react in a very unexpected way, which is essentially you use whatever you have on hand. So say someone comes to pick a fight with you in the pub and you’re carrying a drink or whatever, you put both your hands up and say, ‘Please, please, please, I really don’t want to do this.’ Then just when they’re not expecting it you throw your drink in their face and they can’t see and then you have a split second to make a decision. We practiced these scenarios. It’s extraordinary what happens to adrenaline as you’re doing it because it feels very real.”
By the way: He also knows capoeira, which he learned while playing Loki.
21. He thinks moral conviction is sexy.
One of the major appeals of his Night Manager character, Jonathan Pine, he says, was Pine’s willingness to give up his identity to avenge the murder of a woman he’d loved. “I found his sense of moral fire romantic,” Hiddleston explains. “Romantic in the sense that he’s a man who’s willing to stand up for something, to fight or die for a principle, a cause.” Hiddleston says he was “moved” by Pine’s choice to “live within the jaws of the beast,” infiltrating the inner circle of an international arms dealer, played by Hugh Laurie, whom le Carré describes as the worst man in the world. “If those jaws snap shut at any time, he’s a dead man,” says Hiddleston, “and nobody would be the wiser.”
Also sexy: This NSFW sex scene from The Night Manager.
22. No kids yet, but he already has a parenting philosophy.
When we somehow get on the topic, Hiddleston tells me that he believes in “the sanctity of childhood and the privilege of boredom parents can bestow on children.” Meaning, he believes it’s parents’ job to create a safe environment for their kids, “so they will get bored, so they start making up things to do. They get a self-generated creative impulse to do something, to play a game, to paint a picture, to climb a tree, play hide-and-seek, read a book, or just stare out the window. That time you never get back. You never get the staring-out-of-the-window time back that you get granted as a child, if you’re lucky. Not every child gets that. I’m so grateful to have had a childhood that dragged out over time.”
He actually feels sorry for today’s kids — and people in general. “What is socialization now? Is it just staring at your phone? I was in LAX yesterday and we were waiting to board. I looked up and every single person I could see in the airport was glued to their phone. I realized I was glued to my phone, too.”
23. He gets tired of social media, too.
“I don’t use [Twitter] as much as I used to, but only because I find it distracting from working,” he says. “My great strength, and my great weakness, is that I can’t do anything by halves. So when I do something I do it to the exclusion of everything else. Which is great for the work and less great for my life, if you know what I mean. I’m all in, and I can say that with absolute confidence knowing that every director will back that up. But I say it’s a weakness because I can’t switch it off.”
24. It’s not always fun to listen to him talk about his movies.
In High-Rise, Hiddleston plays a psychologist named Dr. Lange, who begins the movie by spit-roasting a dog. He also has some very sexy sex with Sienna Miller along the way. Still, you might fall asleep listening to him explain it: “Lange is a physiologist with a professional detachment, whose day job is to disassemble the machine parts of human engineering. So he’s capable of intellectualizing emotion, saying it’s just certain chemicals being distributed by our glands and organs around the body. He has this coolness about him, but when push comes to shove and the extremity of the chaos that’s taking place within the high-rise reaches fever pitch, that detachment is challenged. Who are you? There is a huge moment of self-recognition that happens within Dr. Lange of an acceptance of a new identity, a new nature. This is when life is devolved to sort of a more feral landscape and he accepts it: This is who I am now. I forage for my food.”
25. It was tough for him to see Crimson Peak and I Saw the Light bomb last year.
“It’s not the best piece of news,” he says. But on the bright side, “it’s been very instructive in that I now realize there are certain things I cannot control because I know that The Night Manager has been a big hit in the U.K. I didn’t work on The Night Manager any more or less hard than I worked on Crimson Peak and I Saw the Light.” He goes on: “What’s that Andy Warhol quote? I’m paraphrasing, but, Make art, let other people decide if it’s good or bad, and while they’re deciding make more.”
26. He’d do them all again, though.
Ultimately, Hiddleston says, it helps to divorce his experience of making a film from the two hours an audience spends deciding if they like it. “I spent five months of my life working on I Saw the Light, working 12 hours of every day,” he says. “There are things about everything I’ve done that I carry with me forever. Friendships you make and experiences that happen off-screen that belong to you entirely, and you treasure those deeply. So for me, every project is a huge investment of time and energy. It’s much more than just two hours’ screen time.”
27. He regrets saying that he wanted the Bond rumors to stop.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” he says. It came out of frustration during a press junket for The Night Manager where all anyone wanted to ask him about was 007. “I haven’t had any spoken engagement with [Bond producers] Barbara Broccoli or Michael Wilson, and the expectation of an inevitability — I was just engaging with it every day. That was just the sheer volume of journalists who’d have ten minutes to talk about The Night Manager and Jonathan Pine, who I really thought about, and they wouldn’t want to talk about Jonathan Pine. They’d want to talk about James Bond.”
Nevertheless, he is flattered people are talking about it. “I’m a huge fan of James Bond, but it feels presumptuous to consider it before it’s real,” he says. “I’m also a huge fan of expensive Champagne, nobody’s written about that. I think one should be able to say one is a fan of something without it meaning that you’re throwing your hat into the ring to play that role. So I still remain an enduring fan of the James Bond series, but at this point, I haven’t had a real conversation with the producers of those films, and I believe that Daniel Craig will continue to play James Bond.”
28. Never fear, Hiddlestoners! His dancing days are far from over.
“If you were present at a party with my friends, I would dance like a lunatic, but I also believe in the moral seriousness of The Night Manager, or the rigor required in trying to investigate why Hank Williams was Hank Williams, or the deep intellectual provocation of a piece of work like High-Rise. It doesn’t change the fact that I might do an impression of Chris Evans tomorrow. To quote Walt Whitman, ‘I contain multitudes.’”