Interview

09.07.13

Tom Hiddleston On His Rocker-Vampire in ‘Only Lovers Left Alive,’ ‘Thor 2,’ and ‘Avengers 2’

After starring as the villain of ‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers,’ Tom Hiddleston opted to play a sexy rocker-vampire opposite Tilda Swinton in Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive.’ He sat down with Marlow Stern at TIFF to discuss the movie, his advice for new ‘Avengers’ villain James Spader, and road to stardom.

Tom Hiddleston is nothing if not versatile. He’s tackled Shakespeare, appearing as Cassio in an acclaimed stage version of Othello opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor; portrayed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris; took the role of a kind soldier in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse; and, last but not least, inhabited the villainous Loki in Thor and its upcoming sequel, Thor: The Dark World, as well as The Avengers, winning Best Villain at the MTV Movie Awards for the latter.

The 32-year-old Brit’s latest role sees him switch gears once more, portraying a tormented, oft-shirtless rocker-vampire in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Adam (Hiddleston) is a suicidal vampire living in Detroit, which is now a desolate wasteland, where he produces moody music for his own consumption. His centuries-old lover, Eve (Tilda Swinton), lives out in Tangiers, and has a more positive outlook on the undead life. When Eve pays Adam a visit, his melancholy dissipates.

Hiddleston, a genial fellow, looks mighty dapper in a bespoke three-piece suit. He sat down with The Daily Beast at TIFF to discuss his myriad projects.

Were you like, “OK, I get to play a rocker/vampire. You don’t even need to show me the script. I’m in.”

[Laughs] Honestly, everything. I met Jim Jarmusch in November 2011 and I’d just finished shooting Avengers. I was doing press for War Horse, and was about to start The Hollow Crown for the BBC and PBS. In this swirl of superheroes and soldiers and Shakespeare, here was one of the great American indie auteurs, and we sat, and he pitched it to me. He said, “This is a love story about two old souls who are refined, sophisticated, delicate, and in danger. They’re very poetic, and it will be you and Tilda Swinton, and you’re a musician and she’s a bohemian… and by the way, you’re vampires.” It was the easiest “yes” in the world. And I’d always wanted to make a love story, because I’ve never made one like this, which is basically a love song.

Much of the film is set in Detroit, which is depicted as this wasteland, which is interesting because Detroit was not bankrupt yet while you were filming. Pretty prescient.

It’s funny when I mention it in the States, because people are like, “Oh, you were in Detroit…,” as if it was some hard thing, but I love it—probably because it was exotic to me. As a city in the United States, it’s about as close as you can get to ancient, in a strange way. It’s like one of those fast-forwarded videos of a flower growing from a seed, blossoming, then fading and dying. That’s what happened to Detroit. But it still has this incredible soul with the music, Motown, Jack White, and Marshall Mathers. Jim has a great affection for Detroit and it rubbed off on me, too.

Had you ever fantasized about being a rock star?

[Laughs] I’m not a good enough musician, honestly. When I was a teenager, I played the guitar and the piano, and played sports, and I acted, but acting was the thing that I kept wanting to do most. But I’ve always loved music. And Jim and I, for months on end, talked about music, his friends Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger in his early days in Nick Roeg’s Performance

…Oh, Performance is a fantastic film. Such an interesting social commentary— contrasting the hippie Jagger and the buttoned-up gangster.

That was a big reference point for us—a dilapidated old house, living in it and being bohemian.

‘Don’t spank the Hulk!’

Back to all the dabbling as a youngster—why did you choose acting over sports and music?

I think it offered the most complete experience for me to be creative, and probably suited my talents, in a way. Acting, for me, is so many things. I love entertaining, but there’s an intellectual curiosity that I get to satiate there, and there’s a great research element where you’re learning all the time about people, experiences, literature, and art, as well as meeting new people. Acting is a total art form because it doesn’t just demand that you bring your brain to bear on the material, it demands that you bring your body, and your heart, and often your brain can get in the way. I remember a specific time in my early-to-mid teens in a cinema where I believed being an actor was a very noble thing. The actors and directors I was watching showed me different things about the world; about life. Spielberg, Gilliam, Tarantino, Nanni Moretti. When I was a teenager, those were the people making exciting work. I just wanted to be a part of this amazing community of people.

