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Episodi (Finland) Magazine October 2015

THE TALENTED MR HIDDLESTON

Revered fan favourite Tom Hiddleston has been performing on TV and in the theatre since the 2000′s but made a breakthrough in 2010 to reach a worldwide audience as a movie star. Now we can see him as a secretive aristocrat who takes his new wife to a house of horrors.

Tom Hiddleston tells me about the massive set needed to film Crimson Peak and what an actor feels like when he enters such a stage. He also reveals his own fear and the reasons for it.

How did you end up playing Sir Thomas Sharpe?

I got an email from Guillermo del Toro in August 2013 when I was in Los Angeles. It said “I have a script which I’m planning on filming. Don’t say anything just yet but I want you to play the lead. Read it and tell me what you think.” He sent me the script, I read it in one go and liked it, it was fantastic. It had a strong story, beautiful complex characters, the storytelling was refined and it had an impressive frame. I already knew Mia Wasikowska would play Edith and Jessica Chastain would be Lucille and I knew how Sharpe would fit the equation.

I flew to Toronto and had breakfast with Guillermo. We talked about Gothic romance while eating scrambled eggs – what could be more fitting! We got along well and I understood what he was trying to achieve. I realised he wanted to make a Gothic romance film in the style of “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights”, Ann Radcliff’s “Udolpho”, Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” and Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”. I recognised the traditional archetypes in the script and that he had used them in his own original way. He asked me to get in his car and said “Let’s go to the Pinewood studios in Toronto, I will show you a model of the set”. I got to see the miniature of Crimson Peak and Guillermo said: “Let’s do this, brother!” and that’s how it started.

How does Thomas fit into the story?

He’s the tall dark stranger. He’s mysterious and has an attraction which appeals to Edith Cushing, the independent, open-hearted and curious heroine. There is romance and chemistry between them. Both of them are creative. Edith writes novels and Thomas is an engineer and an inventor. Thomas lives in a big gloomy house on top of a peak with his sister and he is full of secrets. The house has secrets as well, like a human. We are shaped by our past, what we’ve heard and done and what has been done to us. Part of the tension in Crimson Peak comes from the fact how all of them battle to control their future. At the same time they’re trying to escape their past which they’re not proud of. I liked the story, it’s very sincere.

The house and the spooky goings on were filmed for real. What does it feel like to act in an actual house instead of in front of a green screen?

Walking into the house was like going through a portal to another world which had been brought to life for us. It was weird walking through the Toronto studio, which is like any other film studio, and then step into a totally believable beautifully built English mansion with running water, a working lift and leaves and snow would fall down from the ceiling when needed. Actors always have to create a framework and details with their imagination but in Crimson Peak there was no need for it. The creatures were unbelievable, scary, ugly and shocking. I’ve never experienced anything so atmospheric before.

What was it like working with del Toro?

Awesome. It’s not a secret that Guillermo has a lovable childlike enthusiasm for film making. He likes it so much and his eagerness is contagious. It’s less known that he is not only inspirational but also very sensitive and wise. He knows how to read people quickly and accurately. I particularly liked his gentle but accurate, when required, filming style. The atmosphere on the set is great, he keeps the mood light and treats people well. It doesn’t matter if you’re the lead actor or the person who mops the floors, he treats everyone with the same respect. It’s a sign of a good leader.

When it comes to the relationship between the actor and the director he encouraged me to go into certain directions, be more courageous and explore some feelings more deeply. It may sound silly but sometimes you just need someone to reassure you: “Let go and let the feeling guide you.” Be it either desperation, enthusiasm, love, hate, ominousness or fear, Guillermo spurs you in a beautiful and delicate way.

What are you scared of?

Sharks. I like swimming in the sea and will swim far out. Then I’ll stop and gaze at the horizon absentmindedly and the theme from “Jaws” starts playing in my head. I’ll swim back to the shore as fast as I can and afterwards feel like an idiot!

Have you ever experienced anything that can’t be explained?

When I was seven I was in a boarding school in England. The older students told us all sorts of stories like “don’t go into the chapel after midnight or you’ll see a green hand” and stuff like that. When I had to go to the toilet in the middle of the night my overactive imagination made me terrified but nothing ever happened. I like to think that buildings absorb some energy from everything that happens. I’ve been to old places in England where horrible tragedies have happened and it feels almost like the horrors still vibrate in between the bricks. But at the same time that’s something I project into the buildings and the environment.

There is a scene in Crimson Peak where you move whilst holding a lit candle really unwaveringly. What was it like to film that?

The flame didn’t go out once which was incredible. Nobody was prepared for that. Mia is an experienced dancer so it was a joy to dance with her. I studied various old dance styles in drama school in London because you never know, so I managed to pull it out of the hat this time. It was a fun day. There are a lot of intensive violent scenes in the film so it made a nice change. A lovely day just dancing with Mia!

How important is it to believe what you are portraying?

Somebody, I think it was Sanford Meister, used to teach at art schools that acting is committing to imagined conditions. It is the actors job to believe the situation, it doesn’t matter how fictional it is. I think we can probably all name performances where it’s difficult to believe somebody’s acting, it’s like the camera just happened to be there. Being credible is the key in this profession.

What creates the on-screen chemistry between actors?

The chemistry comes from admiration. You have to be able to meet half way. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with someone, live with them or have ended up in the middle of a jungle with them, you have to be able to admire and trust them. When acceptance and understanding meet magic is possible.

How do you block out the film crew and the equipment?

You have to get rid of your self-importance, your dignity and fear of being ashamed. I think all actors strive for that. You have to take the risk of being vulnerable. My 34 years on this planet have taught me that being vulnerable is enormously powerful. If you can endure it and make the most of it you can get close to something you can share and other people can identify with.That’s probably one of the reasons I act. In a way I like taking a risk.

Jack Lemmon used to come onto the set and say “It’s magic time”. There’s a kind of alchemy in preparing for a role and the set designers and the costume department of Crimson Peak created an incredible world for us to associate with. We just had to believe everything in between “action!” and “cut!”, commit to it and hope that others recognise something that was true to us.

The text on the cover of the magazine: Tom Hiddleston in the manor of horrors, Crimson Peak

The caption in the photo of Tom in the chair: In 2008 and 2010 Tom Hiddleston was a member of the police team of Kenneth Branagh’s Kurt Wallander. Now he’s a noble lord of the manor.

The caption in the photo of Jessica and Tom: Jessica Chastain reminds Tom Hiddleston once again that Benedict Cumberbatch was the first choice for this role.

Interview by Jouni Vikman.

Translated from Finnish to English by me.

Images from weibo.com/torilla