News Column

Tom Hiddleston on performing Shakespeare in 'The Hollow Crown': TCA 2013

August 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 05--BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF: For Tom Hiddleston, there's not that great a distance between playing the Marvel villain Loki in the superhero epic movies, "Thor" and "The Avengers," and portraying Prince Hal and Henry V in Shakespeare's history plays on public television.

Hiddleston worked with Kenneth Branagh, the British actor-director who won acclaim for his film version of Shakespeare's "Henry V," on "Thor," which Branagh directed. In fashioning the character of the resentful, power-hungry Loki, Hiddleston says he took inspiration from such Shakespearean villains as Iago from "Othello."

The British actor was on hand Monday for the start of PBS presentations during the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Hiddleston was promoting "The Hollow Crown," a series of four films that are streamlined adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, "Richard II," "Henry IV" Parts 1 and 2, and 'Henry V."

Hiddleston plays the callow, carousing young Prince Hal in the first two Henry plays, and grows into the warrior king hero of "Henry V." Other cast members in the productions include Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeremy Irons, Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey"), John Hurt, Patrick Stewart and David Morrissey ("The Walking Dead").

"The Hollow Crown" debuts Sept. 20 on PBS.

As he spoke about making the films, Hiddleston's love of Shakespeare's works was unmistakable. He frequently recited lines from the plays from memory, with an easy, graceful authority and a complete lack of theatricality.

It's not necessary to overdo the music of Shakespeare's words, Hiddleston said. "There's no point in making it operatic." Rather, when you speak the lines -- even the famous ones -- as if you're making them up in the moment, the material is "shockingly modern."

Hiddleston shared anecdotes about making the films, including working in frigid locations. "Trying to speak iambic pentameter in the snow was challenging," he recalled, since cold makes the lips stiffer than usual.

Addressing a question about whether viewers will respond to the material, Hiddleston again emphasized the timeless relevancy of Shakespeare's work. Reading this material, you see that the author of the plays understood everything about human nature, relationships and what drives people toward power, love and revenge.

After performing Shakespeare, Hiddleston said, "I always come away feeling more alive than I did before." Reading the plays, you realize that, whatever technological changes have happened since, "400 years ago, people were exactly the same" as they are now, he said. The pride, vanity and self-interest of the villains; the wit of the fools; the melancholy of the tragic heroes -- they're all part of the everlasting humanity Shakespeare captured.

"'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,'" Hiddleston quoted, adding he can imagine any contemporary leader could relate to those words.

-- Kristi Turnquist

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(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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