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Despite not originally wanting to play Loki in the Avengers franchise, Tom Hiddleston’s role as the god of mischief has paved the way for success and critical acclaim
It could have been so very different for Tom Hiddleston. The man who has become one of the most revered and critically acclaimed actors for his depiction of the Avengers antagonist Loki didn’t originally want to play the Asgard villain.
Hiddleston originally auditioned for the role of Thor. He put on 18 pounds of muscle in six weeks in preparation to play the muscular Norse God of Thunder, only to have the directors tell him that Chris Hemsworth would be cast as Thor instead.
However, Hiddleston would feature in the Thor franchise, he was told. But it would be as the hero’s devious brother, Loki: and what a fateful stroke fortune that turned out to be for the Westminster-born actor.
“When I auditioned for Thor, I didn’t know about the existence of Loki,” Hiddleston said, speaking to the Huffington Post. “Kevin [Feige] and Ken [Branagh] called me personally and said, ‘Well, you’re not going to play Thor but we would like you to play Loki.’
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Code of London
Code of London
“Ken said to me, ‘Actually, this is the role that I would want to play.’ In a way, it was a gift — and I have no regrets about it at all. I’ve never once thought, ‘I wish I were playing Thor.’”
Hiddleston hasn’t looked back since landing the Loki role in 2011. Not only has he grown to love what he calls the “fascinating” Asgardian god of mischief, but the Avengers gig propelled Hiddleston along a fast-track journey of leading roles in TV and film, some 007 rumours and a smattering of inevitable controversy that has seen him become a global heartthrob.
But it hasn’t all been screaming superhero fans and glamorous red carpet events with big smiles all round. Bizarrely, winning the 2017 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series has been both a highlight and an embarrassing blot on Hiddleston’s record.
Receiving the award for playing Jonathan Pine in the BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s espionage novel The Night Manager, many received Hiddleston’s acceptance speech as self-aggrandising and lacking humility. After the obligatory acceptance remarks, he oddly digressed into an anecdote of his time volunteering with the UN Children’s Fund when a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) staffer just “wanted to say hello” because “during the shelling the previous month [in Sudan] they had binge-watched The Night Manager.
“The idea that I could […] provide some relief and entertainment for people who work for Unicef and Médecins Sans Frontières who are fixing the world in the places where it was broken made me immensely proud,” Hiddleston said, immaculate tux donned and a Golden Globe Award in one hand.
His rhetoric was accused of having an arrogant “white saviour” undertone and caused such umbrage that he apologised the next morning on Twitter, saying his speech was “inelegantly expressed” and that he had been “very nervous”.
Whether or not Hiddleston genuinely believed his privileged lifestyle making films and television programmes is of a substantive comfort for people struggling through third-world hardships is unlikely, but the perception that he might think this compounded an image problem he was inexplicably having last year.
Rumoured to be the hot favourite to replace Daniel Craig as James Bond after the Skyfall star had morbidly claimed he would prefer to slash his own wrists than play Bond again, Hiddleston was supposedly the 007 replacement of choice, ahead of Idris Elba and Tom Hardy. That is, until he met with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, who claimed, very publicly, that Hiddleston was “too smug” and “not tough enough” to play Ian Fleming’s famous British spy.
Some doubt has to be thrown over Broccoli’s claim, considering Bond is one of if not the most smug characters in film. Either way, throw into the mix Hiddleston’s much-publicised amorous antics with Taylor Swift and publicity was not always a close bosom friend of his during 2017.
It’s not hard to see where this perceived arrogance comes from, though it’s worth noting that Hiddleston is generally regarded as an affable and kindhearted bloke.
His parents’ divorce when he was 13 notwithstanding, Hiddleston had what most would see as an idyllic upbringing: Raised in affluent areas of Britain. Privately educated at Dragon School Oxford (a boarding school that has also had philosopher Alain de Botton and British Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman through its doors) and, of course, Eton. And then onto Cambridge, where he achieved a double first in Classics. It’s an enviable way to enter the world. And it’s one that many are all too eager to tar with the arrogance brush.
Even in off-screen appearance, he exudes a first-class suavity — the open-neck shirts and expensive suits, tailored-to-perfection jackets and clipped British accent: it’s a stereotyper’s dream image of the well-to-do, and, dare we say it “debonair” man. And from small stages to silver screens, that Classical Cambridge education (once again reference points not everyone is well-versed in) is evident in how he thinks, speaks and approaches his work.
From his early Shakespearean stage days, Hiddleston was touted for superstardom. In an article written for The Telegraph in 2008, following his Laurence Olivier Award for Best Newcomer to Theatre for his dual role as Cloten and Posthumum in Cymbeline, one critic observed, “One day that lad is going to be a star and deservedly so.”
Prescient words indeed.
In fact — bold claim coming up here — it’s Hiddleston’s work in Shakespearean stage reproductions and television adaptations that is his finest work. It’s also where his relationship with Kenneth Branagh took root and set him up for the soaring success he’s had since. As Cassio (an often underrated and forgotten character) in a production of Othello in 2008, he stole the show from the lead protagonist-antagonist duo of Ewan McGregor as Iago and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the titular lead.
Hollywood subsequently came calling, but soon after appearing as his career-defining Loki in 2011, Hiddleston wowed spectators in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown — a 2012 television film series of Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy, the “Henriad” (Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V). Hiddleston’s leading role as Henry V — the English monarch immortalised by Shakespeare’s monologues — was staggering in its quiet power amid scenes of panaromic chaos and bloodied, corpse-strewn battlefields.
Today, even when preparing for Hollywood roles, old habits die hard for the classically trained Cambridge-Etonian. For Loki, Hiddleston listened to Wagner, re-read the Norse myths as well as the original Marvel comics, and sought to bring some of the Machiavellian characterisation that defined Renaissance stage villains to the Marvel Comic Universe.
“Kenneth Branagh and I stole from Shakespeare because Loki is like Iago [from Othello]. He’s like Macbeth, and he’s like Edmund in King Lear,” Hiddleston told the Huffington Post. “He seems like a character of such enormous dimensions and with so many interesting shades.
“The script that I read was an origin story for both Thor and Loki; his mischievous aspects were only starting to come about towards the end of that first film,” he said.
As for Loki and the Shakespearean villains that garnered him the limelight, Hiddleston says no character ever embodies a good or evil dichotomy; there is never a black and white, never an unequivocal malevolence: “I don’t think [Loki] is ever truly evil,” he explained at Comic Con Seattle. “He’s someone who represents chaos in opposition to order, and sometimes what you need is a bit of chaos.”
Loki has represented chaos and much more for Hiddleston’s acting career to date. But now that Asgardian chaos has passed with the character’s seeming conclusion in Avengers: Infinity War, the question is who will Hiddleston’s next mischief maker and harbinger of chaos be, and will, in the words of Othello, “chaos come again”?