A movie is only as good as its villain, which explains how so many grand ideas turn into terrible motion pictures. It also explains why Thor is such a great film. While Chris Hemsworth was a perfect Thor, I’d argue that Tom Hiddleston was even better as Loki. I think Hiddleston steals Kenneth Branagh‘s movie, and he’s one of the best onscreen villains we’ve seen in a long time. So when I first heard that Loki was the main villain in Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers, I was very confident the film was headed in the right direction.
When I got to visit the set of The Avengers last year with a few other reporters, Hiddleston talked to us about collaborating with Whedon, how Loki differs in this film compared to Thor, what the character’s goals are, if we’ll see more of his powers, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below. The Avengers opens May 4.
TOM HIDDLESTON: It’s pretty spectacular. It’s a funny one because I really am a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle that Kevin Feige is in charge of. I suspected that I might be in The Avengers, but I didn’t know in what way, in what capacity, to what extent, or how big my role was going to be really until I read a draft that Joss Whedon had written, printed, and sent out in February or March of this year. But it feels great, honestly. It is so exciting. It is so rare as an actor to be allowed the chance to revisit a role and to go back to a character that you already built, and lived inside, and understood. To take it further to another stage is a huge privilege.
When Joss talked to you about coming back what was his explanation to you for why Loki would be the perfect villain for this movie? Did he talk to you about why he chose Loki?
HIDDLESTON: Well, I think Joss loves Loki because he loves complexity and the great thing about Loki is that there is almost no ceiling to his complexity as a character. He is a shape shifter, he’s intelligent, and he has strategic gifts but he also has reservoirs of pain. I think when you’ve got so much color and heroism in a film like The Avengers it needs to be balanced by a degree of pain, I think. Joss and I sat down for a long time at the end of Thor and he said, “Tell me everything about living inside of this man for 6 months. Tell me what makes him tick, what keeps him up at night. What are the nightmares of his soul?” We just shared all of our ideas from Norse mythology, the comics, and things that I developed with Kenneth Branagh. He loved it and he loved all of those ideas. He loved all of Loki’s damage and that somewhere at the bottom of Loki’s credentials as a bad guy he is a searching spirit. He is a damaged soul searching for the answers to something. Why he exists, what is his role in this universe, that he isn’t just somebody who is evil for the sake of being evil. He has complicated reasons for that.
So I think in terms of how The Avengers come together…when you are making a film, there are so many superhero films, and there are so many films about the end of the world, and you have to think, “How can we make this distinctive and unique?” I think what Joss has done so brilliantly is that he has made it about the healing power of being part of a team. So each of The Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, have their own individual pain. Loki, too, has his own pain and somehow by bringing them together their pain is eased by being part of a team, which I think is a unique selling point for this particular film.
Until the end of Thor we didn’t really see Loki on Earth at all.
HIDDLESTON: Well, we saw him on Earth when he comes to visit his brother and tells him to come home.
Oh, right. That was only briefly, though. I’m curious if Loki walks around in kind of garish outfits when he comes to Earth or does he have a kind of more human outfit that he wears to get around?
HIDDLESTON: I think that Loki doesn’t particularly care what the humans think of his dress sense. [Laughs] Let’s remember that he is a god or at least an advanced being visiting these deeply inferior beings called humans. I think that like in a way when Thor first comes to Earth, Loki also shares an arrogance about being superior to them. The journey of Thor and for that character is to learn humility. So by the end of Thor, Thor, as played brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth, has respect, and affection, and love for the human race. I’m not sure that Loki has developed that yet. [Laughs]
How different is Loki in this film when compared to how he is in Thor? I think that he comes into his own power at the end of Thor. Is he just very angry and bitter in this film?
HIDDLESTON: Well, what can I say here? I swear to you that in that building over there, there are sniper rifles. [laughs] I think that what was interesting about the journey of Loki in Thor is that he went from second string and damaged prints to being the God of mischief and God of evil. I think somewhere between the end of Thor and the beginning of The Avengers, Loki has been to the Marvel equivalent of the 7th circle of hell. At the end of Thor you see him let go. He lets go of the spear, he lets go of Asgard, and he lets go of the need of his brother and father’s affection and approval. He has bigger plans now.
