Benedict Cumberbatch plays Richard III
How did you connect with the character?
In terms of tackling the real historical figure versus the fictionalized version in Shakespeare, I think we’re smart enough as audiences that the two can coexist.
The script does all the heavy lifting. Richard tells the audience about how wrong he feels in his body, about being dejected and overlooked, and about being unable to be part of a royal courtly life with the Plantagenet’s.
In medieval England if you were not born perfect you were often drowned at birth. It was a terrible social taboo. In Shakespeare’s story, Richard is fostered at a distance from the Kennedy-like family of perfect specimens. There’s very little care for him. His deep-seated anger and hurt leads to his ambition and everything we know of him. That was our way into humanizing him.
Do you see Richard III as a villain or as an antihero?
His arc is hugely brilliant. In Richard III he gives a speech about how he’s going to go and kill the king, Henry, and how this ties into his feelings about himself as a disabled man. I think that humanizes him. As an actor you have to flesh out your character. You can’t pantomime with the daggers and the looks, because that gets really dull.
There’s such humor in other moments where Richard relishes his plans. He’s an antihero because he lures us in. He’s very funny, hopefully. Audiences don’t necessarily side with him but they revel in his villainy! I also don’t want to burden Freudian analysis onto him and make him more understandable. I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, he’s just a victim of this cruel world. Oh, what other choice did he have?’ Of course he had choices. He very clearly makes the wrong ones and suffers the ultimate downfall for that.
What do you think of Ben Power’s scripts?
Richard III is often performed stand-alone, because you can mention it in the same breath as Macbeth and Othello, if not, say, Hamlet. It is a standalone of the histories in a way that the Henry VI’s aren’t. What Ben has done is to create a sense of a through-line in the themes across the plays. He has created a real sense of urgency.
What’s it like to work with such a stellar cast and crew?
It’s exciting to see the talent you can draw due to the shorter engagement period. For example, it took Judi Dench a matter of days to film her scenes playing my mother, but to get someone of that ilk to do that on stage would be tricky, if not well nigh impossible.
History cycles are sometimes done, but rarely with the same director, and in this medium I can’t think of these plays ever having been done with the same director back to back like this. This series of The Hollow Crown is a continual drama rather than three separate films.
Dominic Cooke is an extraordinary director and someone who managed the Royal Court, one of our best-loved theaters, through a period of one of the best incarnations of new writing. He is so beloved in our industry, as well as being utterly brilliant, very kind and generous. You feel in safe hands.
It’s a winning element that we have the combination of Ben Power, the script-writer, along with Karen Hartley Thomas who worked on the prosthetics, with Dominic overseeing all.
What was it like working on location when shooting these scenes?
One of the joys of the job was an extraordinary heritage tour of Great Britain. It was a real honor for all of us to have access to these incredible parts of our history. It was awe-inspiring to be on these hallowed bits of preserved or ruined ground which these characters might actually have walked upon. The settings immediately create a sense of drama and scope.
What was like to recreate the medieval battles?
We were carrying around weapons of steel and aluminum, which were props but could still do a great deal of damage. We were fighting in fields and in rivers with water literally up to our chests. It was brutal.
The broadsword as a weapon could crack your skull open with just a glancing blow. It really is such a barbarous way to go about winning power. I’m in awe of it. The training was tough – all of us would come away from training looking shell-shocked and pale!
How do you reconcile the play with the historical Richard III, whose remains were recently discovered?
Physicality has always been at the center of playing Richard III. He is very clearly described as being a hunchback with disproportionate legs. His physicality is there in the play and the script, in his own analysis and in other people’s name-calling. It is unavoidable.
On camera, anatomical accuracy is even more important because of the scrutiny provided by the lens. In the opening shots of Richard III we have the character topless, so you can see every detail of the curvature of his spine. It took me about 3-4 hours to put on the prosthetics. The weight of the silicone is incredible. It’s painted to match the skin tone and it looks distressingly real. By contrast, on stage Richard’s body has always been something to hide.
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.”
The Doctor is in, and superhero movies are about to get a lot stranger.
Doctor Strange (in theaters Nov. 4) introduces Benedict Cumberbatch as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme and not only adds magic to the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe but also throws in some other crazy universes and dimensions to boot.
Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) very much wants to capture the style and vibe of the magical character’s roots in 1960s psychedelic comic books, “where it was all about mind expansion and doors of perception and seeing things from a new perspective,” he says. “We get to go with Stephen Strange through his experience of the new, and hopefully it’ll give audiences something that’s new for them as viewers.”
