Tom Hiddleston Interview - Exclusive
Tom Hiddleston strikes a pose for an exclusive JustJared.com photo shoot in New York City taken earlier this year.
The 30-year-old English actor can soon be seen on the big screen in the Steven Spielberg-directed flick War Horse, out Christmas Day.
Tom sat down with us to talk about his horse-riding skills, Avengers co-stars, and fanatical Tumblr fandom.
Click inside to read JustJared.com’s interview with Tom Hiddleston…
Tom Hiddleston Interview – JustJared.com Exclusive
Just Jared: Hi Tom, nice to meet you! How long are you in town for?
TH: Good to meet you! Literally the weekend.
JJ: Are you in between filming projects?
TH: I’m just about to start a filming of Henry V, the Shakespeare play. It’s kind of like Shakespeare’s gladiator. It’s about a king who led his country into war against the French. The difference about Henry V is that he was at the front of the line and in English history, he somehow somehow strategically managed through this enormous feat of courage and intellect. It was something like the French army had three or four times the number of his troops. His troops were tired, suffering from dysentery, they’d been away from home for a week, they literally had…it was 9:00 and if we don’t fight now, that’s it, this is the only time. The French were like, ‘Oh, we could just have another croissant, we can do a little of this…’ and Henry was like, ‘Right, they’re not gonna attack us, we’re gonna attack them’ and it was literally like 300 against 3,000.
JJ: And you’re doing three of these movies?
JJ: And is it three different roles?
TH: No, it’s the same role, amazingly so. In the history plays, he starts off as Prince Hal, who’s the only son of Henry IV, and he’s a kind of rebellious drunk, basically. He’s just not what a prince should be. He’s kind of out there, rocking it out, being a punk, and hanging in the pub with lowlifes and prostitutes.
JJ: That’s the best kind of prince for TV and movies!
TH: Exactly! And the interesting thing about Hal is that he then grows up into this incredible king. It’s a good journey to play.
JJ: And when does that start shooting?
TH: It starts shooting as soon as I get home [in November].
JJ: Are you shooting all three consecutively? Are you shooting out of order?
TH: We’re shooting Henry V first, and then Henry IV part one and two in January, February, and March. It’s really exciting. Sam Mendes is producing it and it’s really part of a celebration of British culture because with the London Olympics, obviously people are going to be watching. So the BBC have wisely and brilliantly, I think, decided to program. A lot of the best British comedians are going to be doing some comedy stuff, the best actors, the best writers, there’ll just be a huge push, which is quite exciting. I think it’ll be airing here too, I guess NBC or something?
JJ: What was your childhood like growing up in London?
TH: That’s a big question! It was great. My father is from Glasgow, so I have a lot of Scot in me, which is quite useful sometimes. My mum is from East Anglia, which is sort of the bump on the far eastern coast of the UK and I have two sisters, who I love very much, one older, one younger. My childhood was pretty good.
JJ: Your younger sister’s an actress, what does your older sister do?
TH: She’s a journalist, and she lives in India, actually.
JJ: Do you and your younger sister tag-team and talk acting?
TH: Well, we sort of always have, in a way. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
JJ: I have four brothers.
TH: Do you still watch movies together?
JJ: My parents were really strict and we didn’t really watch movies, but we did stuff together.
TH: But you played together?
TH: You pretended to be whoever you pretended to be together. My sisters and I all watched – depending on who won the competition for the remote control or for the VHS – E.T. together and Indiana Jones and Star Wars and Dirty Dancing and Uncle Buck and basically all those movies of the ’80s that any child of the ’80s grew up on!
John Candy, what a hero. So nowadays, it’s funny, they’re interested in my work, but it depends what the projects are, actually. My mum’s brother’s family are big horse people, so they’re particularly interested in War Horse, which is coming out. Some of my younger cousins love the superhero stuff, they love Thor and Loki and The Avengers and stuff, so it’s nice. When Thor came out, I did a family and friends screening and brought a bunch of toys and threw them out and my youngest cousin got Thor’s hammer and he loved it!