Is it intimidating to work with vampire Tilda Swinton?

She’s not. She is one of the most free-spirited people I’ve ever worked with. There’s a very infectious rebelliousness of spirit about her. She’s not a conventional actress, and never has been, and I don’t think she’s ever wanted to be. It all feels like an extension of herself, or her curiosity, in a way. She had been working on this with Jim for eight years before I came on.

But it must have been a little intimidating to shoot that scene where you two are lying on the bed naked staring at each other. It reminded me of the recent MoMA demonstration she did, where she rested in a transparent box.

Not at all! I remember at the time, she said, “This is who we are… we’re all born this way.” There was no self-consciousness or vanity to it.

Adam and Eve are opposites, but very much in love. Adam is a tortured soul that feels cursed by his “affliction,” while Eve sees the bright side to every situation.

So much of our definition of love, as a human race, is founded upon the rock of the idea of mortality—the idea that we know we’re going to die. So, you want to find someone to share your life with because you know it’s short. But what if your life was not short? What if it was eternal? How would that change the way that you love, and the way that you see and accept your lover?

Adam also looks down on humans, or “zombies,” as he calls them, and the state of humanity makes him sad. How do you feel about the state of the world, and does it make you sad?

It’s a strange world, for sure. We live in a great age, truly. Just the ease with which we travel and connect—so many of us, anyway—and we have such a high standard of living. I love that Louis CK sketch where someone is complaining about the WiFi breaking down on an airplane and he goes, “YOU ARE SITTING ON A CHAIR IN THE SKY! YOU’RE EXPERIENCING THE MIRACLE OF HUMAN FLIGHT!” So in one way, the world is a miracle of invention and imagination. In another way, it would be nice if we could stop fighting each other.

Have you seen the Twilight movies?

I saw the first one, which I enjoyed. I thought it was a really interesting piece about adolescence, and high school, and the eternal position of a teenager feeling on the fringes of life.

Video screenshot

Unlike the Twilight kids, you weren’t some young actor who was thrown into a blockbuster and became an instant star. You really worked your way up the ladder. What would you consider your big break?

I did, yeah. There was a production of Othello in London with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is one of the greatest actors I’ve ever shared a stage with, and that production was, apart from being one of the proudest moments of my career, everyone came to see it and it really dictated the course of the next four years of my life. Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon came to see Othello, and those men are pretty much responsible for everything else that happened. I spent a year with Branagh on Ivanov and Wallander and Thor, and then Joss wrote me a fantastic part in Avengers. And, from my work with Ken, I did Midnight in Paris and War Horse.

Not every actor can take on such a wide variety of roles, going from Shakespeare to winning MTV Video Movie Awards as a supervillain, to a rocker-vampire.

The thing is: I love so many different types of films. Honestly, four years ago on a Friday night, I went to see The Proposal, the romantic comedy with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, which I loved, and on the next night, I went with a different friend to see Antichrist. I couldn’t tell you on Sunday morning which one I enjoyed more. I genuinely enjoyed them both for what they were. I think to have a varied palate is good. It keeps you sharp.

And you’ve got Thor: The Dark World coming out soon.

What’s interesting is it’s a new dynamic. In Thor, I was the antihero who turned into a villain; in Avengers, I’m the out-and-out bad guy; and in Thor: The Dark World, Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston, is the villain, so I occupy a unique position because I’m sort of an ally.

Are we going to see you pop up in the Avengers sequel?

I don’t think so. I think James Spader’s got that one sewn up.

Did Spader come to you with any questions about Avengers?

No, James Spader doesn’t need my advice! He’s a great actor and he’ll do a wonderful job.

You could just ask him about spanking, or something.

[Laughs] Yeah, I’ll say, “Don’t spank the Hulk!”