Clearly due to budget restrictions, Tom Hiddleston perches on some cardboard boxes and slaps a bit of paint of himself for the cover of this weekend’s Culture.
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.”
Tom Hiddleston is used to flying high as Thor’s bad brother Loki, but his latest roles see him at the top of his game
Tom Hiddleston is in superbrain mode as he tries to make sense of some of the ideas in his brilliantly loopy new film, ‘High-Rise’, a disturbing vision of urban living gone horribly wrong. ‘My point is, what is reality in the end? Look at us: we’re both in rooms on our own, talking to computers – which is weird when you think about it!’
We’ve spent the past 90 minutes on Skype (with him in Australia, where he’s shooting a movie, and me in London); it’s the second part of a conversation that began in a Bethnal Green café just after Christmas. Hiddleston has been recapping his short, brilliant career that includes playing Loki in the ‘Thor’ movies, starring in ‘War Horse’ and ‘Crimson Peak’, and proving himself a master of Shakespeare on TV and stage. He’s a big star with a big brain; an actor equally at home in out-there arthouse films and mega-budget action movies. Now he has also captured the Sunday-night-TV crowd, playing Jonathan Pine, a hotel worker-turned-MI6 operative, in the thrilling BBC series ‘The Night Manager’, based on a John le Carré novel. He’s clearly hungry to try everything and anything. At one point in our interview he even suggests he might learn a new language just so he can work with foreign directors.
Hiddleston, now 35, was educated at Eton, Cambridge and RADA, and occasionally finds himself in the sights of those who bash ‘posh’ actors. Which might explain the note of caution in his voice. He doesn’t speak in soundbites and is careful to back up any statement. Still, he enjoys going off on lucid tangents, which can make for a trippy chat. But nowhere near as trippy as ‘High-Rise’, a bold new 1970s-set British movie of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel. Hiddleston plays Dr Robert Laing, a be-suited middle-class every man who moves into a brutal concrete tower block that is strictly divided along class lines and on the verge of anarchy. It’s strange, daring and imaginative. In the end, even two conversations, over two-and-a-half hours, is barely enough.
‘High-Rise’ imagines an entire society in one tower block – a society going badly wrong. Do you think it’s a political film?
‘Quietly, yes. If you have a political sensibility, you will get that from the film. Some people might see it as a “Lord of the Flies”-type experiment of stripping away the mask of civil manners to reveal the animal underneath – and it just happens to be located in a British building in the 1970s with adults as opposed to children on a desert island.’
Did you look into what JG Ballard said he was trying to achieve with ‘High-Rise’?
‘Ballard said he saw himself as a man standing at the side of the road with a sign saying “Caution, bends ahead!”. His dystopian visions are warnings that if we keep going in this direction, we might end up like this. “High Rise” was inspired by a holiday he took in Spain. Ballard was staying in a block of flats and tourists would have these tremendous arguments about territory. “You can’t drop your cigarette butts on my balcony!” “This is my swimming pool!” Everyone had a perfect view of the Mediterranean, life was beautiful, and yet British holidaymakers would fight about things. Everyone would sweat the small stuff.’
Do you think ‘High-Rise’ has a lot to say about inequality today?
‘The film and the novel could be read as a reflection of what is happening today. Power lies in the hands of a very small percentage of the populace, in all professions: politics, law, the media and, yes, the arts too. That’s why the education of actors, including myself, has become a recurring theme and a cause for debate in recent times.’
So you understand why some people complain about acting being dominated by privately educated actors?
‘It is unhealthy for any society to be represented in any sphere of life, including the arts, by one social group. I understand that. I strongly agree with that. More must be done to keep the doors open for everyone. The picture of your life shouldn’t have to be dictated by the circumstances in which you were born. Everyone deserves the chance to follow their chosen vocation. Britain is not yet a meritocracy. I hope that changes in my lifetime. If I could think of an easy solution, I’d advocate it right now. These are complex, uneasy times.’
What makes you most angry about the society around you?
