This exclusive, singular event was an intriguing experience, in which the actor spoke frankly - and with great precision - about his life and work.
This month, The Nuffield Theatre played host to an intimate, Q&A session with one of their most esteemed and infamous associate actors; Tom Hiddleston. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of the villainous demi-god Loki in Thor and The Avengers, Hiddleston joined theatre director Sam Hodges, for a near-two hour discussion about his life and work. In the session, he spoke frankly – but with great eloquence – about his educational origins at Cambridge and RADA as well as his ever-increasing rise to fame on stage and screen.
For the first half of the event, Hiddleston and Hodges enthused about the current climate of theatre; arguing that despite it’s centralised popularity in London, English stage-work is an incredibly important part of the arts that needs to be sustained in this digital era. Speaking of his early days as an actor, Hiddleston claimed that he turned down many two-dimensional TV/Film parts in favour of meatier roles on stage. The actor also spoke of his theatrical preferences, claiming to enjoy the visceral intimacy of performing in a small theatre (like the Nuffield) more than bigger auditoriums. He discussed his memories of being an audience member himself; citing that his experience of watching a play starring Vanessa Redgrave when he was 14, as a key moment in his desire to become an actor.
In addition, Hiddleston spoke about some of the highlights of his career on stage – talking about his experiences on Cymbeline (for which he won the Olivier award for Best Newcomer) and his most recent stage performance in the Shakespearean drama, Coriolanus. Interestingly, Hiddleston revealed that Coriolanus director Josie Rourke, had originally planned to adapt the play to echo our contemporary technological era, and the ‘twitter generation’ in which all voices can be broadcast and heard. Though these plans did not fully permeate into the show, Hiddleston said that the graffiti on the walls at the Donmar Warehouse during the play were meant to represent this idea. The actor also spoke of his love for spontaneity in acting and how he employed this by making his initial entrance in Coriolanus from different sides of the stage each night.
Hiddleston discussed his origins as a Cambridge scholar and RADA graduate too, and how lucky he felt to have been allowed both experiences in his life. Speaking about tuition fees then and now, the actor described his time as a student as being within a “finite worm hole” in which the options to go to both university and drama school were far more affordable (at £1100 per year). He sympathised with the current generation of aspiring actors, who for monetary reasons, are stuck to decide between institutions in an effort to “tick all the boxes.” Speaking particularly of his time at RADA, Hiddleston described how the transition from university to drama school was both thrilling and challenging – especially in the second year, when teachers would push students to get better at all the things they weren’t excelling in – which for Hiddleston was singing (he’s a natural baritone).
During the conversation about higher education, points about accessibility and class opportunities were raised – focusing particularly on the recent controversy over ‘posh’ artists sparked by Labour spokesman Chris Bryant. Being from a similar background as those targeted in Bryant’s interview – such as James Blunt and Eddie Redmayne – Hiddleston called the spat “unhelpful” and spoke of his desire for people of all races, genders and classes to be able to join in the art of storytelling – a form that he thinks needs to come from all walks of life; “Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, if you believe in storytelling, join in“
Eventually and inevitably, the discussion lead to talk of Loki – his most infamous role to date. Hiddleston spoke of his enjoyment of the character, and his intense psychology. Answering a question about method acting, Hiddleston said that though he deeply admired actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis for their dedication to the method he was not so keen – particularly when in character as the villainous Norse god. “I like to be able to go to the director and ask questions as myself“. The actor sees acting as “telling the truth from an imaginary place“. Hiddleston also treated us to an anecdote/impression of his Thor co-star Sir Anthony Hopkins, when asked about the effects of playing a villain; “I’ve played [a number of roles]but whenever people come up to me they only want to know about one man” – alluding to Hopkin’s infamous portrayal as Hannibal Lecter. Hiddleston also spoke of his joyous experience on Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. His role as Captain Nicholls was “refreshing” after playing Loki, he said, as it allowed him to play someone inextricably kind that “washed off” the evil madness of his former role. He also enjoyed riding the horses and leading a cavalry in the film – calling it one of “the best experiences” he’d ever had.
Throughout the session, Hiddleston also spoke of his latest performance as country music star Hank Williams in the upcoming biopic, I Saw The Light. Treating us to an exclusive listen of his American twang, the actor spoke of his work on the film with country singer and mentor Rodney Crowell – who pushed him on stage at the Wheatland Music Festival last year to practice performing as Williams did. Hiddleston said he understood “why rock stars stay rock stars until they die“, and that he loved the experience. Talk of the film also lead to a discussion about the actor’s work ethic, after Hodges read out this quote by Crowell; “After nearly a month spent collaborating with this gifted artist, I’m as respectful of the man’s work ethic as I’m mystified by his transformational skills. Without a doubt, the filmmakers chose the right actor for the job.” Hiddleston responded humbly, simply stating that he works to the best of his ability in every project that he does.
Finally, Hiddleston spoke a little about his involvement in Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign, following a question from the audience. He cites his Mother and two sisters as the strongest women in his life and wants to see more female actresses taking on male roles (as Maxine Peake recently did with Hamlet). When asked if there were elements of each of his roles in his own character, he responded that he hoped he had the kindess of Captain Nicholls, the playfulness of Loki, the strength of Coriolanus and the hardworking ethic and self-critical nature of Hank Williams.
Tom Hiddleston can be seen later this year in Crimson Peak, I Saw The Light and High Rise. He is also currently working on King Kong: Skull Island and a BBC adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Night Manager.
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