It’s got to be a lot of pressure playing one of the most infamous villains in the Marvel Universe, but actor Tom Hiddleston — known to fans of “Thor” and “The Avengers” as Loki, the God of Mischief — was all calm collectedness when he sat down to discuss his role at New York Comic Con.
Breezing into a room full of reporters while wearing a white t-shirt and black blazer, the charismatic actor immediately informed us, “I have a thing about shaking hands — it just means I can actually say hello.” Hiddleston then proceeded to circle the room, introducing himself to each journalist. “Hi, I’m Tom” he said, completely down to earth. He couldn’t be less like his on-screen persona.
Taking a seat at the head of the table, in front of a massive flat-screen TV broadcasting an image of “The Avengers” poster, the actor proceeded to field the firing squad-style questions characteristic of a roundtable Q&A with grace and humor.
This is the second time you’ve played the God of Mischief, under [the direction of] two very different men — Kenneth Branagh, for “Thor” and Joss Whedon for “The Avengers.” Can you speak to working with both directors?
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’s actually a closet comic book fanboy. True story. But also they both have a kind of pan literacy about storytelling and mythology and literature and comics and they understand classic tropes of storytelling, narrative arcs…and they’re also both just immensely passionate people. Really good at leading, really good at inspiring actors and all of that stuff. So…everyone has a different artistic fingerprint. Ken has a very classical warmth about him…and I think “Thor” is both warm and classical in tone and Joss is really interested in comedy, as well, within a Sci-Fi context. He had this huge canvas where eight superheroes are teaming up to save the world, and he’s brave enough to make it funny.
How did switching between directors affect your performance as Loki — did he change at all?
He changes in that he’s definitively more menacing [in “The Avengers”]. A lot more. I think Loki in “Thor” is a lost prince and there’s a degree of vulnerability and confusion about his identity. In “The Avengers,” he knows exactly who he is — he’s fully self-possessed and he’s here with a particular mission.
Why does Loki need to take out his vengeance on earth in “The Avengers?”
Like all delusional autocrats he doesn’t see it as vengeance, he sees it as a good thing. He’s come down to earth to subjugate it, to rule the human race as their king, and his primary argument is this planet is rife and populated by people who are constantly fighting each other. If they’re all united together in their reverence of one king, there will be no war. I’m not sure he’s right about that. But that’s his reasoning. There’s also a sort of…I think still a jealousy that Thor gets to have a kingdom. Thor gets a kingdom, Thor has Asgard and Loki has nothing. So he’s got to come and make his own kingdom.
Do you get to exercise any comedic play in “The Avengers,” working with Whedon, or are you all hellfire and brimstone?
A lot of hellfire and brimstone…but also, Joss had two notes for me — one was ‘More feral’ and the other was ‘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 some really awesome physicality at the end of “Thor” — are we going to see more of that in “The Avengers?”
And are you acting alone or do you maybe have some cronies?
[Long pause, a mischievous grin, a laugh] There’s a lot of working alone and then there’s a little bit of support as well.
How do you handle taking on eight superheroes as Loki?
It’s all in a day’s work, man. [Laughs]
Yeah, there’s something about Loki that’s been expanded. It’s like — he is an enormously powerful being, he’s the god of mischief and he’s — between the end of “Thor” and the beginning of “Avengers,” he’s evolved. It’s as if he’s been on his like three years worth of military training. Like he knows a few extra things. Tricks up his sleeve. It’s really fun — it was hugely physically demanding for me because…there’s a kind of lethal and yet sinewy strength that he has that sometimes is sort of about magic and this sort of supernatural power that he has and other times a raw physicality.
Did you and Chris Hemsworth discuss your on-screen interactions before you stepped onto “The Avengers” set?
Well we sat down with Joss individually and then we kind of talked about it together, but Joss had such good ideas, really, it was sort of following 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” films as well, and his idea was just so smart. But it’s a huge compliment — I took it as a huge compliment that Joss thought that what I did in Thor was OK enough to warrant putting me in the next one. And I think Joss has a soft spot for Loki, I think he kind of likes him as a character and thought he could take both Thor and Loki further down that path and make the sibling rivalry a really interesting element of the clash of egos in “Avengers.”
Was there ever any amiable critiquing of respective performances between you and Chris?
Well the thing is, I’m so blessed to have such a great relationship with Chris as an actor…I remember our first scene together in “Avengers;” Joss was like, ‘You really make each other better. That’s a really amazing thing to watch.’ We just bring some extra baggage that’s good, you know, because we’ve played brothers for so long. It’s like when you play tennis with someone and you’re just evenly matched.
Say you could put together your own team of superheroes — or, rather, supervillains. Who would be your evil super friends if you could choose from any character in literature, the Marvel universe, movies, etc?
[Laughs] A little bit of help from Darth Vader, if I might. Hans Gruber from “Die Hard.” Scar from “The Lion King.” Robert Patrick from “Terminator 2” — the T-1000. Probably Schwarzenegger from “Terminator.” Iago, absolutely. That’s a pretty awesome group of people!
