×

Stagecraft Special Edition: Tom Hiddleston Talks Shakespeare, ‘Avengers’

Today we offer a special “Passion Projects” edition of “Stagecraft,” with Variety‘s deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley speaking to actor Tom Hiddleston about his recent production of “Hamlet,” directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Hiddleston, who rose to prominence playing the God of Mischief Loki in “Thor” and subsequent films like “The Avengers,” will be reprising the role in theaters with “Avengers: Infinity War,” opening this week. But he began his career in the theater, where he discovered early on the works of William Shakespeare, which have remained a constant throughout his professional life, having appeared in several adaptations, including “Cymbeline” and “Coriolanus” onstage and in the BBC’s “Hollow Crown” series.

Among other things, Hiddleston cites a 1997 production of “Othello” at the Royal National Theater directed by Sam Mendes for opening his eyes to what Shakespeare could be. “I was blown clean away. I just understood it, I connected with it, it was as alive as any piece of art I’d ever seen,” he says. “That sort of opened my eyes to what Shakespeare could be. And this is so important, I think, for people because at school it seems dusty and stuffy and scary … and it’s not that at all. It’s alive, it’s vital and its electrifying and it’s present and it’s for everyone. And that’s the first moment for me that I understood that.”

Last fall, he portrayed one of the Bard’s most iconic characters in a production of “Hamlet” directed by Kenneth Branagh. The fundraiser for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts was already hot ticket for obvious reasons, made all the more scorching by the fact it was performed in a 160-seat theater with admission being determined by a lottery system. Of the staging, which was done in a thrust configuration in the small space, Hiddleston says, “I knew that was going to give us two things: It was going to give me nowhere to hide. Which I love as an actor, I’m a sucker for punishment. And it was going to give them nowhere to hide. They weren’t outside the action watching it, they became a part of it.”

Popular on Variety

But if you weren’t one of the lucky few to score a ticket, fear not, as Hiddleston drops more than a few passages from the play during the discussion, where he also talks about gender swapping some of the roles. “There were 10 actors, five men, five women,” he says of their cast. “Famously, Shakespeare wrote many, many parts for men and less parts for women. But we were going to have a completely 50/50 cast. And we made that decision before even interpreting what those decisions might reveal about character. So Horaitio became Horaitia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern became Rosacrantz and Guildastern.”

Adds Hiddleston, “What happens is the people who are closest to Hamlet are all women, and what that reveals about the part and how that reflects and inflects the relationship with Ophelia – then you start to see that Hamlet is a young student prince who’s had lots of different complex relationships with different women of his own age as opposed to just one.”

Though the Prince of Denmark is a famously tortured character, Hiddleston reveals he didn’t take the doom and gloom home with him. “I was happy playing Hamlet, which is odd, isn’t it? I was aware of the weight but it was more the weight of the profundity of the questions he’s asking.” He cites the infamous “To be or not to be speech,” saying he loved asking the audience what the value of life is at every performance. “I think everybody should play Hamlet, I think everybody should have the good fortune to ask that question.”

The conversation comes full circle to his work in the Marvel Universe, not only because it was Branagh who gave him his break by casting him as Loki, but because the character and story are so Shakespearean in many way. “He is a fascinating contradiction,” Hiddleston of the trickster, adding, “It has been one of the great unexpected surprises of my life, playing this part. I’ve loved it. I didn’t expect to play it for this long and I feel really honored to be in it, I really do.”

Having recently done a press conference with some of his “Infinity War” co-stars, he adds, “I sit alongside these extraordinary, charismatic actors, some of the greatest actors in the world and think: How the hell did I get here?”

Listen to the full podcast below.

More Film

  • The Rescue

    Overseas Releases of Chinese Films to be Cancelled Following Virus Outbreak

    The overseas release of Chinese films in the next weeks is certain to be affected by the cancellation of theatrical outings in mainland China as a response to the rampant spread of the coronavirus. On Thursday, movie companies in China announced they would not go ahead with the release of seven major films at Chinese [...]

  • Boris JohnsonConservative Party rally on eve

    U.K. Parliament Passes Brexit Law, Leaving Film, TV Incentives Unaffected

    The U.K. Parliament on Wednesday evening passed legislation paving the way for the country to leave the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. had “crossed the Brexit finish line” following passage of the Withdrawal Agreement, which will officially become law when it receives royal assent from Queen [...]

  • A security guard wears a mask

    Chinese New Year Film Releases Cancelled in Response to Coronavirus

    The releases of all new movies this week in China have been cancelled as a response to the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus. The move is a massive blow for the Chinese film industry. Seven major films were expected to have been released over the coming weekend, with the likelihood that together they would have [...]

  • The Turning

    Film Review: ‘The Turning’

    Director Floria Sigismondi’s “The Turning” is like the alt-rock cousin of author Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw.” From its grunge-infused soundtrack and period setting to its fiery feminist overtones, this is an ambitious contemporary take on the iconic, claustrophobic thriller. Concerning two young orphans who psychologically torment their caretaker in a spooky, [...]

  • Birds of Prey

    ‘Birds of Prey’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Warner Bros. claims the top spot in spending with “Birds of Prey.” Ads placed for the superhero film had an estimated media value of $6.94 million through Sunday for 431 national ad airings on [...]

  • The Witcher Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Netflix Developing Anime Feature 'The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf'

    In today’s film news roundup, Netflix announces a spinoff feature based on “The Witcher,” Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief” finds a home and Sheryl Main will receive the Henri Bollinger Award. PROJECT LAUNCHED Netflix is expanding its fantasy series “The Witcher” with an anime feature film “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.” The streamer made the [...]

  • Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

    'Captain Marvel' Sequel in Development

    Disney has officially launched development of a “Captain Marvel” sequel. The studio is in final negotiations with Megan McDonnell, a staff writer on Marvel-based series “WandaVision” on the project. The 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” starred Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. Disney and Marvel have not yet set a release date [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content