Despite a decade of playing Loki in various Marvel films, and now a TV show, Tom Hiddleston isn’t tired of the role. “There’s always something new to find,” he tells The Verge.
This week sees the premiere of Loki on Disney Plus, a six-episode series that marks the character’s first leading role. It’s a story of time travel and branching timelines, as Loki is captured by an organization called the Time Variance Authority (TVA). It mixes action, humor, and some good old-fashioned detective work, while touching on serious subjects like the nature of free will. There are also some fresh 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.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, I had a chance to chat with Hiddleston about his time as the 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 condensed for clarity.
We’re now at a decade of you playing Loki. How have your feelings about the character changed or grown over that time?
I’m honestly just grateful to still be here. I find myself always surprised and delighted that I get to have another crack at it. Long before I was cast, Loki was just the most fascinating and complex character who has such depth and range, and he’s been around in Marvel comics for 60 years in different iterations, and he’s been around in our minds, in stories that we tell as human beings, for hundreds if not thousands of years. I find that, even though it’s been 10 years, every time I come back, there’s always more to discover. There’s always more to excavate because these tricksters are kind of mercurial and shapeshifting. So there’s always something new to find.
What were you looking forward to exploring with this, now that you have this six-episode series focused on Loki? What were you hoping to dig into?
I think really opening up and externalizing his many different identities and facets. In my preparation to play the character, I’ve always seen that he has so many different and seemingly contradictory characteristics. You think, “How can all of these characteristics exist in one person, in one being?” And yet they do.
Loki, across the MCU movies, has always been a character who seems to be very controlled. He seems to know which cards are in his hand and how he’s going to play them. And Loki, in the TVA — this organization that governs time — Loki is out of control. He’s a man on the run. And he’s motivated by a desire to understand. Suddenly, he finds out there’s all of this information that he doesn’t have, and he needs to get ahold of it. And that gives the series an amazing momentum actually. Loki is on the back foot, everybody else knows more than he does, and seeing how he adapts, seeing how he improvises after that — if improvisation is possible in the TVA. That’s a question that we try to throw up, whether you have any free will.
I read about the Loki school that you led to prep the team on the history of the character. How did you prepare for that? Did you just sort of know it all, or did you have to do a lot of research?
I wanted it not to be 10 hours long. I knew I had to condense what I thought was useful to tell the crew. It came about because of Kate Herron, our director who has done an extraordinary job on this whole series, and thought it might be a good idea to get everybody together because there were so many heads of departments, different crew — production design, costume design, cinematography, camera, sound, stunts — and wanting to make sure that everyone had the same information about Loki, and that it might be useful to listen to my experience. I was trying to explain how we had constructed Loki’s arc over the six movies that he’s in in the MCU and work out what in that arc was useful and what we could leave behind.
I suddenly found myself feeling extremely nervous, as if I was some amateur academic giving a thesis on Loki. You’ll have to ask the others if it was useful at all. But at least we synchronized watches and we were starting from the same place.
So is there a PowerPoint file somewhere that will leak out one day?
If I were highly skilled enough to use PowerPoint, I could retire and become a professor full-time.
I did have a few clips. I thought there were some clips from the movies that might be helpful. It was interesting, even if 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 some interior intention? Do the horns come out when he’s being particularly malevolent? Why is the hair different? Sometimes he’s wearing a cape, sometimes not. Sometimes he’s using magic, sometimes he’s using his own body to fight in combat. All of these 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 over this stuff again while preparing to jump back into the role?
Oh yeah, absolutely, just to refresh myself on certain decisions that we had made and why certain things were adapted… sometimes you’re trying to bring very elaborate and beautifully illustrated comic book panels into a physical reality on a film set and working out how to merge these two worlds. It was interesting. I got some amazing questions about how he moves the way he does and where certain things in stunts came up, and certainly in 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’m carrying the inspiration of amazing people. [Thor director] Kenneth Branagh and Alexandra Byrne, our costume designer; Bo Welch who designed the first Thor movie; Charlie Wood who was a production designer on The Dark World; the whole crew from Ragnarok; Mayes Rubeo, the costume designer from Ragnarok; and people like Douglas Noe, who’s done 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 useful to have that kind of outside perspective?
Absolutely. Both Kate and Owen came in with so many questions because they hadn’t lived inside Loki’s head for 10 years. They have a fresh take on it. Kate was so well-prepared and so well-researched; she actually brought some new material from Marvel Publishing that I had never seen before, about Loki’s interior world. Owen came in and just asked me lots of questions about my experience. I remember he said, “Tom, why do you love playing Loki?” And I found myself saying, “Well, he’s just got all this range. He can play the lighthearted keys, but he can also play the heavy keys in the bass clef. And somehow the character contains both.” And he loved that way of thinking about that. He said, “I think I might say that in the show.” And so it was really his very intelligent question that led us somewhere else 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, forever question. I think human beings have been asking to what extent we have the power of self-determination, self-realization, choice over our actions, and whether we can govern the course of our lives. It goes back to evolutionary or psychological arguments about nature and nurture and why we are who we are. Perhaps it’s the journey of a lifetime to figure it out, to truly take the wheel of your own life. Because in our childhood, we’re set on a path, I guess, often by accident — the accident of birth, where we’re born and when — and we’re driven forward by the unconscious in lots of ways.
That’s a complex answer. It’s a complex question. So I hope so. I hope truly free will is possible. But for all of us, I think it can be a long journey of self-discovery.