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Tom Hiddleston on Trying Something Grounded in ‘The Essex Serpent’ After Playing the Trickster ‘Loki’

Awards Circuit Podcast: Tom Hiddleston has had a busy year in TV, between "Loki" and "The Essex Serpent."

Tom Hiddleston poses for photographers for
Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP

Apple TV+’s new series “The Essex Serpent” isn’t easy to explain in a quick pitch. The drama, led by Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes, grapples with big issues, wrapped in a story of mystery and emotion that examines love in all its forms, the battle between science and faith, and so much more.

Nonetheless, Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast asks Hiddleston to give his own synopsis, and he manages to pull it off in 35 seconds — and it’s a pretty good description that even includes the impressive phrase “Gothic opacity.”

Hiddleston spoke to the podcast about both “The Essex Serpent” and his earlier turn as the star of Disney+’s Marvel series “Loki,” as well as having a milestone birthday during the pandemic and so much more. He also took part in a quiz where the actor had to guess between the characters of Shakespeare and Marvel. Listen below!

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Jenelle Riley

“Loki” continued the adventures of the MCU’s most popular villain (or a Variant thereof) last June. Next month comes “The Essex Serpent,” a six-part limited series adaption of the acclaimed 2016 Sarah Perry novel, set 1893 in a small village plagued by rumors of a mythical beast.

“The Essex Serpent,” adapted by Anna Symon and directed by Clio Barnard, stars Danes stars as Cora Seaborn, a widow who moves with her son to a small village that may be haunted by this legendary beast. Hiddleston plays the town vicar, Reverend Will Ransome, who clashes with Cora over their differing beliefs.

It’s a new sort of role for Hiddleston, who plays a husband and father, a man of faith looking to protect and unite his community – rather than an agent of chaos.

“I guess maybe that’s why I was really drawn to it,” Hiddleston says. “I was drawn to him. He’s so finely drawn by Sarah Perry and Anna Symon. He seems to be kind of similar to a literary archetype – very grounded, very solid, very rational container for other people’s anxieties, someone that people lean on and depend on. But of course, he doesn’t have all the answers, and there are things he hasn’t folded into his theology and his worldview.”

The actor also selected the project specifically for the opportunity to work with Danes, who made an impact on him at a young age in Baz Luhrman’s “Romeo + Juliet.” Reflecting on how chemistry onscreen is hard to predict or define, he says, “The best acting I’ve ever done. If I’ve ever done any good acting, is because of the person I’m opposite. I truly believe that. And the generosity of another actor, an actor like Claire, who is prepared and committed to the game of the imagined world that you’re in. And that’s when that’s when it’s magical.”

Hiddleston says he’s had good luck with co-stars and chemistry and that it sometimes comes from going through a new experience together.

“I remember when Chris Hemsworth and I met for the first time, we were just at the beginning of this adventure, kind of like sitting next to each other on a roller coaster and not knowing where it was going,” he says. “Or when I met Benedict Cumberbatch for the first time we were training to ride like Calvary officers for ‘War Horse’ and horses are so honest, they don’t care who’s riding them really. So we fell off and had to learn.”

Hiddleston celebrated his 40th birthday last year, a milestone that he says felt “very meaningful. It’s a midpoint, isn’t it? I remember thinking I’ll count myself fortunate if I get another 40. It definitely crystallizes things in your mind.”

And while “Loki” is a fantasy series based on a comic, the show also gave the actor time to look back on his life – literally and figuratively. In one scene, Loki watches how his life played out tragically in the prime universe.

“It was moving to do it, it was it felt very, very cathartic,” he says of shooting the scene. “Loki changed the course of my life. That moment is a fork in the road. I can’t go back there. And I don’t particularly want to.”

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.