TORONTO, ONTARIO. As you've discovered if you've ever sent out a tweet containing the word “Hiddleston,” the “Thor” star and British Shakespeare veteran has a legion of passionate fans.
On Guillermo del Toro's upcoming Victorian haunted house drama “Crimson Peak,” Hiddleston was a late arrival, stepping in for one of the few actors capable of engendering comparable levels of online hyperventilation, Benedict Cumberbatch.
For Hiddleston, there was no hesitation when first his agent, then del Toro, then Jessica Chastain all called to woo him to play Sir Thomas Sharpe, a fading British aristocrat who brings his new American bride Edith (Mia Wasikowska) home to his familial estate as part of an attempt to reboot his fortunes, setting in motion initially creepy and eventually terrifying happenings.
“[T]here was no possible way I was going to say no,” Hiddleston laughs, sitting in a prop warehouse near the Toronto sound stages housing the massive “Crimson Peak” sets in March 2014. “Working with Guillermo, who I”ve admired for so long, and the script itself was just brilliant. The screenplay was captivating and rich and sophisticated and terrifying. And the role was amazing and different from anything else I”d done. It was a very, very quick yes after that.”
It should be no surprise that Cambridge-educated Hiddleston gives one of the best descriptions I've ever heard for his personable, larger-than-life director.
“He is amazing. I mean that probably isn”t a secret from anyone else who”s ever worked with him but he”s like this Great Mexican Bear of Passion and Warmth,” Hiddleston says. I'm not sure if Hiddleston actually capitalized “Giant Mexican Bear of Passion and Warmth” in his speech, but it's such an uncanny summation that it ought to be capitalized. “He”s just so inspiring. He loves his job and I think his working experience and collaboration he”s one of the most inspired and inspiring people I”ve ever worked with. His knowledge about everything is so deep. He knows how to do everyone”s job. And he”s very, very special. Really inclusive and just everything from the very first moment I met him has been about enthusiasm and expansion and love and a good time as well. This crew like we”re working 16 hour days and they would follow him into war. Like 16 hours days never felt so short because it”s such fun.”
We're at least 14 hours into this particular shooting day and Hiddleston arrives in the prop warehouse at the end of a long period of down-time for an assembled group of reporters. We've already gone around the room poking into boxes of canes and other period ephemera and the energy level had dwindled significantly. But even though it's nearing midnight, Hiddleston arrives in fine fettle and with him, the mood in the room perks up immediately.
It's no wonder that Hiddleston has a fan in del Toro… and his daughters.
“They're visiting this set more than any other,” del Toro laughs, referring to his daughters a “vital part of the way I function with the world,” introducing him to things like “Adventure Time” and updating his playlists.
Through his daughters, del Toro is able to explain why Hiddleston's casting is so essential to adding balance to both “Crimson Peak” and Thomas Sharpe. Asked how his daughters will react to some of Hiddleston's character does in the movie, del Toro replies quickly, “I think they will like him no matter what he does.”
See, Thomas Sharpe is one of the romantic heroes of “Crimson Peak,” but he's still the catalyst that brings Wasikowska's Edith to the lumbering, dark-corned mansion that may be the film's true star and it's through Thomas that Edith comes into contact with Jessica Chastain's Lady Lucille Sharpe, whose motivations may be even murkier.
“I think he”s the antihero,” Hiddleston says of his character, suggesting that even if what Thomas does comes from a place of love, the results of taking Edith to his ancestral home may not be so great. Or maybe his goals are more progressive, since Thomas is an inventor and something of a visionary, but that forward-thinking can also lead in bad directions. Let's just say that Edith spends a lot of time screaming in the “Crimson Peak” trailer.
Hiddleston continues, “He”s certainly the most morally ambiguous or complex figure in the story because I think he”s genuinely caught in between people and in between conflicting emotions and is trying to find the best route through a very, very difficult tangle of what people need from him and want from him and he feels what his responsibility is to those people.”
Hiddleston ponders some more on the idea of hero, villain, antagonist, protagonist.
“Mia I think is the heroine and I think there”s something very heroic about Charlie [Hunnam's] character that evolves,” Hiddleston says. “But again you can”t be too definitive about… protagonists, antagonists, good guys, bad guys in this film really, because if you see the story from each character”s perspective they”re all justified in their actions because the biography, the world, that Guillermo has created is so sophisticated, that actually every character is in some sense justified at least in their own mind. And there is something very appealing I think and sympathetic and heroic about Thomas, especially in his ambitions and his dreams. And as you start to peel away the layers you realize he”s much darker than you might have imagined. And sort of on the other side of the darkness there is another kind of light.”
In that darkness, there's also the line between what Hiddleston calls “romance” in the movie, but which del Toro called “kink” when we were going through the set.
“It's really kinky,” Hiddleston agrees, though he has a hard time explaining exactly how.
“[T]here is a sexuality in the film which is expressed,” he tries to tease. “And you think you know what it is and then you realize you”re only scratching the surface. So I really can”t reveal more than that. Thomas Sharpe has – and he”s not the only character in the film — but he has a history. I suppose the interesting thing about the film, the story is it”s about the difference between expectations and reality. And each character is sort of projecting certain things.”
Hiddleston has given this a lot of thought and put in a lot of preparation. He refers to his character's “Damascan” experience in the middle of the film. When he talks about the family dynamic between Thomas and Lucille, he mentions that he's spent much of the day reading R.D. Laing's “The Politics of Family.” And when he talks about the sort of mysterious, romantic stranger he's playing, he has a full laundry list of books he's read either on his own or at del Toro's recommendation.
“Guillermo pointed me towards 'The Mysteries of Udolpho,' which is the sort of early gothic romantic classic by Ann Radcliffe and 'The Castle of Otranto' by Horace Walpole. And we talked about Rochester in 'Jane Eyre' and even Mr. Darcy in 'Pride and Prejudice,' you know, these figures, these wealthy gentleman with big houses who possibly become emblems of English privilege that everyone”s talking about. “Who is that man in the corner with the dark hair and the intense stare?” And that the interest of that mystery, that there are these gentlemen with dark secrets, was something that was very compelling at the time.”
Lest this begin to sound too literate — perish the thought — it should be noted that “Crimson Peak” intends to freak you out and Hiddleston has a performance approach to make that work.
“[I]t”s really scary and what I find is the most playful aspect of acting in a very, very spooky film is that you play against that so it becomes almost is the banality of – everything becomes incredibly normal. And in a way that”s more terrifying,” he says. “Like I love it when I”m watching horror films and everyone”s acting like nothing is wrong and you know something is around the corner. You”re like, 'Why is everyone acting like nothing is wrong? There”s clearly something wrong!' So in a way that”s really fun is to play it very straight, to play it almost as if the action is every day and 'What could possibly go wrong?' It”s just an old house, you know, with creaky floorboards. Old house will make old noises.”
Viewers will find out about Thomas' motivations, the kink and what makes the house creak when “Crimson Peak” opens on October 16, 2015.