‘Prejudice. If I witness prejudice, it drives me bananas. It’s incredibly limiting, on any level. Race, background, religion. I mean, look at Trump, and the sort of things he’s said about Muslims. I was furious about it. That’s hate speech.’
Have you experienced prejudice yourself?
‘Probably. I try just to dodge it. Of course I think people have got me wrong; I think people have certainly made quick judgments which are perhaps not accurate, but then you spend your life trying to prove people wrong – I love doing that. I don’t get angry about prejudice towards actors. That’s just part of the job.’
Do you ever wonder why you became an actor in the first place?
‘The reason I’m an actor is that I’m interested in identity. I’m interested in the mutability of identity. What’s the Buddhist saying? Maybe it’s not a Buddhist saying… “We contain multitudes.” I’m not a practicing Buddhist – it’s just a phrase! ‘You get to live in the shoes of other people. You get a sense of what it might be like doing another job, being a soldier, like in “The Night Manager”, or a physiologist, as in “High-Rise”. It excites my completely amateur and untrained interest in psychology. I find people fascinating. It’s a way of testing myself.
‘Another thing that fascinates me is the turbulence that happens to all of us in private and lies behind our calm exterior. Human beings are intensely complex.’
You’re curious about the public masks we all wear?
‘We all present a version of ourselves to the world. What’s going on inside is much more unpredictable, chaotic and vulnerable. With both these characters, in “The Night Manager” and “High-Rise”, I’m interested in where you see the cracks.’
‘The Night Manager’ has been getting a great reception. What made you want to play Jonathan Pine, an ex-soldier who goes from working in luxury hotels to working for MI6?
‘I was inspired very much by Pine’s personal bravery. I was thinking about his moral commitment, his military service and his rage. There’s huge anger in him that comes from having served in Iraq. There must be real characters like Pine out there, gathering intelligence and being incredibly brave.’
Did you ever wonder how you might cope in the army?
‘Yes I did, and the answer is: I don’t know. I’ve thought about it a lot because I’ve played so many soldiers. If you take Loki out of the equation, almost everybody I’ve played is a soldier. There was Captain Nicholls in “War Horse” and Freddie Page in “The Deep Blue Sea”. I’ve played Shakespearean soldiers in “Coriolanus” and “Henry V”.’
Did you meet John le Carré?
‘I did. He was very hands-on. I loved meeting him. I think he’s happy with it. I got this amazing email from him and a copy of a first edition of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by TE Lawrence. It was an extraordinary, beautiful thing to give me.’
What did you and he talk about?
‘We had an amazing conversation as I’d just got back from South Sudan after ten days working with Unicef [Hiddleston is a supporter of the UN program]. It’s the most dangerous place I’ve ever been. We were right in the thick of the civil war, making a documentary about what they do in a conflict zone. The country’s been completely torn apart. It’s a huge humanitarian crisis. I was talking to John about it and my feeling of anger and frustration about the rule of arms, and he said: “I feel exactly the same. Use it!” ’
Was acting in films your main ambition when you were a drama student at Rada?
‘Yes, I loved it. Rada is just up by Goodge Street station and I used to run down to the Curzon Soho and the Odeons. I saw everything that came out. And I wanted to be part of it. There are still parts of filmmaking that seem very remote. I’ve always loved the European tradition of filmmaking. It’s something I’ll have to work a lot harder on. I’d love to learn another language and be in a foreign film.’
Do you think British film actors of your generation are living in a golden age of international success?
‘Yes, I think so. Maybe there was something that happened around the time Hugh Laurie started to be in “House” on TV. What trickled down to my generation was a sense that as a British actor you didn’t need an invitation to go over to America, you could just go and try your luck. I think that is what’s happened. British actors who are succeeding – like Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Hoult and Idris Elba – these are people who decided to go out there and see what happened. Before then, you had to be in some extraordinary British success and then you could head out there. I remember that new sense of possibility.’
Do modern movies demand that actors keep in strong shape, almost like sportsmen?
