Life’s ‘Marvel’lous     January 7, 2010

Tom Hiddleston is on the cusp of stardom, having bagged the role of Loki in the Marvel Comics movie Thor

The chatter around British actor Tom Hiddleston has been getting steadily noisier. “One day, that lad is going to be a star, and deservedly so,” declared a theatre critic after watching Hiddleston’s award-winning dual role in Cheek by Jowl’s production of “Cymbeline” (2007).

That “one day” could well be tomorrow, with Hiddleston snagging the coveted role of arch-villain Loki in “Thor”, the Marvel Comics movie of 2010, directed by Kenneth Branagh. While it’s a bad idea to tempt the gods — and especially, the capricious Norse gods — the chatter is now suggestive of a young actor on the cusp of stardom.

“I don’t feel famous,” laughs Hiddleston, in Chennai to attend his sister’s wedding, and taking a break before the “Thor” shoot. Stardom was not what drew him to the profession but accepts that “fame is an essential corollary to actors being able to do the kind of work they want to do”.

What he has learnt from acting alongside stars such as Branagh, Ewan McGregor and Dame Judi Dench is “their continued energy, passion and seriousness about the work — and total lack of seriousness about themselves”.

The same could be said of Hiddleston, in turn, amusing and amused by the myths surrounding an actor. Born in 1981, Hiddleston probably always knew what he wanted to be, but sealed his commitment when he signed on for three years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

This, despite already signing up with the prestigious actors agency, Hamilton Hodell, and having acted in projects such as an ITV production of “Nicholas Nickleby”, a BBC/HBO co-production called “Conspiracy”, starring Branagh, and the Winston Churchill biopic, “The Gathering Storm”, opposite Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave. All this, while still at Cambridge, where he read classics and graduated with an enviable double first.

He doesn’t regret RADA, because “it was an immersion experience of rushing from a class in Restoration comedy to one on Irish accents, with some broadsword fighting practice in-between. When I left RADA as a 24-year-old, inevitably, most parts that came my way were roles of young men. But RADA was like Mary Poppins’ carpet-bag, where they kept pulling out unexpected things and throwing them at you. It gave the experience of a career in miniature”.

After graduating from RADA in 2005, Hiddleston was cast in the independent film “Unrelated”, which was critically well-received. But, it was his work on stage that got really noticed. Critics singled him out, even when cast alongside such marquee names as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor in Michael Grandage’s production of “Othello”. Hiddleston competed against himself in 2008, earning two nominations for the Olivier Award for Best Newcomer (and won for “Cymbeline”). He also got several opportunities to work with Branagh, including the Tom Stoppard adaptation of Chekhov’s “Ivanov”.

“What I love about theatre is that you get to tell the story from beginning to end, every night of the performance.” The endless repetitions do not result in the role becoming mechanical, rather, “you enter a meditative state, and let your subconscious work for you, so that a version that is deeper emerges from you. Like the great musicians, who talk of the music playing them rather than the other way round”.

Hiddleston is currently doing his prep for Loki.Once he actually begins to shoot, he will not refer to this research — “I fill myself up before the performance, and then disgorge it all.”

Conversation turns to what else he has consumed recently, an eclectic mix of Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche in New York”, where he loved the idea that “you are all the people you have ever loved”; Yasujiro Ozu’s seminal 1953 film “Tokyo Story”; and in the same breath, “‘Avatar’, which knocked my socks off. Not since ‘Jurassic Park’ have I been this visually awed by a film”.

Talking movies leads to what drew him to acting in the first place — not the prospect of stardom but the collective experience of being in a theatre, and recognising oneself in what was happening on the stage or screen. As Hiddleston still remembers: “When I left the theatre, the humanity in those stories made me feel less alone.”