In regards to your weapon — what was that wonderful toy you were playing with in the “Avengers” trailer?
It’s a kind of evolution of the staff that he played with at the end of “Thor,” but that’s Odin’s spear. So at the end of “Thor,” it’s Odin’s spear — this is his own makeshift staff of destruction.
Will Odin be in “The Avengers?”
Odin won’t be in “The Avengers.”
It seems from the trailer that “The Avengers” is set in New York — is that correct? Is it set in just one city or more than one?
Well, no…it’s not just one city. But inevitably Manhattan becomes a focus point, partly because that’s where Tony Stark lives, and there’s one shot in the trailer where you can see, I think, the Quinjet flying towards Manhattan and in the middle of it is Stark Tower, which is in the fictitious world of the comics. Tony Stark has a huge interestingly-shaped tower opposite the Chrysler building, which is his base of operations. That’s where Stark Industries works out of. And so Stark Tower becomes a focus point for lots of reasons.
How immersed in Marvel mythology were you before you signed on to play Loki?
In England we have this game called “Top Trumps”….and so my acquaintance with Marvel superheroes came from the game.
Did you have a favorite comic book villain before Loki?
What about Norse mythology? How difficult is it to play a character that’s based off of comics that are based off of cultural myth?
Well, in many ways I had to defer to Ken and to Marvel and they already had a very clear take on the world they wanted to make. But I really sort of I borrowed from both. In the Marvel mythology, initial incarnations of Loki just have him kind of cackling on the rooftops — he’s very much a two-dimensional villain. And really it was only in the Norse myths — when I went back and read some of them — how sort of psychologically complex Loki seemed to be, in that he’s the God of Lies, he’s the God of Deception and…every religion, it seems to me, has an agent of chaos. In Greek mythology it’s Dionysus, in Roman mythology it’s Bacchus, and in Norse myth it’s Loki.
What was the camaraderie like on the “Avengers” set?
All the Marvel films have code names just to keep things secret. “Thor” was called “Frostbite,” or something, and the “Avengers” codename was “Group Hug.” There was a huge camaraderie on set — partly because none of us could quite believe that we were there making that film. And also, we were shooting in Albuquerque and Cleveland, and nobody is from Albuquerque or Cleveland, so no one’s got anywhere else to go, so you finish up at work and it’s like, “Does anyone want to have a beer or something?” There were some fun houses. Chris Hemsworth had a good table tennis table. Loki beats the crap out of both Thor and Captain America at table tennis!
Did you guys actually go out to bars — the group of you?
We did, yeah. It was surreal and really fun. There was one night where Chris Evans sent a round robin text message saying “Avengers: Assemble!” And we ended up at a bar in Albuquerque — it was just the place where everyone goes to hang out on a Saturday night. And what was quite interesting was, like, your regular Albuquerque bar-goer sort of looking around going, ‘Is that Jeremy Renner doing a lunge on the dance floor?’ Or, like, ‘Why are Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson in this bar dancing together?’
What’s Loki’s relationship with Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd in this movie?
This is where I can sense the red dot forming on my forehead. [Laughs] And the Marvel sniper in the corner on the roof over there — he’s got his eye on me. Working with Stellan, he’s amazing and someone I’ve long admired as an actor. I really do think he’s an exceptional, exceptional actor and is really capable of bringing a level of complexity and truth to roles and performances which in another actor’s hands could seem dry or slightly invisible. So I loved working with him — he’s a real actor’s actor, he’s been doing it for so long. He plays the same character in “Avengers,” Erik Selvig, who is a scientist. He’s employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. after his encounters with S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Thor,” to do some work for them. That’s all I can say.
How is “The Avengers” going to avoid the pitfalls of a seemingly multiple-villain adventure movie?
I wouldn’t say it was really multiple-villain. I would say it was, like, solo villain. It really is like one. It is Loki. Loki is the bad guy. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t commandeer help, but it’s…I think everyone’s aware that you’ve got eight superheroes. If you had eight supervillains as well with a two hour picture, that’s a lot of people to care about.
How do they balance all eight superheroes in this film?
I think Joss’ kind of great genius in the way he put the film together is — it’s like these guys don’t find it easy to share the space, it’s not an easily-functioning team. You see the bit in the trailer of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark sort of bickering about…’Take the suit away, what are you?’ — you know? I think part of a lot of the strength and the uniqueness in the film comes from the fact that there’s a lot of square peg round hole fitting going on between them.
What one line — when you said it — made you realize that you are Loki?
Oh god, there’s so many. There’s one in the first scene…I don’t know if I can tell you because it’s a bit of a spoiler. It’s connected to the one in the trailer, which is, “You were made to be ruled.” And that I think kind of smacks of an entitlement and an arrogance and a sort of menace in a way that I think sums Loki up pretty well. There’s more where that came from.
“The Avengers” releases on May 4, 2012