I think there is a degree of self-possession in Loki in The Avengers, which was missing in Thor. As in, the Loki of Thor is a confused and damaged prince and the Loki of The Avengers is somebody who understands his own power. He understands his own anger and is able to probably, I would say, suppress it. So you see that in a way he is more mischievous. Loki is the God of mischief and I think that the way Joss has written Loki in The Avengers is that he is a mischief. He is someone whose actions are very, very difficult for the seven of eight Avengers to pin down.
You mentioned different goals for Loki. Without getting into specifics, what do you think are those goals and what do you think is his end goal? What is he getting out of this?
HIDDLESTON: I don’t want to say that it is disconnected from the Loki of Thor. So I think that in thought Loki has a deep need for approval and status. As in, Loki learning that he was Laufey’s bastard son, Loki learning that he had no place in Asgard. He felt unloved, abandoned, and alone. He was abandoned by Odin and that whole family. I think that is still connected to his motivations in The Avengers. I think like any completely delusional fascist in the course of human history, it comes from the lack of self-esteem. So he is just going about in the wrong ways of giving himself power. I mean, that is what all of the villains throughout the history of human race have ever really wanted – to accumulate power. So somehow in the delusion that power will give them self-respect, which it won’t, but Loki thinks that having power will earn him approval and self-respect, I think.
HIDDLESTON: I think so. Yeah. I mean, the thing about Loki is that he is still…I am trying to not spill into some sort of cackling, two-dimensional villain. I am trying to retain all of the complexity that I worked so hard on the first film. It would be such a shame to just play someone who is just all evil. So I think there is obviously at the bottom of him still redemption possible. I just think that it is better hidden. He is a lot harder spiritually and he is less vulnerable. He is more powerful and he is infinitely more dangerous and more self-possessed. He is a tough nut to crack.
Does Loki in The Avengers possibly bite off more than he can chew, causing too many problems? Is it possible that it comes to the point where he might merge or work with The Avengers to stop his own devious plan because it’s so evil?
HIDDLESTON: Well….no. [laughs] I think he is so smart that he has thought of everything. I’ve referred to him before as a kind of chess master. I think that he is 10 steps ahead in the game. He plays everyone so beautifully. He plays them better than they know, I think. But there is a flaw at the bottom of him, which is that he’s motivated entirely out of selfishness and a need for approval. I think that is ultimately his flaw.
HIDDLESTON: I find it all to be really great. What Joss has given me is a gift. It’s a bunch of two handers with everyone. So I have big scenes with Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Jackson, Chris Evans, and Mark Ruffalo. So, without giving too much away, there is a wonderful…it’s like Loki is pitted individually against the different skills and superpowers of all of these characters. So, you know, my scene with Chris is a continuation of all of that. It’s brotherly complication. I loved playing my scene with Scarlett, which we have already shot, because Black Widow is sneaky, underhand, and she lurks in the shadows. She is smart, clever, and duplicitous and she’s hard to trust. All of those adjectives could also be used to describe Loki. So the scene between Loki and Black Widow is one where they recognize each other. So I loved doing that and Scarlett was…we played a good round on that one. Sam, too, is fantastic.
Everybody is great and the chemistry is different with everyone. That is the joy of acting – you really don’t know how it is going to go until you turn up. It’s like playing tennis, you can’t plan for the match you are going to play until you are actually up against your opponent and what happens, happens. That is the joy of being on set.
How does the Cosmic Cube play into The Avengers? There were hints of the Infinity Gauntlet too. How do they play into the film? I think that Loki doesn’t need them since he is a god. Also, do you get very physical in the film?
HIDDLESTON: Yeah. It’s a big action film and I am playing the villain and there needs to be fights.
But you are Loki. You can create things and do things.