JJ: When you were growing up, what did you and your sister pretend to be?
TH: Well, my mum’s sister’s children are very close to us in age so us and my aunt’s children, my cousins, are very close. We all used to play together in the summer, and my sister, Sarah, and the eldest daughter of my aunt, Zoe, used to write these plays, which we would rehearse loosely for a week and then whenever we had to go home – ’cause they lived in the countryside. The day before we went home, we would put on the show for our parents. It always felt like such a huge deal, but it was literally five people and a dog in the audience in the back garden. There was one amazingly innovative one when I look back on it, and it didn’t come from me.
My other cousin Matthew and I used to build the sets and the swords. There was one called TV Travelers, which was about two kids watching TV and they get pulled in and it’s kind of like Dungeons and Dragons or The Purple Rose of Cairo. And suddenly, they were traveling around in the world of the TV, which we thought was hugely creative at the time. And we did a version of Cinderella. It was very innocent and really cool.
JJ: Is that how you got interested in acting?
TH: That’s just kids playing, I think. Whether it’s cowboys and Indians or Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, you just play out whatever’s in your imagination. The weird thing about serious acting is I’ve always done impressions of people, all my life, and I did this thing called a balloon debate. The idea is there’s a hot air balloon traveling across the Atlantic and it’s going down and you have to give a speech as to why you should stay in the balloon. Six people are going to be chucked out and you want to stay. You can choose who you are so people would choose, like, Einstein or the man who invented the wheel, the president of the United States, Shakespeare, Mozart, whoever it happens to be, you could pick these fun people, and I chose to be some kind of TV commercial actor, which basically meant that I could, for half an hour, do impressions of all the popular TV commercials at the time. And the head of drama came up to me after that and said, ‘You know, you have something quite unique, do you fancy being in the school play?’ And that’s how I got into it, just messing around with TV commercials. Never told anybody that.
JJ: Thank you for sharing! What’s your go-to impression?
TH: I’ve been doing Owen Wilson quite a lot because Midnight in Paris just came out in the UK this last weekend… (does impression) ‘Yeah, you know, there’s a time machine, and I go back in time and meet all of you and, you know, it’s kind of interesting!’ I guess I do people that I’ve worked with. You know, Tony Hopkins… (does impression) ‘Hi, great! I’m Tony, nice to meet you. Yes. It’s going to be quite fun, isn’t it? Here we go!’
JJ: Those were really good! Now we have to get into War Horse. When did you shoot it and where?
TH: It shot last summer – summer of 2010. We shot August, September, October. We shot mostly in the English countryside in the county of Devon, which is where the first half of the story is set, and then various places that we found, because really, the only place that looks like northern France is the south of England cause there’s only a very small stretch of water between them.
Obviously the second two thirds of War Horse is set in northern France, where no-man’s-land was, and the fields of Flanders and the battleground of the first World War. It was absolutely amazing, truly. Steven Spielberg is a master filmmaker and excessively generous and very, very good at his job. Just watching the speed of his execution on a shooting day, the efficiency with which he gets everything he needs from his cast, his crew, and then the thrill for me and anyone else in the film was that everybody involved in the story has to ride. So we all went on this kind of riding boot camp for about six weeks and I fell in love with horses. There’s nothing like the feeling of galloping at full speed on the back of a horse. It’s like driving fast in a car, but the car is alive. Do you know what I mean? It’s a hell of an adrenaline rush.
JJ: Had you ridden horses before?
TH: I’d ridden, but badly. And I’d ridden out in L.A. up and down dried up riverbeds, but I was supposed to be playing a captain of the English cavalry, and some of the stunt trainers thought I looked like a sack of potatoes on a motorbike. It was like, ‘That is an animal underneath you, and if you don’t behave yourself, you’re gonna get off.’
JJ: Did you watch the play before you started filming?
