Needless to say, Tom Hiddleston is a much nicer guy than Loki, the supervillain he’s played in six Marvel movies and an acclaimed Disney+ series that has just started filming its second season in England.
And despite the ubiquity of the Norse god of mischief, the Cambridge and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art-educated actor has other interests. His stage resume is impressive, as is the lineup of writers he has worked with: Joanna Hogg, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Terence Davies, Jim Jarmusch, Guillermo del Toro, Ben Wheatley. There’s also prestige TV like The Night Manager and now The Essex Serpent, which launched on Apple TV+ in May.
Still, “‘Loki’, ‘Essex Serpent,’ have occupied you for the last two years of my life,” Hiddleston remarks on a warm afternoon in an LA hotel garden.
Of course, there’s been more than Essex and the first season of Loki in recent years. Hiddleston found time in March to propose to Zawe Ashton, his co-star in a West End revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.
“I’m very happy,” is all he has to say, perhaps shy about personal matters since a super-investigated romance with Taylor Swift in 2016. But let’s just start with the latest shows….
“I love playing Loki, I’ve loved playing him every time,” says the actor of Thor’s changing brother. “Each story has had a different iteration, a different director, a different spin on the ball, if you will.”
The “Loki” series is set in a different timeline before/after he was killed in the last two “Avengers” movies. This trickster version is stopped and stripped of his powers, if not his arrogance, by a kind of cosmic bureaucracy, the Time Variance Authority.
“If you take away everything the character knows and understands, what is left?” Hiddleston submits. “Something will be revealed to us and Loki about who he is. The idea of him being subjected to an almost psychoanalytic interrogation with Mobius of the TVA, played by Owen Wilson, and being confronted with repetitive patterns of destructive behavior that only led to his loss and loneliness was extremely compelling to me.”
Another first for Marvel and Loki: he came out as bisexual to the series’ other main nemesis, Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie, a female variant of himself.
“In my research on the character and the ancient stories, Loki’s identity in terms of gender and sexuality has always been fluid,” notes Hiddleston. “It was a privilege to speak about it this time. I know it’s a small step and there’s still a long way to go, but I hope it made people feel represented.”
Contemporary concerns are also represented in Sarah Perry’s historical bestseller, The Essex Serpent. It’s set in a scientifically burgeoning year, 1893, while superstition still haunts the Blackwater Estuary on England’s east coast. People go missing, a large underwater thing bumps into fishing boats, and some believe a folklore dragon has returned.
Claire Danes plays Cora Seaborne, recently widowed from an abusive marriage and an amateur paleontologist coming from London to do some research. An attraction develops between her and the local married vicar Will Ransome of Hiddleston. All six episodes were directed by another of the actor’s admired auteurs, Clio Barnard (“The Arbor”, “Dark River”).
“I loved the combination of her and the story,” says Hiddleston. “It tackles some very resonant themes: uncertainty, fear, and how fear of what we don’t understand can sometimes collectively distort reality. There’s an ideological debate between science and religion that’s enacted in the dynamic between Cora and my character, the very progressive yet loyal reverend of the community.
“It felt like we were all dealing with so much uncertainty during the pandemic,” he continues. “That’s what it’s about, but of course there’s a very psychological metaphor about the snake, things that lie beneath the surface.”
Hiddleston tried to be a gracious host to his American co-star when they were filming on the Essex salt marshes 13 months ago, but fears he may have gone too far.
“It’s windy and muddy and wet,” he says of the shoot. “Claire has been incredibly playful with all of this. I became sort of a cliche Englishman, endlessly promising that the weather would get better. Every day I thought, ‘It’s getting better, Claire! Just wait, spring is lovely in England!’”
Cliché or a particularly nice guy?
“I was very fortunate when I was younger,” says Hiddleston of his reputation. “I’ve worked with some great actors and I could see that they really cared about the work and were very kind and in that way inspiring. I was younger than Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor; these are the best guys that do it.
“I try to be my best self,” he concludes, then adds with a sheepish grin, “It’s hard to talk about.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-06-14/a-mischievous-god-a-reverend-and-a-newly-engaged-man-tom-hiddleston Tom Hiddleston: Mischievous god, vicar and newly engaged man