HIDDLESTON: I can, but at the same time…I loved doing all of the fight stuff. I think what was so thrilling about the fights that we have already shot and choreographed is that R.A. Rondell, who is the stunt coordinator on the film, has really embraced the different physicality and superpowers of every character. So, obviously, Chris Hemsworth has his hammer and the size of his arms. [laughs] Chris Evans has his shield and Scarlett as Black Widow has been doing a lot of wuxia stuff. Robert has his suit and Loki has his intelligence and his ability to disappear and reappear and his staff. So I think the fights will be really thrilling to watch.
He is unpredictable. Thor is more predictable as a fighter, but that doesn’t mean he is any less spectacular. As far as the Cosmic Cube is concerned…there is certainly a continuity I think, which is being taken from the tag scene at the end of Thor. Anyone who will see Captain America…and then it is taken a bit further in this film, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
We were talking earlier with Joss about the mythology of the characters, specifically Norse mythology. How much of Loki’s mythology is the actual mythology? How much is he a part of what you are doing now?
HIDDLESTON: It’s difficult because Marvel have this Titanic task on their hands of blending the different elements of their own universes together. So whatever we built on Thor is really what we are running with on this one. It’s not like we are suddenly going back to golden apples, Loki turning into a horse, and other characters from the Norse mythology pantheon. There are still no signs of Bor and Baldur and all of these other Norse characters. It’s enough to have 7 or 8 principal characters in The Avengers, which is going to be a two hour picture. So I think if we ever expand deeper into the Norse myths it would have to come later in any Thor sequels, which I genuinely know absolutely nothing about.
Do you think you will be in the Thor sequel?
HIDDLESTON: I honestly don’t know. I know I’ve been a little bit back about coming forward before, but I truly don’t know. I don’t know if Chris is doing one and I honestly don’t know.
HIDDLESTON: You hope so. I mean, it is so exciting. The first time I read the script I was…it’s a rare thing when you can read a script in one sitting and you haven’t looked at the watch or you’ve gone to make a cup of tea. I got to the last page and I thought to myself, “That is amazing.” Somehow Joss had managed to reintroduce characters that we all love, make them seem fresh, seem new, and then having them all together without weighting any particular character more than the other. It was really…as just a feat of writing I was so impressed. If they keep Joss on board for another one…I think, yeah, let’s hope there are more.
What can we expect in terms of powers from Loki when compared to what we saw in Thor? Are we going to see shapeshifting?
HIDDLESTON: I think he takes what he has learned from Thor a bit further, you know? There is a degree of disappearing and reappearing, there’s a degree of mind control, and there is a degree of self-duplication, which throws a spanner in the works for people who think that he is more predictable than that.
Can you talk about the team aspect? Does Loki have something like that? Does he need something like that, that heals him?
HIDDLESTON: He probably does, but if he was healed or healable he would be part of the team. So I think he is on the limb and on his own. The other thing is, and I love that Joss hasn’t in any way diluted this fact or watered it down, is that Thor and Loki are gods on Earth. No matter how powerful the super soldiers or the scientists of The Avengers team are, they are dealing with immortals. So Loki’s power is really something to contend with. What I loved about what Marvel decided to do with Thor is that they could have sent Loki to Earth instead of The Destroyer. It could have been Loki versus Thor down there, but they actually saved it in a way for The Avengers. You actually see how powerful Loki can be when he gets down among the humans.
So we see Thor versus Loki in The Avengers?
HIDDLESTON: [pauses] Yes, you do.
Are you able to find humor in Loki?
HIDDLESTON: Absolutely! I think that is definitely something that has been taken on by Joss too. I think the discovery of the humor and what happens when an Asgardian walks among mortals with Chris is something that he has expanded to Loki too. Also, Loki is enjoying himself a lot more in this one. Like he has really…I don’t know. He is just having a really good time. [Laughs] Joss and I talked a lot about James Mason. We talked about how James Mason always seemed to be having a really good time even when he was playing the bad guy.
In Thor, Loki was fighting people who even though they were against him still very much cared for him. But in The Avengers, that really isn’t the case. Is that more challenging for him since these characters don’t understand him and are more centered on just stopping him, destroying him?