Doctor Strange is getting a true origin story and, according to Cumberbatch, a physically painful one. A brilliant albeit arrogant surgeon, Strange is involved in a catastrophic car accident that injures the nerves in his hands. He loses his livelihood and nearly his mind until he ends up in the Himalayas learning about the mystic arts from a wise figure known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an Asian male character in the comics.
“He’s enraged by the mumbo jumbo he gets hit with until he’s catapulted into the reality of that world, and then the teachings begin, as they say,” says Cumberbatch, adding that he’s never played a character with so many obstacles thrown his way. “I hope you root for him.”
As he meets various other magic-leaning personalities such as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo and Mads Mikkelsen’s mysterious, as-yet-unnamed villain, Strange “is spiritually evolving through his pain and torment, and doing it through the experience of incredibly weird realities,” adds Derrickson.
The filmmaker promises a straddling of our world and other dimensions — the existence of which was teased in last year’s Ant-Man movie — and a host of locales which haven’t been seen before: “There was never a point at which (Marvel) said, ‘Now that’s just too bizarre.’ ”
Plus, expel that Harry Potter stuff from your minds because Doctor Strange is reinventing movie magic, too.
“Traditionally when you think about practitioners of sorcery, they tend to be static in the casting and speaking of spells, and then something odd happens that become the spectacle that you watch,” Derrickson says. In Doctor Strange, the magic is experiential: “It’s just more immersive and bigger than the characters.”
Even Strange is baffled by the whole thing at first, Cumberbatch says. “He’s like, ‘Whaaat?’ He’s not like, ‘OK, cool, I’m in.’ He’s not swallowing the Kool-Aid straight away. But it’s wonderful the way it’s explained to him, because it’s a hell of an explanation and just visually it’s going to be a riot for audiences.”
Cumberbatch says he’s had “great fun” so far with the character, and he’s not the only one: The Eye of Agamotto, the metallic and mystical amulet worn by Strange, also doubled as a pacifier for the actor’s 10-month-old son Christopher during production.
“My baby just loves giving it a bite,” he says. “It’s a bit troublesome because you don’t know how many toxic things might be on it. If they made a nice rubber version, it would be the ideal baby dummy. Who knew?”
**Love the way all these women swoon over him whenever he makes a talk show appearance! (:
The acclaimed star of the upcoming Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light dishes on that big miniseries moment, whether Loki is hanging up his helmet, and his huge King Kong flick
Tom Hiddleston on His Bond Moment in ‘The Night Manager’ Finale and Loki’s Future
The acclaimed star of the upcoming Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light dishes on that big miniseries moment, whether Loki is hanging up his helmet, and his huge King Kong flick.
Tom Hiddleston is a busy, busy man—so busy, in fact, that he’s barely able to squeeze in a proper meal. You see, the talented British actor is promoting a trio of projects: the upcoming John le Carré-adapted miniseries The Night Manager, Ben Wheatley’s gleefully anarchic head trip High-Rise, and the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light. We’ve convened at The Smith, a cozy restaurant in Lower Manhattan, primarily to discuss the latter film (our full interview will run later this week).
Interestingly enough, the eatery is around the corner from Webster Hall, a concert venue set to play host to a hotly anticipated reunion show by LCD Soundsystem. And at said LCD show later that evening, Hiddleston’s best mate, Benedict Cumberbatch, could be seen dancing his heart out like no one was watching. When I mention the night’s festivities, Hiddleston’s face lights up.
“Oh, I love them!” he says of LCD Soundsystem. The actor reveals there was, at one point, a trailer for High-Rise set to the band’s tune “Great Release” that they were fiddling around with, and that Hiddleston marveled over.
While New Yorkers are going batty over the LCD shows, those across the pond were glued to their couches taking in the season finale of The Night Manager, which aired on the BBC in the U.K. and debuts April 19 on AMC stateside. And the Internet took a fascination with one scene in particular during the finale, wherein Hiddleston, dressed to the nines in a bespoke suit, gestures to the bartender and utters, “Excuse me, sir. Could I have a vodka martini, please?”
The reason it caught fans’ attention is that Hiddleston’s emerged as a top contender for the role of James Bond/Agent 007, and fed the flames by recently voicing his interest to The Sunday Times: “I simply love the theme tune, the tropes, and the mythology,” he said. “I love the whole thing. If it ever came knocking, it would be an extraordinary opportunity.”
When I mention the Bond-inspired Night Manager sequence to Hiddleston, he chuckles. “Oh, right! Yeah! Honestly, I didn’t think about it as I said it,” he says. “I can’t remember if it was in the script or I improvised it. I’m pretty sure I improvised it though because, actually, [co-star] Hugh Laurie really loves a vodka martini. So I was just in that mode.”
Meanwhile, Hiddleston’s Thor co-star, Idris Elba, is the prohibitive frontrunner to succeed Daniel Craig as Bond. In late 2014, The Daily Beast unearthed an email from the Sony hack via then-studio head Amy Pascal that read, “Idris should be the next bond.”
So, do Tom and Idris joke about the Bond rumor-mill insanity?
“I know, right? We should,” jokes Hiddleston, mimicking the would-be call. “What the hell is going on?” He laughs. “Honestly, I have no control over it.”
In The Night Manager, a globe-trotting espionage-thriller, Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, an ex-British soldier who’s recruited by an intelligence operative to investigate a potential conspiracy involving U.S. and U.K. government involvement in the global arms trade. Pine must cozy up to international arms dealer Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie) and his fetching girlfriend, Jed (Elizabeth Debicki).
“Hugh Laurie used to say that John le Carré’s writing is like Harris Tweed, which is to say it’s so finely stitched that it doesn’t look like anything else, and it holds together. It’s not cheap,” says Hiddleston, beaming with pride over the show. “It’s pretty great that in the age of box sets and Netflix, to still have it be [a TV event]. I’m so happy to hear that people have set their watches and rushed back early to tune in.”
While Hiddleston grew up consuming miniseries like Prime Suspect, Poirot, and Inspector Morse, one of his early career breaks came when he starred opposite Kenneth Branagh in the show Wallander. Eventually, Branagh would cast Hiddleston as the villain Loki in the Marvel superhero epic Thor, changing his life forever. The third (and final?) film in the franchise, Thor: Ragnarok, is due in theaters on Nov. 3, 2017, and will begin filming in June.
“Thor 3 will be cool because I’ve not done it for four years,” says Hiddleston. “I love working with Chris [Hemsworth]. This will be my last time out of the gate.”
Wait… So you’re not going to pop up in Avengers: Infinity War?
“I don’t know! Honestly, I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “They haven’t got their ducks in a row yet. They make it up as they go along.”
One mega-movie that’s definitely in the cards is Kong: Skull Island. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, it’s the second film in the Godzilla-King Kong shared universe (after Godzilla), and will be followed by the crossover Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. Hiddleston just wrapped filming on Kong: Skull Island, which hits theaters March 10, 2017. In it, he plays a swashbuckling hero opposite Oscar-winner Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and Toby Kebbell as mo-cap Kong. The film is reportedly set in 1970s Detroit.
“It’s cool, it’s gonna be new this time,” says Hiddleston. “Kong was a change, to play a heroic protagonist—having never really played that role before—in a massive movie. And Jordan’s vision for it is really unique: completely different time period, different story, and Kong like you’ve never seen him before. There is no young movie actress, there is no film director. It’s a re-imagining of it.”
“There’s a little extra social commentary, but it feels fresh,” he adds. “The myth behind it is more about the necessity of man’s humility in the face of nature. We keep thinking we can build a better world than nature. I’m not sure that we can.”
Tom Hiddleston says he understands women — thanks to his “strong-minded, independent” mother and sisters.
The Night Manager star, 35, has two sisters — Sarah Hiddleston, who is a journalist, and Emma, an actress. His mother Diana is a stage manager.
“My sisters are very strong-minded, independent women — as is my mother — and I’ve learned a lot from them.
“When I was about 16, I had friends who had grown up exclusively around men and they didn’t understand women at all.
“I like to think that through growing up with my sisters I have a sense of who women are, of their needs, their diversity and all those lovely things.”
The actor, who has been romantically linked to actresses including Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Chastain, said he was in no rush to marry. “I’m open to the possibility but you know what they say — you can’t go looking for it, it has to come to you.”
Hiddleston, whose performance as a spy in BBC drama The Night Manager is seen by some as his “warm-up” to becoming the new James Bond, brushed off the rumors as speculation.
He said he enjoys going to the pub when he is not working abroad. “I’ve been working hard lately,” he said. “As I’ve got older, I’ve become reassured by being surrounded by family and old friends. That feeling is very nice.”