Despite a decade of playing Loki in several Marvel movies and now a TV show, Tom Hiddleston isn’t tired of the role. “There is always something new to be found,” he says The edge.
This week is the premiere of Loki on Disney Plus, a six-episode series that marks the character’s first lead role. It is a story of time travel and branched timelines as Loki is captured by an organization called the Time Variance Authority (TVA). It combines action, humor and some old-fashioned detective work, while tackling serious topics such as the nature of free will. There are also some new faces on board as Hiddleston is joined by Marvel newcomers Owen Wilson, who plays a TVA agent named Mobius, and director Kate Herron, best known for her work on the first season of Sex education.
Prior to the show’s premiere, I had the chance to talk to Hiddleston about his time as a character, a presentation that made him feel like an “amateur academic giving a thesis on Loki,” working with Wilson and Herron, and whether our lives are predetermined. Typical Marvel stuff.
The following interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.
We are now at a decade where you play Loki. How have your feelings about the character changed or grown over that time?
I’m honestly just thankful that I’m still here. I find that I am always surprised and happy that I get another chance in it. Long before I was cast, Loki was just the most fascinating and complex character with such depth and range, and he’s been in Marvel comics in several iterations for 60 years, and he’s been in our thoughts, in stories we tell as humans, for hundreds, if not thousands of years. I find that even though it has been 10 years, every time I come back, there is always more to discover. There is always more to dig because these impostors are kind of mercurial and shape-shifting. So there is always something new to be found.
Now that you’ve focused this six-episode series on Loki, what were you looking forward to exploring with this? What were you hoping to dive into?
I think he’s really opening up and bringing out his many different identities and facets. In my preparation to play the character, I’ve always seen him have so many different and seemingly contradictory characteristics. You think, “How can all these characteristics exist in one person, in one being?” And yet they do.
Loki has always been a character in all MCU movies that seems to be very controlled. He seems to know what cards he has in his hand and how he is going to play them. And Loki, in the TVA – this organization that rules time – has gotten out of hand. He’s a man on the run. And he is motivated by a desire to understand. Suddenly he discovers that there is all this information that he does not have, and he has to get his hands on it. And that actually gives the series great momentum. Loki is on the back foot, everyone knows more than him, and seeing how he adapts, seeing how he improvises after that – if improvisation is possible in the TVA. That’s a question we’re trying to raise, whether you have free will.
I read about the Loki school you led to prepare the team for the character’s history. How did you prepare for that? Did you actually know it all, or did you have to do a lot of research?
I wish it wouldn’t be 10 hours long. I knew I had to summarize what I found useful to tell the crew. It came about thanks to Kate Herron, our director who has done an extraordinary job on this whole series, and he thought maybe it would be a good idea to get everyone together because there were so many department heads, different crew members – production design, costume design, cinematography, camera, sound, stunts – and wanting to make sure everyone had the same information about Loki, and it might be helpful to listen to my experience. I was trying to explain how we constructed Loki’s arc across the six movies he’s in the MCU and figure out what was useful in that arc and what we could leave behind.
I suddenly felt extremely nervous, as if I were an amateur academic writing a thesis on Loki. You’ll have to ask the others if it was helpful at all. But at least we synchronized the watches and we started from the same place.
So is there a PowerPoint file out there somewhere that will leak out one day?
If I was highly skilled enough to use PowerPoint, I could retire and become a full-time professor.
I did have a few clips. I thought there were some clips from the movies that could be helpful. It was interesting, even though it was about how the costume had changed over the years and why. And when does Loki wear the horns? Are the horns a casual thing? Are they a ceremonial thing like a crown? Is it an extension of an inner intention? Do the horns come out if he’s particularly evil? Why is her hair different? Sometimes he wears a cape, sometimes not. Sometimes he uses magic, sometimes he uses his own body to fight in combat. All questions that people were curious about.
I know this was meant for the rest of the crew, but was it helpful for you to go through this again as you prepared to jump back into the role?
Oh yes, absolutely, just to refresh myself about certain decisions we had made and why certain things were changed… sometimes you try to bring very elaborate and beautifully illustrated comic book panels into a physical reality on a movie set and figure out how to merge these two worlds. It was interesting. I got some great questions about how he moves the way he does and where certain things showed up in stunts, especially hair, makeup and wardrobe, how the clothes changed and why we made those choices.
It was interesting to refresh myself on the extraordinary input, because I carry the inspiration of great people with me. [Thor director] Kenneth Branagh and Alexandra Byrne, our costume designer; Bo Welch who designed the first Thor movie; Charlie Wood who was production designer on The dark world; the whole crew of Ragnarok; Mayes Rubeo, the costume designer of Ragnarok; and people like Douglas Noe, who has been doing makeup on Loki for a long time. So there was a lot to unpack.
Both Kate Herron and Owen Wilson are newcomers to the Marvel machine. Is it helpful to have such an external perspective?
Absolutely. Both Kate and Owen came in with so many questions because they hadn’t lived in Loki’s head for 10 years. They have a fresh take on it. Kate was so well prepared and so well researched; she even brought in new Marvel Publishing material that I’d never seen before, about Loki’s inner world. Owen came in and asked me a lot of questions about my experience. I remember him saying, “Tom, why should I?” you do you like to play Loki?” And I found myself saying, “Well, he’s just got this whole range. He can play the light keys, but he can also play the heavy keys in the bass clef. And somehow the character has both.” And he loved that way of thinking about it, he said, “I think I could say that on the show.” And so it was really his very intelligent question that took us elsewhere in the story.
Given the themes of the first two episodes, I have to ask: do you believe in free will?
I hope so. Free will is such an interesting, eternal question. I think people have asked to what extent we have the power of self-determination, self-realization, choice about our actions and whether we can control the course of our lives. It goes back to evolutionary or psychological arguments about nature and nurture and why we are who we are. Maybe it’s the journey of a lifetime to find out, to really take the wheel of your own life. Because we are set on a path in childhood, I think, often by accident – the misfortune of birth, where we were born and when – and we are propelled in many ways by the unconscious.
That’s a complicated answer. It’s a complex question. So I hope so. I hope true free will is possible. But for all of us, I think it can be a long journey of self-discovery.