For “Downton Abbey” alum Lily James, 2022 has been a year of glamour and drama. She took on the role of Pamela Anderson in Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy,” which looked sympathetically at Anderson’s attempt to be taken seriously. Tom Hiddleston’s work is similarly multifaceted in “Loki,” where he plays Marvel’s trickster god, who’s gone from “Avengers” villain to lead of his own Disney+ series; Hiddleston also stars in Apple TV+ historical drama “The Essex Serpent.” Watch the full conversation above from Variety’s “Actors on Actors” presented by Apple TV+.
TOM HIDDLESTON: I thought your work was extraordinary. Taking on a real person feels like an enormous responsibility.
LILY JAMES: It’s terrifying, isn’t it?
HIDDLESTON: You want to honor and respect and —
JAMES: I felt like if I came at it with heart, and a total desire to be honest, that was all I could do. I don’t know if I’d do it again anytime soon. I felt that desire to do her justice.
HIDDLESTON: Where do you begin with becoming Pamela Anderson?
JAMES: I just had pictures of Pamela everywhere. And then I had these prosthetic boobs and forehead. It took four hours every day. And during that time, I had a montage of her interviews from the ’90s, and I would learn it like a song. The pitch and the rhythm. She speaks really, really fast. I stayed in her the whole time.
HIDDLESTON: People on the crew, did they ever get to know Lily James?
JAMES: I don’t think so. Nor Sebastian Stan. We really didn’t get to know each other till we started doing press. And the days were so long, 18 hours or so. I find that the Americans are worse with long days than us. I found that so hard. How has that been with you and “Loki”? It was probably long days, getting into him.
HIDDLESTON: Loki’s changed so much over the years for me. I was cast when I was 29, and I’m 41.
JAMES: Credit to you for having let him emerge and grow and shift.
HIDDLESTON: Initially, with the wigs and the costume, I was always trying to break out of the mask. Let something honest come through. By the time we got to the series, Loki’s stripped of all the things that are familiar. Immediately, he’s literally stripped and put in a jumpsuit, and his status is gone. Everyone knows who the character is now. Let’s open him up and find new aspects of him and challenge the character to change and grow.
JAMES: I was reading, which is so exciting, that Loki is the first queer Marvel character.
HIDDLESTON: In the MCU. Back from my early days of researching the character in myths, the identity of Loki was fluid in every aspect. In gender, in sexuality. It’s an ancient part of the character, and it hadn’t emerged in the stories we’ve told. It’s a small step. There’s so much more to do. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to reflect the world we live in. Extraordinary character, in a way, to contain so much.
JAMES: I got to watch “The Essex Serpent.” I want to know about that first meeting with Claire Danes.
HIDDLESTON: There is a meeting between my character and Claire Danes’ character, and it’s kind of unusual. It’s 1893 and she’s out on the Essex coast digging around for fossils. She runs into this very faithful and God-fearing community, and I play the pastor.
JAMES: The landscape, it’s so beautiful and atmospheric. Why did you want to do that job?
HIDDLESTON: It seemed very romantic in an old-fashioned way, and yet really earthbound. I just wanted to jump in.
JAMES: Obviously, it’s very different from “Loki.” Is that a purposeful choice you make?
HIDDLESTON: It couldn’t be more different. I read it towards the end of making “Loki.” These characters are all struggling because it’s a time of enormous change. The age of reason is coming, and religion is going to diminish. It’s a psychological, poetic piece, and I loved making it, out on the marshes in Essex.
JAMES: When you are somewhere real and you are out there in the landscape, even if you are freezing cold …
HIDDLESTON: You put up with it. With Claire, I would be a weatherman. I kept pitching that spring was coming, and that U.K. weather wasn’t always this bad.
JAMES: “It’s going to be nice!”
HIDDLESTON: So every day, we’re like, “I know it’s cold and it’s quite wet today, but next week, just you wait.”
JAMES: But you wouldn’t really have wanted the sun. Something feels so brooding and troubling. And if the sun had shone through the clouds, it might have slightly ruined the temperature.
HIDDLESTON: There was one amazing day where the sky and the beach were the same color gray. Claire and I were walking towards the tide, and I said to her, “This is like walking into a Rothko painting.” It was like being on the moon. I couldn’t believe it was England.