A Class Act: Interview with Tom Hiddleston

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Image © Tom Hiddleston via Facebook

London Calling spoke to Tom Hiddleston about his new film High-Rise, based on the J. G. Ballard novel.

Old Etonian Tom Hiddleston represents the classic English gentleman - and even though he’s made waves on either side of the Atlantic, his next film investigates the distinctions and divisions that are inherent in traditional British society…

There’s little more quintessentially British than a RADA-trained Old Etonian making his way in Hollywood. Those that have made the leap across the Pond into the world of the silver screen have become a distinct sect of cinematic stardom, characterised by cut-glass accents, a tendency to portray the baddies, and the ability to quote Shakespeare on cue. One such actor is Tom Hiddleston; after making his name as the antagonist Loki in Marvel’s blockbusting Thor and Avengers franchises, Hiddleston’s next projects fall firmly on either side of the Atlantic.

As well as taking on the role of legendary American folk musician Hank Williams in upcoming biopic I Saw The Light, Hiddleston is ready to return to the country of his birth in order to take the lead in Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J.G Ballard’s novel High-Rise, described by Hiddleston as 'a microcosm of British society in its extremity'. Set for release later this year, High-Rise will give Hiddleston the chance to revisit his cultural roots as the young doctor Robert Laing, who becomes seduced by the lifestyle afforded to the upper echelons of the tower-block he resides in - representative of Ballard’s stark warning about the perils of class division in British society.

Hiddleston’s education sets him amongst a plethora of successful British stars whose careers have been formed in the winding corridors of Britain’s public school system - Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and Damien Lewis have all risen from the most prestigious institutions to achieve global recognition across the Pond. For Hiddleston, however, the journey to Hollywood was very nearly over before it had even begun. 'I maybe felt back then it wasn’t for me,' remarks the 35-year-old, 'I’d go up for things, for film, and never book anything. Casting agents would come to see me and then call my agent and say "Tom’s great, but…" I just thought, "Fine, it’s never going to happen", and made my peace with it.'

Soon after, to the future relief of thousands of fans worldwide who now refer to themselves as proud ‘Hiddlestoners’, the young thespian was signed by an agent in LA who saw him in a stage production of Othello - 'which was bizarre because that never happens.' He soon found himself working with the crème de la crème of Hollywood directors, including Kenneth Branagh, Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg, meeting the latter in very British circumstances.

'We ended up taking about Guinness, for some unbeknownst reason,' Hiddleston says of his initial meeting with the legendary American film-maker, 'I just thought "Great, my opening gambit to Spielberg was talking about alcohol!"' It didn’t take long, however, for Spielberg to cast Hiddleston as the noble Captain Nicholls in his big-budget World War Two feature War Horse. 'We talked for a while, and he simply says to me "OK, Tom, let’s do this!", and I fell off my chair. I couldn’t believe it, it never happens like that!'

High-Rise marks a return to the perfect elocution that made Hiddleston an apt fit for the dashing cavalry captain in Spielberg’s epic: it offers him a chance to ask 'what spurs us on to toss aside our British manners'. For someone who seems to typify British manners more than most, it may appear surprising that Hiddleston would take on a role that examines class distinctions in such a negative way, but his fascination with Ballard’s story may well be a reaction to his traditional upbringing.

'What I loved about Ballard, he is the great interpreter of the dystopian nightmare and I believe much of that has to do with not being born here,' explains Hiddleston, 'He was raised in Shanghai and lived there until he was 14, when he moved to the UK and that left him with this feeling of isolation from the British experience. He didn’t understand it, he didn’t really live it, he didn’t recognise the country he’s read in books so became a great analyser of the British experience, which he did with so much of his work.'

Despite his transatlantic success, it seems that the 'British experience' will always be close to Hiddleston’s heart - and even though many would consider him stereotypically English, he feels that in London he still manages to stand out from the crowd. 'London has always been my home,' he declares, 'I like it because it’s still a bit exotic to be an actor, whereas being an actor in LA is quickly becoming the norm!'

High-Rise is out in the UK on 18 March 2016.