TH: Yeah, I saw the play a couple of times. It’s an amazing play. Have you seen it?
JJ: Not yet.
TH: It’s a very different beast, to coin a phrase, because the magic of the play is that the story’s heartbreaking. I mean, I defy you not to burst into tears just because of its kind of humanitarian compassion within it. But the magic of the stage show is the theatricality of it. The fact that two minutes in, some puppeteers walk on and you’re absolutely aware that they’re puppeteers and that they’re pretending to be a horse and five minutes later, you simply believe that there is a horse onstage. That’s real, pure theatrical magic.
The film is very different in that it has to be a literal representation of the breadth and shocking waste of the first World War and real horses, real men, real soldiers, real rain. The theater is a suggestive medium and the cinema is a literal medium, so that’s where the two differ.
JJ: Other than the horse riding camp that you went to, how else did you prepare for your role?
TH: Yeah, I mean, it’s set in the first World War, and my part is set in 1914. There’s always kind of a deference you have to pay to period. I watched a lot of war films of the time. They’re amazing, some of those old films. They still stand up. I mean, obviously the effects and style are a little different but there are moments which land in a very contemporary way. I read an amazing biography by a gentleman officer called Siegfried Sassoon, who was one of our celebrated war poets, and it’s called Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man and it’s really a diary of what his life was like up until war broke out in 1914. The first World War was really the war in which Europe lost its innocence. I think up until that point, the British and European life was very natural, very relaxed and really quite innocent, and I think the first World War and its shocking indifference to human life really made us change the world forever. It’s fascinating when you read a document like that and you think, ‘Life is kind of easy.’ Not easy, but just…simple. The war shows what we’re all capable of – it’s all about getting your head into gear. For something like The Avengers, I’ll read a bunch of comics and listen to some crazy music. Each job requires a different kind of preparation.
JJ: Do you break down a script and review each word? Work out expressions on your face?
TH: I never think about that. I just learn the lines as soon as I can and then the challenge really, for filming, is to show up and be there and respond to what’s around you. That’s where the gold dust is. It’s really strange, no amount of preparation will help you with the magic of spontaneity on the day [of filming]. You have to do all the homework to get yourself into the period, the costumes, the style, the voice, the hairdo or whatever it is, but once you’ve done all that work, you have to kind of let it go and just be there. If you’re always thinking about it, it just looks a bit over-thought. I’m sure your favorite moments in movies are things that just happen accidentally and the camera was there.
JJ: What was the most memorable scene that you shot for War Horse?
TH: It was probably my first day, which is a cavalry charge. This was the first and only time I’ll ever do it in my entire life. Captain Nichols, my character, leads a charge of 200 horses at 40 miles an hour across 400 meters of no-man’s-land into the German camp. We chase the German soldiers through their own camp and back into the woods behind them and then behind the first line of trees are rows upon rows of machine guns which the British army didn’t know where there, and it becomes a kind of coconut shy.
And you can’t fake this stuff. So Steven’s like, ‘You good to do this, Tom?’ And, no joke, I’m at the front of an army of 200 horses being ridden by 200 stunt men giving orders, and if any of us had fallen off, it would have been incredibly dangerous. And the cameras are both on two – what they call Russian arms. [They're] essentially metallic cranes, pointing back, raised from the roofs of very dynamic 4x4s. Pretty much everything was real except the bullets in the guns. So the German camp had 400 tents and fires and people cooking and extras running around. It just felt like I was there. The adrenaline of going that fast with 200 other horses going that fast behind you and the noise, apart from everything else, I’ll never forget the noise of a thousand horses’ hooves thundering across the earth. I got back to the base camp and Spielberg just literally stuck his head out from behind the tent where the monitors were and stuck his thumb up.
JJ: Sign of approval! Let’s get to The Avengers. How would you describe the whole shooting experience in one word?
TH: Ooh. Epic.
JJ: Sounds about right. What was it like working with director Joss Whedon?
