Here's how I know Tom Hiddleston is one of the most talented up-and-comers in Hollywood: he's the nicest guy in the world, fully capable of playing the most evil dude in the universe.
I had a chance to sit down with Hiddleston at New York Comic Con to discuss The Avengers, his second round of playing the villainous Loki, God of Mischief. Judging from the recent trailer (and the preview footage we got a glimpse of at the film's panel), Loki looks more powerful than ever, enhanced by (if the end of Thor is any indication) otherworldly forces. Still, charm is his deadliest weapon—something Hiddleston has plenty of in his arsenal.
Tom Hiddleston:The thing about the two of them is that they actually share more than you might first imagine, weirdly. Joss is a huge Shakespeare buff and Ken is a closeted comic book fanboy. True story. But they also have a pan-literacy about storytelling and mythology and literature and comics, and they understand classic tropes of storytelling. Narrative arcs.
They're also both immensely passionate people. Really good at leading, really good at inspiring actors. All that stuff. But everyone has a different artistic fingerprint, and whatever that is changes as you grow older anyway. Ken has a very classical warmth. Thor is both warm and classical in tone. Joss is really interested in comedy as well, within a sci-fi context. You have this huge canvas where eight superheroes are teaming up to save the world, and he's brave enough to make it funny.
How did that affect your performance as Loki?
TH: He changes in that he's definitively more menacing. A lot more. I think Loki in Thor is a lost prince. There's a degree of vulnerability and confusion about his identity. In The Avengers he knows exactly who he is, he's completely self-possessed. He's here with a particular mission.
Why does Loki take out his vengeance on Earth?
TH: Like all autocrats, he doesn't see it as vengeance. He sees it as a good thing. Essentially, he's come down to Earth to subjugate it, to rule as their king. His primary argument is that this planet is rife and populated with people who are constantly fighting each other. If they're all united in their reverence of one king, there will be no war. [Laughs] I'm not sure he's right about that.
But to bring [Chris] Hemsworth into it, I think Loki's still jealous that Thor has a kingdom, Asgard. And Loki has nothing. So he's going to make his own kingdom.
Do you get any comedy in this movie or are you all hellfire and brimstone?
Oh, a lot of hellfire and brimstone [laughs], but Joss had two notes for myself: more feral and enjoy yourself. And I think there's a kind of relish that Loki takes in just being who he is, that I hope the audience will enjoy as well.
You have a lot of physicality at the end of Thor, will we see more of that as well?
Are you working alone or do you have some cronies?
TH: [Laughs] There's a lot of working alone, but there's a little support too.
How does one bad guy take on eight superheroes?
TH: It's all in a days work, man! There's something about Loki that's been expanded. He's a enormously powerful being. He's the God of Mischief. Between the end of Thor and the beginning of Avengers he's evolved. It's as if he's been on three years of military training and he knows a few extra things. A few tricks up his sleeve.
It was really fun and hugely physically demanding for me. Because there's a kind of lethal, yet sinewy strength that he has, that sometimes is about magic and supernatural power that he has, but other times a raw physicality that's just me and my body.
Did you and Chris discuss how you were going to make your relationship different in this film than in Thor?
TH: Well we sat down with Joss individually, then we kind of talked about it together. Joss had such good ideas, we kind of followed his lead. Because it's not a sequel to the Thor film, it's a sequel to the Iron Man films and the Captain America film…his ideas were just so smart. I took it as a huge compliment that what I did in Thor was OK enough to warrant putting me in the next one. Joss has a soft spot for Loki, he likes him as a character and thought he could take both Thor and Loki further down that path. Make the sibling rivalry a really interesting element of the clash of egos in Avengers.
We see you playing with a weapon in the recent trailer. What were you wielding?
TH: It's a kind of evolution of the staff he played with in the end of Thor. That was Odin's spear. This his own makeshift staff of mischief.
There's a lot of New York blowing up in the trailer. Is the action primarily set there or does the movie have a larger, global scope?
TH: Well, no, it's not just one city, but Manhattan becomes a focus point mainly because that's where Tony Stark lives. There's one shot in the trailer where you can see the jet flying towards Stark Tower, which in the fictitious world of the comics, Tony Stark has a huge, interestingly-shaped [laughs] tower, opposite the Chrysler Building. So that becomes a focus point.
How familiar and immersed were you with Marvel mythology before playing Loki?
TH: Well, in England we have this game called Top Trumps and it's like a really simple game for kids. You have them for racing cars, fighting planes or something. And I had the Marvel Superhero Top Trumps. Each hero is on each card, with each of their vital statistics. You'd have Thor and I'd have Loki and you'd say, 'height, 7'2"' and I'd be like 'uh…' and then you'd win Loki. Galactus, he's the Top Trump!
Because you were the movie's villain, did the other cast keep you at arm's length or was there camaraderie on set?
TH: [Laughs] No, no they didn't. All the Marvel movie's have a code name to keep them secret. Thor was called 'Frostbite' and The Avengers was called 'Group Hug.' There was a huge camaraderie on set. Partly because none of us could quite believe we were there making this movie. Also, we were shooting in Albuquerque and Cleveland, and of course, no one is from Albuquerque or Cleveland so no one has anywhere to go. So you finish up at work and it's like, 'does anyone want to grab a beer or something?'
We had some fun houses. Chris Evans had a good table tennis table. Loki beats the crap out of both Thor and Captain America at table tennis. And one night Chris Evans sent a round robin text message saying 'Avengers Assemble' [laughs] and we ended up at a bar in Albuquerque, the place where everyone goes to hang out on Saturday night. What was quite interesting was that your regular Albuquerque bar-goer looking around going, 'Is that Jeremy Renner doing a lunge on the dance floor?' Or, 'why are Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson at this bar dancing together?' But, yeah, it was really fun.
What is Loki's relationship with Stellan Skarsgaard's character in this movie? We know at the end of Thor the two of you were quite close.
TH: This is where I can sense the red dot forming on my forehead and the Marvel sniper on the roof over there has his eye on me.
Working with Stellan is amazing. I really do think he's an exceptional actor, capable of bringing a layer of complexity and truth to roles, which in another actor's hands might seem dry and invisible. He's been doing it for so long—I love the fact that he's done so many different things. Lars von Trier so many times, Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean, Angels & Demons and he's in Fincher's new movie, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A kind, sweet man.
He plays the same character in The Avengers, Eric Selvig. He's employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. after his encounter with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Thor. And that is all I can say [laughs].
How does Loki contend with the eclectic mix of superpowers presented by The Avengers? How do they balance all the characters?
TH: I think Joss is a great genius in the way he put the film together. These guys don't find it easy to share the space. It's not a easily functioning team. You've seen the bit in the trailer where Steve Rogers and Tony Stark bickering. A lot of the strength and the uniqueness of the film comes from square pegs/round hole fitting.
With Loki being the big bad in The Avengers, do you have any particularly threatening lines you drop on the team?
TH: Oh God…there's so many. There's on in the first scene, if I can remember. It's connected to the one in the trailer, which is, "You were made to be ruled." That smacks of an entitlement and arrogance and a menace that sums Loki up pretty well. There's more where that came from.