READY FOR ACTION… Esquire Magazine Interview With Tom Hiddleston…
He was stylish and smouldering as a British spy with a dark past in the gripping BBC drama, The Night Manager. Small wonder the odds immediately shortened on Tom Hiddleston’s chances of becoming the next James Bond. Over beers in Beverly Hills, the star of the Thor movies, the recent High-Rise and a new Hank Williams biopic talks to Esquire about his rise to fame, and whether he really is destined for Double-0 status
As soon as we sit down, in the far corner of the Four Seasons Hotel lounge in Beverly Hills, Tom Hiddleston spots my pages of questions on the table and thanks me. “Wow, I’m so honored. Thank you for going to so much trouble,” he says.
I tell him I’m just doing my job but he thanks me all the same, for watching his television series and his movies and for attending that screening last week and reading all those articles in his press file, particularly the one he wrote himself for the Radio Times. When it turns out some of my questions are too personal for him to answer, he apologies. Not a mumbled apology, but a full-eye-contact, sunken-shouldered “sorry”. He’s so sorry that I’m sorry for asking. He’s also sorry that he showed up five minutes late, and that his crazy schedule means we’re stuck in this bar on a Monday evening instead of, “Oh, I don’t know, playing pool or going for a walk in the canyons in this lovely weather. So I totally appreciate you making the time to accommodate. Thank you.”
Manners this impeccable are rare in anyone, let alone an A-list celebrity. And combined with his polished, plummy accent, the rich timbre to his voice, and that winning smile — by turns delighted, boyish and, yes, apologetic — the effect is so extreme as to be a parody of English charm. Only it’s not a parody, it’s real. Every sorry and thank you is meant in earnest. This is the thing about Hiddleston — he’s never just being polite.
Here’s what people say about him, journos and co-stars alike: that he’s a talented mimic who does a great Owen Wilson and Al Pacino. He even did Robert De Niro for Robert De Niro on Graham Norton’s couch, which takes some stones. But mostly, that he has this terrific attitude, so “earnest” and “enthusiastic”, probably the biggest words in his word cloud. His manners are not the half of it. Hiddleston brings a certain energy.
Scarlett Johansson described him as “clinically enthusiastic” on the set of The Avengers. Hugh Laurie told me that on the set of The Night Manager, the highly bingeable spy series that aired earlier this year on the BBC, “Tom never stops running. Before work, after work, during work. And it adds hugely to the common tank of energy that a film crew runs on. Every time someone yawns, or scratches their arse, the crew leaks a little energy — Tom’s the one who tops it up.”
And it’s true. For two hours, we talk about class, movies, JG Ballard and politics, and Hiddleston’s energy is unflagging. He answers every question with care and intelligence. (Laurie again: “he’s much brighter than a good-looking man ought to be.”) He quotes song lyrics and whole chunks of scripts from memory. There are beers, there are snacks, it’s all flowing wonderfully. And it’s especially impressive considering he’s come here straight from a press junket for his Hank Williams biopic, I Saw the Light — six hours of repeating the same anecdotes to a cattle call of journalists. He’d be forgiven for wanting to hit the heavy bag at this point, or to lie down in a darkened room waiting for the Valium to kick in. But instead, he’s here, clear-eyed and chipper as a chipmunk, giving yet another journalist the best possible interview he can.
It doesn’t take but a few minutes in the full beam of The Hiddles, when I feel my own cynicism burn off like morning dew. And I realize the question I really need to ask here is how? How does he do it? And how can I do it, too?
No doubt, there’s plenty to keep Hiddleston chirpy these days. He seems to be everywhere at once. There’s a coveted slot in culture reserved for the elegant English gent, posh totty for the nation’s housewives — it was once the domain of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant — and now Hiddleston appears to be the heir apparent. Lately, he’s been busy fielding Bond rumors thanks to The Night Manager, but there are other projects in the air, each one starkly different to the next. There’s High-Rise, director Ben Wheatley’s brilliant rendering of the JG Ballard novel, which came out in March to tremendous reviews. Then there’s I Saw the Light for which reviews have been less tremendous — The New York Times called it “inert” — though to be fair, they tend to praise Hiddleston’s part in it, his portrayal of Williams, the alcoholic, pill-popping country singer from Alabama in the Forties, hardly a minor leap for the Eton and Cambridge-educated actor. He may yet emerge from the wreckage not just unscathed, but glowing.
And for the last 88 days, he’s been traveling the world shooting Kong: Skull Island, a reboot of the legendary tale that will be set in the Seventies. He can’t say much other than it’s a fresh take on the story which doesn’t end with a big ape on a building. But he can say it was a blast to make on account of the activity weekends in Hawaii and Australia. Go-carting with Brie Larson, anyone? Admittedly, he has spent the last couple of weeks wading through a swamp in Vietnam — “and they don’t tell you about the swamp spiders and things that can get inside your wet suit and nestle in the warm spaces” — but there’s time to heal yet.
The next installment of Thor starts shooting in June, so at this point in time he has a couple of months to kick back at home in London’s Chalk Farm, with his cat Bentley and his two sisters, one older and one younger, who live close by. And his fans, the Hiddlestoners — not to be confused with Cumberbitches (a word that Tom would rather not say out loud) — are likely sending ointments for that rash as we speak.
His north London life, he says, is remarkably normal. The Hiddlestoners may inundate him with teddy bears but they leave him alone in public, as do the paparazzi. Hiddleston was never one to fall out of nightclubs and there’s no girlfriend to speak of either — “still single, dude! Last of the Mohicans!” So Tom can go to his local Waitrose without a ski mask. He can pop into the pub to watch the game without having to do a bunch of selfies. And that’s exactly what he plans to do.
“I can’t wait for the European Championship,” he says. “Any sports, actually. Tennis, rugby, athletics. I get so moved. When Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah won their golds, I was weeping on the sofa.” He rubs his hands together.
The waiter arrives with his Heineken, and as he pours, Tom quickly grabs the glass to tilt it.
“Otherwise we’ll have too much head,” he says.
“How much head do you want?” the waiter asks. “I’ve had plenty of practice.”
“There,” says Tom, straightening the glass. “The perfect amount of head.” And for a moment, they look at each other, Tom’s guileless, innocent face, facing a waiter who just isn’t sure whether he’s allowed to get the joke. And Tom could milk the discomfort if he wanted. He could let the waiter go, and we could laugh about it to ourselves. But he’s just too decent for all that. To cause discomfort, to laugh at someone else’s expense — it’s not him. So, he does what he does so well. He apologies.
“If you’ll pardon the expression,” he says, and winks.
The waiter grins. “You got it.”