From performing Shakespeare and Chekhov to acting as Marvel’s comic-book muse: It’s been a strange career arc for Tom Hiddleston, but he’ll take it. The 30-year-old British actor had worked with Kenneth Branagh on a U.K. stage production of Ivanov (after well-regarded work in Othello opposite Ewan McGregor and Chiwetel Ejiofor), and when Branagh ended up in the director’s seat for the big-screen adaptation of Thor, Hiddleston was hand-picked to serve as Thor’s brother and nemesis, Loki. It’s a part so juicy that Hiddleston will reprise it as the main villain in next year’s Marvel mash-up The Avengers, but in the meantime, he’ll also be seen in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. As Hiddleston told Vulture yesterday, he’s excited about his coming year — even if it’s been hell on his eyebrows.
I know he’s supposed to be the bad guy, but I’ll be honest with you: I kind of understood where Loki was coming from most of the time.
I am pleased to hear you say that. You know, I think that in the mind of every villain is a misunderstood hero, and that was the angle that Kenneth Branagh and I always wanted to take with Loki. He is super intelligent, and he’s a shape shifter with a chess master’s kind of strategizing, because he can see ten steps ahead of everyone else. We wanted to root his issues as a bad guy with the sort of psychological complexity we discovered in the comic and the Norse sagas. Thor is the elder brother and Loki is jealous of the favor bestowed on him by Odin, and I think Loki’s very confused and conflicted about what his place is in the family.
Part of Loki’s motivation is that he thinks he should have the power that Thor has. Since you were also up for the role of Thor at one point, did you to get to use any of that in your scenes with Chris Hemsworth?
No, no, no. I have no murderous intentions toward Chris Hemsworth. [Laughs.] The funny thing about auditioning for Thor is that the role itself hadn’t emerged clearly on the page then. There are so many facets of Thor in the comics — there’s the part of him that’s a hot-headed Viking brute, but there’s also the part that’s a noble king. I think that Ken and [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige were still circling around different aspects of the character, and around the time I screen-tested, they realized that they needed someone with a very palpable physical intensity. And the moment I met Chris Hemsworth and saw that his biceps were the size of my head, I saw exactly what they meant.
How much bulk did you put on?
For my screen test for Thor, I put on twenty pounds, and then Ken took me out for breakfast and said, “I want you to play Loki. Can you lose that twenty pounds?” We decided that if Thor was a block of granite, we wanted Loki to be like the wind, dancing around him in combat. So I jumped rope a lot, I was running five miles a day down the beach, and I did a lot of capoeira, the Brazilian martial arts. There were days that I didn’t envy Chris Hemsworth as I saw the 75th chicken forced down his throat. The amount of protein that guy was on was incredible.
Tom, did they give you thinned-out, evil eyebrows for the role?
Did they what?
Your eyebrows in this movie are not your normal eyebrows.
Oh! Yes, my eyebrows were plucked to within an inch of their lives.
I’m just going to put it out there: You have drag queen eyebrows in this movie.
You said it, not me. [Laughs.]
At what point did they tell you that you would get to be the primary villain in The Avengers too?
Well, I think it was a plan from the get-go, but it wasn’t really dead-set until near the end of Thor. What was wonderful is that about four days after I wrapped on Thor, I went out for a cup of tea with Joss Whedon. We sat down at two o’clock in the afternoon, and we were still sitting there at six o’clock. He said, “Listen, you’ve lived with this guy for six months. I want you to spill the beans and tell me all of his dark secrets. Who is this guy? Why is he who he is?” Ken had already shown him a rough cut of the film, and mercifully, everything I had done accorded with Joss’s idea of the character, too. I’m really so flattered that Marvel and Joss think I can take them all on. In Avengers, it’s going to be me versus seven of them, and I say “Good luck to them,” frankly.
Is there still some ambiguity to Loki in that movie, or is he more of a full-fledged bad guy?
It’s tough to say. I think Loki’s intelligence is never switched off. Let’s put it this way: He has really big, evil plans that will take more than his thunderous brother to put a stop to, but that doesn’t mean that the layers aren’t still there.
Are there any trepidations that you’re committed to so many Marvel films without so much as script approval?
I’ve got to be completely honest with you, man: Loki has been such an amazing break for me. I think every young actor needs a break, and I owe it eternally to Kenneth Branagh for believing in me, so it’s kind of a no-brainer to me. The idea that I can play this juicy role a couple more times? It’s a tantalizing prospect.