‘I do feel like that now, yeah. For “The Night Manager” and [King Kong film] “Skull Island”, which I’m shooting now in Australia, I play soldiers, so you want to do right by real soldiers who are in that sort of shape. I honestly think there’s a premium in truthfulness. People don’t want to see you fake it. They want to see the real thing, and it includes physicality. People can be very moved by it. Whether that’s Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant” or Michael B Jordan in “Creed” or Michael Fassbender in “Hunger”. There’s something so obviously committed in dedicating yourself.
‘I was thinking about this yesterday, about the need to be true in everything. It’s not that I choose to stay in character or reinvent the Method. It’s just what people demand to see. I do too. We’re all moved by authenticity. There are certain magic tricks in creating an illusion. But commitment, risk and authenticity are the most powerful things in all art.’
‘The Night Manager’ is on BBC One on Sunday nights. ‘High-Rise’ opens in cinemas on Fri Mar 18.
**Click on image for larger view…
From the moment John le Carre’s The Night Manager was published in 1993, producers have tried to bring the spy master’s tale about arms dealing to the big screen. But a film never materialized, and for good reason: time constraints. “This is a fabulous book,” says le Carre’s son, Night Manager exec producer Simon Cornwell. “It’s got a vast scope to it. It just doesn’t fit into two hours.” The story is finally getting what it deserves as a six-episode miniseries, starring Tom Hiddleston as MI-6 field agent Jonathan Pine and Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper, a morally ambiguous weapons dealer whom Pine is tasked with bringing down.
“The best way I can describe the story is the thriller equivalent of a bromance.” says exec producer Stephen Garrett. That isn’t to say that The Night Manager is female-free – updating the story for 2016, the producers gender-flipped the role of Pine’s MI-6 handler, Leonard Burr, into Angela Burr (Olivia Colman). Fittingly, Hiddleston and Laurie formed a bromance of their own during the project’s development and over the course of the intensive 76-day shoot, which took them to Morocco, Majorca, Switzerland, and London. “[Laurie] can’t address me by my real name,” Hiddleston says, “I sign off emails to him as ‘Pine’, and he addresses me as ‘Pine’. I don’t know why, but it makes us laugh.”
Airs April on AMC, February on BBC1.
Earlier this morning, we got our first look at Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in Marvel’s upcoming film. EW has since released some new images from the film, including new photos of Cumberbatch sporting the awesome look of the Sorcerer Supreme, along with some extremely cool concept art for you to check out. There’s some great stuff here, one piece in particular teases the psychedelic visual tone of the film. I can’t wait to see this charcter in magical action on the big screen!
Each image comes along with a quote from Cumberbatch, director Scott Derrickson, and producer Kevin Fiege. The one above included a quote from the actor saying:
“These gestures are ways of creating the magic. It’s a beautiful thing, it’s balletic, it’s very dynamic. And once the boys in the backroom get to work on it, there’s going to be crazy s–t going on.”
“There’s all sorts of craziness [in Doctor Strange],” says Cumberbatch. “Falling, flying, jumping, fighting, punching, getting punched. It’s really rough and tumble.”
“I’m perpetually awestruck that I’m getting to make this movie,” director Scott Derrickson tells EW. “I keep waiting for the knock on the door when somebody says, ‘This movie’s too weird, we can’t make this.'”
“When this comic appeared in the early ’60s, it really informed, in a way that is pretty amazing, a lot of the psychedelic ’60s as we know it. I don’t know that they were doing anything weird in the bullpen in Marvel, but certainly the stuff they were doing inspired all those people who were doing mind-expansion experiments at the time,” explains producer Kevin Feige. “So, that’s inherent to the property. And that’s our mission statement for the visual effects on this movie.”
“[Benedict] was someone that we were very interested in for a very long time,” reveals Feige. “But he kept getting more popular, and more popular, and he kept getting busier, and busier, and it looked like the timing wasn’t going to work. So we looked at some other actors for a while and ultimately decided, ‘We have to try and make it work with Benedict and with his schedule.’”