Ever since his breakthrough performance as Loki in Thor, Tom Hiddleston’s enormous fan base of Hiddlestoners has grown to over four million followers on Instagram and three million on Twitter. Basically the population of a small country.
Which can lead to a continuous barrage of selfie requests on the street. And the 36-year-old Londoner is always happy to oblige. Respect!
“You know, I don’t have to do that,” he explains, “I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to interact with anyone on social media. I don’t have to stop for photographs or selfies, I just choose to do it because I like to do it. It doesn’t inflict a great hardship on my day.”
Ever likeable in conversation, little has changed about Hiddleston, despite his soaring celebrity. His enduring devious malevolence as Loki has appeared in several billion dollar grossing Marvel instalments, while his alluring appeal has lead independent features like Crimson Peak and The Night Manager to roaring success.
And then there’s his increasingly scrutinised personal life, best represented in his brief, highly public relationship with Taylor Swift. While warned to steer clear on the subject, we veer ever close in our interview and Hiddleston seems largely unfazed.
So Hiddleston remains ever the well-spoken nice guy. Either that or he’s an ever better actor than we initially perceived.
He is now releasing his latest blockbuster, Kong: Skull Island, yet another Hollywood treatment of the misunderstood great ape who just wants to be left in peace. Also starring Oscar-winning Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, it’s an explosive, huge exploration of the story, based in the world-changing seventies, a time as the actor calls it, of upheaval and social change, where his former Vietnam War veteran is tasked with guiding a group of corporate mercenaries into a mysterious, uncharted island where a new species of ape may exist. And clearly things go to plan.
Eloquent and softly spoken, the star chats about his attraction to the project and the highs and lows of shooting in remote isolated locations around the world. He also talks about fame and his relationship with ‘brother’ Chris Hemsworth.
Is there a pressure taking on a project that has this much history and expectation behind it?
It is, yes [laughs]. It’s Kong, the icon, one of the remaining, enduring icons of cinematic legacy. If you think about it, he’s been in movies longer than anybody.
But very welcome pressure. Very fearful pressure but very exciting pressure. The image of him gripping onto the Empire State Building, with the light planes circling overhead, it’s seared into the consciousness. And this is a new fresh, totally left of field, exciting, gritty, fiery, adventurous take, teleported in the seventies, a time of tremendous and moving political and social upheaval,
What was your biggest fear going into this?
I think my fear with the project was the potential to be placed in imaginary circumstances. And that is acting, that’s part of the job, but when it’s something as fantastical as this premise, you need to muster all the legitimacy you can get and [director] Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] did that by travelling and placing us in the lakes and vegetation of Vietnam and the great rainforests of Queensland and the sweeping beauty of Oahu in these incredibly deep valleys. And all of that legitimacy was powerfully informative as we embarked on this journey, and to find ourselves actually in Skull Island. And audiences are going to say, ‘wow, where is that? I want to go there?’
No green screen, we were actually there and that was genius. It felt tactile and authentic. And very appropriate for a film like this. You almost need to be able to smell the dank humidity in the air. Like we did, we lived through it. And I’m so glad we did. I’m so glad we were in the elements, in the swamp water up to our chests, with mysterious creatures swimming around us, crawling into our warm spaces.
I’m so glad we were attacked by insects the size of your fist, I’m so glad there were some of most poisonous snakes in the world gliding past our feet in Australia, I’m so glad our set nearly got washed away by floodwaters, I’m so glad we were nearly incinerated by the searing temperatures, I’m very glad we did all that [laughs]. Because it meant we all had to live through the elements, we had to survive these environments for real, and that was a perfect adventure.
You’ve worked with green screen and CGI many times. Are you not a fan?
I see green screen and CGI as very similar to theatre, because you’re choosing to believe something is there, that isn’t actually there. It doesn’t exist. You have to believe it. I had to believe Kong was there, he became real to me. And if I did not do that, the audience couldn’t believe it either. It’s an unusual comparison you would think but they are very similar in concept.
On a basic human level, do you feel foolish acting opposite a tennis ball? Does that feel strange to you?
You feel so foolish. Gasping in fear at a tennis ball on a stick. But it’s pure make believe, the essence of our craft. It’s why we do what we do.
What was it like working with Brie?
Brie Larson was spectacular to work on this, not only because she is a phenomenal actor and you can easily see why she won the Oscar for Room because there is nothing she cannot do. But that is also true of general life, she brought a zealous fervour and energy to the production that reinvigorated and recharged our sometimes exhausted, ravaged spirits.
