LONDON — Can you remember the last time a villain in a movie franchise was significantly more popular than the hero? Truth be told, you have to go back to 1991 and "The Silence of the Lambs." Jodie Foster's FBI Agent Clarice Starling was our hero, but Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter was the break-out star (shoot, he was pretty much a cultural phenomenon). Flash forward 20 years and Chris Hemsworth has found himself in a similar situation playing a mighty Avenger in 2011's "Thor" and the global blockbuster "The Avengers." Thor has his fans, but it's his witty and devious brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, that crackles on screen. Now a third film featuring the duo is hitting theaters and you won't be surprised to learn that Hiddleston is stealing scene after scene in "Thor: The Dark World."
Speaking to HitFix a few days before "The Dark World's" world premiere in London, the 32-year-old Brit displayed the charm and grace that has helped him win over moviegoers around the world. [You can watch the video version of our interview embedded in the top of this post] It's rare that an actor gets to play a character three times in just four years and Hiddleston admits he's pretty much got a handle on the God of Mischief.
Hiddleston says, "I've been very grateful for the producers, the writers, the directors, who've actually deferred to Chris Hemsworth and myself saying, 'Does this feel right?' Of course there is an emotional engagement, but I have lived inside him twice. To some extent it's like meeting an old friend. But at the same time, and I hope I speak for Chris here too, the thing we really cautioned against was repeating ourselves. What's the point in coming back and doing the same thing?"
"Thor: The Dark World" begins with Loki banished to the dungeons of Asgard after his failed attempt to take over Manhattan and, eventually, Earth in "The Avengers." Screenwriters Chris Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFreely and director Alan Taylor have to significantly up the stakes to convince us Loki needs to be freed, but let's be clear — the audience wouldn't have it any other way. Again, it's odd that a character with such selfish and evil intentions would become so popular, and Hiddleston says it was "above and beyond any realistic expectations" he had when signing up with Marvel Studios.
"The moment I suppose it landed — the surprise hit me like a train — was in the wake of 'Avengers,'" he says. "I was starting to understand that something about the character took flight in the imagination of the audience." Loki's adoration became even more apparent this past summer when he pretty much stole the show at Comic-Con 2013. "I did not expect that," he says. "I expected it would be fun, but that level, that wall of sound, it was interesting and very, very flattering and fun."
The notoriety he's earned from his journey into the Marvel Universe has significantly changed the trajectory of Hiddleston's career. Because he now registers to international buyers he was part of the formula that allowed Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" to get made at a significant budget and could arguably get any indie under $5 million made on his name alone. But Hiddleston is careful to note he tries not to think about having that sort of influence or using the "one for me, one for them" mantra when deciding on his future projects.
"I understand why people would make that distinction, but I worry that if I made that distinction it would affect the quality of the work," he says."I think audiences are so smart they can smell that. The difference 'The Avengers' has made is that it's a nice thing. It's a relief when financiers are not deterred by my attachment."
Comparably, Hiddleston humbly recalls his first play after theater school was performed right above a pub. The audience? It consisted of one man and his dog. That puts his career with all of the Loki love and new projects such as Guillermo Del Toro's "Crimson Peak" in much-needed perspective.
"I feel like I'm just at the beginning to be honest," he says.
"Thor: The Dark World" opens nationwide and in IMAX on Nov. 8.