How Tom Hiddleston Makes Psycho Sexy
If you ask politely, Tom Hiddleston will show you “The Snake.” He lowers his chin, narrows his eyes into slits and gives a tight, predatory grin. “When I was working on I Saw the Light, I came across watching old footage of Hank Williams doing a duet with Anita Carter,” he says, referencing the recent biopic on the country-and-western godhead. “And Hank is looking at her like he’s about to open his jaws and swallow her whole. [Executive music producer] Rodney Crowell called it ‘The Snake.'” The 35-year-old British actor sips his coffee. “Hank just had that dark, mesmerizing power. During filming, Rodney kept looking at me and saying, ‘You’re having too much fun playing these songs. Bring the snake back out.‘”
There are two Tom Hiddlestons. There’s the old-school movie star, who can play a dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald for Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and a compassionate World War I military officer for Steven Spielberg (War Horse). The guy with the sort of British pedigree – boarding school at Eton (where Prince William was a classmate), classics studies at Cambridge and Shakespearean training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London – that suggests a prestigious career playing historical figures. He can pronounce the word Jag-u-ar impeccably. He’s the heartthrob who inspires fans to christen themselves “Hiddlestoners,” and who, if the Internet has its way, will be the next James Bond. That’s the guy you get in The Night Manager, AMC’s new six-episode miniseries based on John le Carré’s 1993 bestseller that finds Hiddleston playing a spy who infiltrates an arms dealer’s inner circle – as stellar an audition for 007 as you could ask for.
But then there’s the unpredictable, borderline weirdo version of Hiddleston, the one who does impromptu weather reports at local news stations as his Avengers character Loki, impulsively re-creates the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino diner scene from Heat on a talk show while sitting on a couch with De Niro – “I remember thinking, ‘Why the hell am I doing this, I hope he doesn’t hit me.’ Especially since my Pacino was a lot better.” – and watches forensic experts cut open cadavers for research. “There’s a disconnect between who I am and who people expect me to be because of my background,” Hiddleston says. “And I feel compelled to be rebellious and go against that.”
It’s that second Hiddleston you see in High-Rise (hitting theaters on May 13th), an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 cult novel about life in a dystopic luxury-apartment building. Hiddleston’s buttoned-up doctor buys into an ultra-modern residential complex for the upwardly mobile. Working his way up to the penthouse, his character starts to lose his civilized manner – and that’s when things get nasty. Like James Spader, the actor has found a niche somewhere between charismatic and creepy. Not every leading man could pull off an opening sequence in which he BBQs a dog while wearing a bloody designer suit. Hiddleston practically makes it sexy. “People want to put their best face forward,” he says, “and when you peel that face back, you see a lot of turbulence. It’s not like I think society is one disaster away from orgies and eating household pets. But that’s the most interesting thing to me: what’s going on outside versus inside.”