We didn’t have weekends on this set, we had ‘Brie-kends’, where every weekend, she would set up some fantastic outing for the whole cast. Trips to amazing beaches and secret islands in Vietnam. She shut down an entire theme park on the Gold Coast, that was a feat of excellence. We did karaoke, we did go kart racing, and it was really lovely to have someone like her pulling us altogether, she felt very focal within the group. And it was only a group because she positioned us that way, which I know we were all very grateful for being away from our homes.
How’s shooting Thor 3 going?
We wrapped a couple of months ago.
How was it going back to Loki again?
It’s been nearly four years since I’ve placed that dark wig on my head and boy did I miss it [laughs]. He’s incredibly close to my being, I feel intensely connected with Loki and the more I get to discover about him, the more I understand and feel his zeal and purpose.
And working with a new director in Taika [Waititi], is very enriching because of the new perspective and spotlight he brings, very original energy and humour.
You and Chris Hemsworth must be like brothers now?
Yes, he is my brother, through and through. Especially seeing as I never had a brother, absolutely. We’re as close as it gets and that comes from embarking on this, throughout this entire journey. Since first meeting at Ken’s [director Kenneth Branagh] house six months before we started on Thor, we always had each other’s back, we understood each other, we got on famously. There’s always been this immense banter between us, and that has been there from the very first moment we met.
I believe much of that has come from knowing what the other has been going through and feeling at that time. Both of our careers were at a similar juncture where there seemed to be a lot of rejection and instability and we both have — at this stage, it’s been eight years — have gone through great changes and upheavals and yet, he’s one of the few people in my life who I can connect with on that level and relate to in the fabulous chaos going on. It’s a very important, dear friendship to me and I cannot explain how much I relish working together.
To go from that point in your career where you were being rejected and knocked back, to now, how do you look back and reflect on that journey?
Nothing about my career has felt overnight or instant. It’s been a slow burn, and I’m very grateful for that, I’ve been around for a while, I’ve worked very much under the radar for a long time, assimilating experience and knowledge, that has made me so much better equipped for this life right now. And I feel very lucky and very happy. I get to do so many things, I get to go to so many places and I never stay in any lane, I’m not forced to do that, and that is a great liberty to enjoy.
You say it wasn’t overnight but one day, I’d never heard of you, no offence, and then Thor came out and you were this superstar, is that a pretty accurate sum up. And would you say Kenneth Branagh was instrumental in getting you to where you are today?
I’m a creature of experience. I believe my entire path has lead to where I am today, it’s potentially reductive to simmer down to one encounter or one decision made. But undoubtedly, Kenneth provided a stunning opportunity to work on a story that while festooned in fantastical lurid imagery and themes, from rainbow bridges to eight legged horses, and somehow anchor all that within family and the relationships within, built from Shakespearean templates about brothers who love each other, who hate each other, who need each other, was immeasurable important to my development. His guidance has been of the paramount significance.
Did he give you any wise words of advice?
There weren’t any specific dominating passages or phrases, far more his wisdom as a filmmaker. Although I do remember after finishing shooting on Thor, he stood there with Chris and myself, and he said, ‘Boys, enjoy the next year of your lives because it’s all going to change!’ One has to take that with the proverbial pinch [laughs].
And he was right. Now look at you, reigning Rear of the Year!
Yes, a magnificent achievement [laughs].
Were you proud, or cringing?
I don’t think it’s an honour anyone would shirk. It was certainly unexpected but very welcome [laughs].
But you don’t show it off in Kong?
There was talk but the general consensus is that it would steal the spotlight from the real star [Kong].
You are super famous now, how do you find living in the spotlight? Do you like it or loathe it?
It’s such a nebulous, ephemeral concept that to even attempt to analyse and carve up is almost impossible. And there’s a large level to it that doesn’t feel real or have any bearing on my reality so I don’t have much of an opinion one way or the other.
Being photographed when you’re out and about, people commenting on your personal life, that doesn’t bother you?
It doesn’t because it’s just people talking. And how can I stop people talking, that’s something entirely out of my control. All I can do is live the way I want, do right by others and myself and anything else after that, there’s little concern for me.
It’s a by-product of the work that I enjoy and I’m lucky enough to actively pursue. The job and the creation is for the audience and if they’re happy to watch what I do, that is what I take away from it. That’s what is important to me. Not what someone in another country whom I’m never likely to meet has said about me.