Barring Ryan Reynolds’s newly emerald torso, the greatest discovery of this past summer’s superhero cinema was Tom Hiddleston, the curly haired Brit picked to play Loki in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. Watching that film (which earns points simply for being better than its role as an Avengers red carpet), a curious thing happens: actual, bona fide, highbrow acting starts creeping into the proceedings, with scenes of godly family feuds evoking Shakespearean tragedy. Surely Branagh is the man to thank for some of this, but no one should discount the contributions of Hiddleston and, of course, Anthony Hopkins, whom our subject surprisingly matches scene for scene. Hiddleston offers a distractingly good “who’s that guy?” performance, and again, something quite superior to what’s expected of a Marvel product made to plug a Marvel product. As sophisticated as he is snivelingly fiendish, Hiddeston’s Loki would make for a fine Bond villain if not for all the otherworldly head gear. The actor, a 30-year-old Westminster native and a veteran of TV and stage, makes a lasting impression, the sort that leaves you itching to Google him. And that’s just in Round 1 of his breakout year.
Though it doesn’t score the sharp, Cliffs-Notes laughs of Corey Stoll’s Hemingway or Adrien Brody’s Dalí, Hiddleston’s turn as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris makes good on the classy, scene-stealing promise of Thor, placing the rising star?who cut his teeth in Cambridge University productions like Streetcar before moving on to graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art—in a milieu he can not only boost, but seamlessly blend within. Acting opposite Allison Pill, who dons a flapper wardrobe as F. Scott’s beloved Zelda, Hiddleston brings irony, sensitivity, and, most memorably, the convincing flair of an urbane socialite artist, those crisp suits and cigarettes as well worn and wielded as the role itself. The Midnight performance makes far more sense for those who found Loki to be a kind of oasis amid Thor’s rushed plot, bombast, and endless god-out-of-water jokes. It’s work that the handsome and thickly-accented thesp seems born for, the sort that harkens back to his appearances on the British stage, which he’s shared with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ewan McGregor, and Branagh, who starred alongside him in a production of Ivanov (the two also acted together in the BBC’s Wallander, which reportedly led to Hiddleston landing the Loki role).
After a decade of television, Hiddleston is tackling film on two fronts, aligning himself with one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises while taking on art-house and prestige work. His return as Loki in next summer’s enormously hyped Avengers is bound to finish what Thor started and make him known the world over. Before then, though, he can be seen as part of the extremely alluring international cast of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, which also features fellow meteoric Brit Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Frenchman Niels Arestrup (A Prophet), and great Scot Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur). Hiddleston plays Captain Nicholls, who, as fans of the play will know, is the cavalryman whose death leaves the titular steed to fend for itself. He’ll follow that with a leading role opposite Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies’s adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play, and the director’s first film since 2008’s exquisite Of Time and the City. Hiddleston’s greatest career accolade thus far was also in 2008, when he took home the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Newcomer for his turn in a production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. He defeated himself, as he was also nominated in the same category for his performance as Cassio in Othello. The inclination to not restrict Hiddleston praise to one performance is understandable. Like Jessica Chastain, his cool consistency inspires a celebration of the body of work. And that’s still after only two films.