TH: Fantastic. Joss has kind of got this pan-literacy about the genre and his dexterity in negotiating all the different story lines, all the different characters, all the different tones just so that it’s real and relatable and funny and dynamic and then just badass, because that’s what the Avengers has to be! So he was capable of directing intensely dynamic scenes between two characters, but also delivering action on the most incredible scale. I can’t say enough about Joss. Amazing director.
JJ: What was it like working with the other cast members?
TH: Fantastic! A lot of the time, we were all pinching ourselves. We were holed up – this bunch of superheroes were holed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and there’s an element of, you know when everyone’s away from home. I guess it’s like camp or something, you just kind of band together because nobody’s got anywhere else to be. No one’s got home to go to, so it’s like, ‘Does anyone wanna play some ping-pong after work?’ It was really great.
JJ: You have a fight scene with each superhero, basically?
TH: Well, kind of. I have a one-to-one with every superhero, yeah.
JJ: We’re gonna go through each superhero, give me the first word that comes to mind. Chris Hemsworth.
TH: My brother!
JJ: Scarlett Johansson.
JJ: Chris Evans.
JJ: Jeremy Renner.
JJ: Robert Downey Jr.
JJ: Samuel L. Jackson.
TH: Eye patch.
JJ: Gwyneth Paltrow.
JJ: Mark Ruffalo.
JJ: What was your favorite prop on set?
TH: There’s a couple of quite cool props, actually. I’d say my favorite prop would have to be Loki’s spear. Does it have to be one I use or could it be someone else’s?
JJ: Someone else’s could work too.
TH: Okay…okay. Sam Jackson has these amazing screens. They’re kind of like uber iPads or something. So from his command base in the Shield, the base of operations, he’s got these incredible screens which he’s just able to pull stuff up on.
JJ: Like Minority Report?
JJ: Do you know what Tumblr is?
TH: I do know what Tumblr is.
JJ: Have you heard about the massive fan following you have on there?
TH: I have, yeah.
JJ: Do you know what the fans call themselves?
TH: Somebody did tell me this. Um…
JJ: The Hiddlestoners.
TH: The Hiddlestoners. Yeah. It’s pretty cool. It’s quite creative.
JJ: Do you know what happens when they get excited to see you? They get a Hiddleboner.
TH: (laughs) I didn’t know that! They get a Hiddleboner. That doesn’t seem to be related to my name any more! Hiddleston, yeah, but the boner…Hiddlestoner, I can see that, because my name is there. Hiddleboner…I…yeah. Okay. Wow. I should be hugely flattered, shouldn’t I? I am enormously honored and flattered.
JJ: Do you have any funny or special talents that people don’t know about?
TH: I’m sure I do, but I’m sure I don’t think that they’re funny. You can ask my girlfriend [Susannah Fielding].
JJ: Offbeat hobbies or anything?
TH: I have to say I did nothing I enjoy more than a marathon round of table tennis. I’ve got to say, Captain America, Chris Evans, and Thor, Chris Hemsworth, they might have bigger biceps than me, but put them on the table tennis table. There’s a degree of frustration at their inability to beat me.
JJ: Do you have any favorite bands, albums, songs?
TH: At the moment, I love the new Bon Iver album. I just love it.
JJ: Favorite TV show?
TH: My favorite TV show of all time is an old British comedy called Fawlty Towers. Do you know it?
JJ: I don’t!
TH: It’s really stupid. It’s about a guy played by Jon Cleese who runs a hotel and he is the grumpiest, most misanthropic man you could ever hope to meet. Why would he run a hotel? Why would you run a hotel if you hate people? People turning up to the hotel is a massive hindrance and a bore for him, so the comedy comes from, of course, the fact that it’s an enormously popular hotel.
JJ: And you’re in a movie with Rachel?
TH: I am in a movie with Rachel called The Deep Blue Sea. Before that, cause I want to mention it, was Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior with Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, which had me crying like a lost child. I loved it.
JJ: Awesome. Well, thank you so much!