HIDDLESTON: Well, it’s a bit more complicated because Thor is also part of that team. So sometimes you find Thor trying to convince The Avengers that Loki isn’t as bad as they all think he is. Thor, I think, believes that Loki is still redeemable. Do The Avengers pose more of a challenge for Loki? Probably, but then Loki poses more of a challenge to The Avengers too. For example, Loki is a more complex, more dangerous villain than say either villains played by Jeff Bridges and Mickey Rourke in the Iron Man films or Tim Roth in The Incredible Hulk. I think the fact that he is an Asgardian makes him more dangerous.
What has Joss been like to work with when compared to Kenneth Branagh given their different backgrounds?
HIDDLESTON: What is interesting about Joss is his appreciation for British theater culture and for the training of British actors. I say this because that is the angle that I take. It’s huge. Often when the camera team is changing a lens or in the middle of a relight, Joss and I will be talking about Sir Ian McKellen’s fantastic performance in An Enemy of the People in the National Theater in 1997. He works with British actors all of the time in all of his TV shows. In fact, he has talked about the choice that he had to make in college between theater or film and he almost became a theater director. I suppose that Joss’ work seems that he has catered to a particular thing, but actually as a fan of the art of acting and the art of filmmaking, and theater, and storytelling – his tastes are hugely broad.
It’s really interesting actually. On the Thor junket everyone was like, “Wow. Kenneth Branagh directing a superhero movie?” In my experience, Ken loves superhero movies. [Laughs] Don’t be fooled by the Shakespeare stuff. Conversely, Joss is a huge fan of Shakespeare. He is a brilliant writer and a brilliant storyteller. Of course, they are different in their methods. They are different people. I like that, though. I’m having a really good time working with him. He is so fun and I love his references. Whenever he comes back from watching the monitor with a big grin on his face…he is a worker and he likes honing things.
Many people thought that your performance in Thor was excellent. I think most of us would agree. It’s very rare to get a great villain. I’m sure you read some reviews or heard some positive things. I’m curious if you feel any added pressure now for this film since you have to exceed expectations or do just a great a job on this one.
HIDDLESTON: That is a good question. I honestly try to not think about it in a way. I think that you really can’t think about the end result, creatively, I think, in any art form. I think if you are a composer and you think, “I have to sit down and write a better song than the last one.” or if you are an artist or a painter and you think, “My painting has to be better than the last one.” I guess that is what they call “the difficult second hour”, but I don’t feel it to be honest. I think it is because I am just thinking of the character, the story, and trying to do the best that I can.
Even outside of Marvel, whenever I am working on a film, I try to not think about what people will think about it once it’s made. It will make you self-conscious and self-aware. You just have to be thinking, “Who is this guy? What does he want? It’s my responsibility to play this guy and his version of the truth is my responsibility. What other people see in that representation is up to them.” I didn’t know that people were going to like what I did in Thor as Loki. It’s nice that they liked it I guess. [laughs] But it is that thing of “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Tom, it’s the elephant in the room – what do you do when you get your hands on the Cosmic Cube?
HIDDLESTON: [laughs] Well….I will quote Sam Jackson at the end of Thor. Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig says to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury “What is it?” and Nick Fury replies “Power, doctor. If we can figure out how to tap it, maybe unlimited power.” So I think that is what attracts Loki to the cube.
Hypothetically speaking, what have you borrowed from the Thor set or from this set that you want to borrow?
HIDDLESTON: I haven’t borrowed anything. I think if I started to borrow stuff and adverted commerce, for which I think the word in English is “steal” [laughs], I would probably lose my job. But Marvel have been sweet to me. They have given me action figures. Oh! For my birthday they sent me the scarf that Loki wears in the trailer scene in Thor. Remember when he turns up in a nice suit and overcoat? He is a wearing scarf and so now I am in possession of my Loki scarf.
Do you have the helmet?
HIDDLESTON: I don’t. I think I broke all of my helmets actually. But I couldn’t have done that since there was one at Comic Con. They were…in that final battle scene, which was one of the last things we shot when we were doing Thor, every time I landed on the Rainbow Bridge I kept smashing the horns against the bridge and the bridge always won basically.
For more from our Avengers set visit: