The subject at hand on the day that I spoke to Tom Hiddleston was the new Steven Spielberg epic, 'War Horse.' Unfortunately, that didn't stop the seemingly opportunistic writer before me from asking Hiddleston to sign a Loki-themed 'Avengers' poster -- a writer that quickly skedaddled into the ether, leaving me behind to clean up the now slightly awkward mess. Of course, Hiddleston signed the poster. From what I gathered, Hiddleston will always sign the poster because he's been on the other side, when nobody had any interest in him or his poster.
It has been quite the year for Mr. Hiddleston, starring in back-to-back-to-back movies directed by Kenneth Branagh ('Thor'), Woody Allen ('Midnight in Paris') and now the Spielberg-directed Oscar contender, 'War Horse.' In 'War Horse,' Hiddleston plays the very earnest Captain Nicholls, a British officer who purchases a horse named Joey to serve as his personal steed during the early days of World War I. Hiddleston spoke about his fairly brief role in 'War Horse,' shared tales of debauchery on the set of 'The Avengers,' and -- when put on the spot -- quite surprisingly, chose between Branagh, Allen or Spielberg as the one director he'd like to work with again.

Coincidentally, I carry the Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman 'Avengers' poster with me, if you'd like to sign that, too.
[Laughs] I'll just sign it as Uma.

I liked 'War Horse.'
Thanks, man.

You're not in it much.
Well, I'm in it as much as I'm in it.

That's now my headline.
[Laughs] Not much I can do about it now. You know, it's just a pleasure to work with Steven. And I didn't think anybody's in it much. The true star of the film is Joey. It was funny, I shot this immediately after I finished ... well, I had a very, very busy summer. I shot 'Thor' for five months -- the first five months of 2010. Then I did a quick three weeks in Paris with Woody Allen for 'Midnight in Paris.' Then went straight into 'War Horse.' And having played Loki the first time for so long and kind of stoked up the fire of all of that psychological damage, it was like living inside that crazy man for five months. And then I saw Captain Nicholls in the screenplay and the first line says, "Captain Nicholls is a tall, kind, compassionate, decent, upper class, gentleman English officer." And I thought, that might be a nice way to spend my summer.

But there is a strange earnestness to both Nicholls and Loki. I was waiting for Nicholls to turn evil because no one is that earnest without ulterior motives. But he is.
[Laughs] He is, yeah. It's nice because, you know, in this film, Nicholls could be an agent of cruelty. Because by the time he turns up in the film, he is the agent of separation. He separates the horse and his boy. And one would hope the audience is already invested in that relationship -- they already want those two to stay together. And it would have been so easy to turn Captain Nicholls into this cruel, military, disciplinarian officer who was there to tear people apart. But what Michael Morpurgo wrote: he's just really, really nice. And I thought that was really sweet, actually.

You mentioned the three movies you filmed in 2010 that came out this year. You worked with three very famous directors back-to-back-to-back.
I know, it's, well ... there's a line in 'Hamlet,' I think, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." And the same could be true of good things as well. It's like buses! In London, when you're waiting for a bus, you'll be there for half an hour and then three will come at once. It's as simple as that.

I don't think that's just a London thing. That happens in New York, too.
They have buses in New York?

I took a bus here from the Upper West Side.
That's crazy, I don't think I've ever noticed the buses.

They are here!
Oh, yeah, I was just picturing the big red London buses.

OK, I'm putting you on the spot: You can only do one more movie and you have to pick between Kenneth Branagh, Woody Allen or Steven Spielberg. Who do you pick?
Oh my God.

And you're not saying, "This is the best guy"; it's just more who you would like to have another experience with.
Do I have to pick one?

I have to?

Oh, gosh. [Long pause] They're all great. They truly were. This is like a terrible, tough question. I don't know if I can pick because they all taught me such different things. And I really feel like each of them...

What did Woody Allen teach you?
Woody Allen taught me that the magic happens if you show up. Half the job is showing up, in a way. Because he works so quickly and so fast that there's no time for over-thinking it, really. You just do a couple of takes and move on. But there's a magic that happens in the chemistry of it, I guess, that I perhaps didn't trust before I met him.

I find it interesting you're taking on Henry V, considering your relationship with Branagh.
[Laughs] I have his blessing. Let me go back to your last question, I suppose I would love to work with Steven again.

Just because he's the master. I honestly think he's ... it's hard to put into words. The thing is, I would have forgiven him grandeur. It's very strange when you meet someone who's essentially the architect of your childhood imagination. I grew up watching his films: 'E.T.,' 'Jaws,' 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' 'Close Encounters,' 'Jurassic Park,' 'Schindler's List,' 'Saving Private Ryan.' And I couldn't believe I was allowed to spend time, not just in his company, but collaborating with him, creatively, on a motion picture. And, secondarily, how kind he was. He's the kindest, sweetest, most humble man I've ever met in this business. Still passionate, still nervous, still gets excited like a child on set. And then, thirdly, he's so unbelievably good at his job. And it's not just celebrity, and it's not just the accruing of credits -- he's basically an extraordinary craftsman. His ability to see a shot, to see something on a set ... amazing.

As for Henry V, I'm hoping that Ken has hopes that I'm not trying to knock him off his Shakespearean perch. If I love Shakespeare, he's part of the reason I love it. And I think Shakespeare is like an Olympic torch that you have to pass on from generation to generation.

So, I saw the tail end of you signing that 'Avengers' poster when I walked in. Is that aspect of it getting old?
Nah, man.

Chris Evans didn't seem to have the best of times on 'Captain America,' though he did enjoy 'The Avengers.' But I kind of got the sense that he was kind of over that aspect of it.
Really? [Laughs] I think it's great, man. I think it's a high-class problem, you know.

That's true. You don't want to be that asshole.
Yeah! "Oh, there's so many people who really appreciate the work that I've done. Ooooh nooo." Yeah, I've been in the opposite situation where you've worked really hard on something and nobody wants your signature and nobody wants a poster of you. So, yeah, I should be so lucky.

Were you the rabble-rouser on 'The Avengers' set?
Was I? I don't know?

I think you were.
Maybe I was. Yeah. I'm a mischievous prankster. Mind you, all of the Avengers are. I said this at New York Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago...

I was there. You were very popular with the audience.
[Laughing] But it's absolutely true, this really happened. In Albuquerque one night -- and it wasn't often that everybody was there at the same time -- but there was one weekend that we were all there. I remember getting a text message from Chris Evans, which went to the cell phone of every other Avenger and it simply said, "Avengers Assemble."

For drinks.
Yep [laughs]. It was just hilarious. We were all out in this bar in Albuquerque on the dance floor going bananas.

Considering your history together, do you wish that Kenneth Branagh had come back for the second 'Thor' movie?
You know, initially, I was sad that he wasn't coming back. But, initially, when I had heard that he had chosen not to come, I was very sad because I'm so proud of his achievements in directing that film. But, then, I understand why. He's very busy and he's got other things that he wants to do as an artist. As a director and as an actor.

And Marvel is so clever. They know their own metal. They know how to do the comic book stuff. Car explosions and all the CGI and stuff, but they need someone who has a really great handle on story and actors and the muscularity of performance.

And I assume he told you first before it was in the press.
Yeah, he did. He called and said, "This has nothing to do with you or Chris or anyone at Marvel, I love them. I had a great time." But there's just other things that he wants to do.

[Photo: DreamWorks]

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War Horse
PG-13 2011
Based on 40 critics

A remarkable horse experiences life and death on the battlefields of World War I. Read More

categories Movies