Tom Hiddleston is currently starring on the London stage in Shakespeare’s political tragedy “Coriolanus,” and reviews of the production, which opened Dec. 17, have been glowing.
Critics have praised Hiddleston's performance -- the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer called him “compelling and persuasive” -- as the military commander brought low by his own arrogance and intractability in the play, directed by Josie Rourke, at the Donmar Warehouse.
Earlier this year, Hiddleston was promoting a starring turn of a very different kind in “Thor: The Dark World,” the Marvel superhero sequel in which he reprised his role as the raven-haired villain Loki from “Thor” and “The Avengers.” The 32-year-old actor talked about his interest in the role -- "Coriolanus" is generally considered one of the Bard’s less accessible works -- and his personal relationship to the Donmar.
In 2007, he was appearing as Cassio in director Michael Grandage’s “Othello,” starring “12 Years A Slave” actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, when he first came to the attention of “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh, who cast him as Loki and launched his blockbuster movie career.
“That’s where everything started for me,” said Hiddleston. “I was in a production of ‘Othello’ there with Chiwetel, who gave probably the most definitive performance of Othello of my generation. Ewan McGregor played Iago, and I played Cassio. Of course they were big stars then and nobody knew who I was at all, but Kenneth Branagh came to see it and that led to a whole sequence of collaboration.”
Hiddleston and Branagh worked together on the BBC series “Wallander,” and they both performed in Grandage’s 2008 staging of Chekhov’s “Ivanov” at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End before making “Thor.”
“I just love that theater,” Hiddleston said of the Donmar Warehouse. “The footprint is quite small. It seats about 400. It has a unique capacity for intimate and epic drama simultaneously, so you can do big plays and the audience feels really close to you but it still has size and dimension. It doesn’t have to be just plays about a married couple falling apart -- which they have done in there and they’re riveting -- but you can do big ancient massive Shakespeare with sword fights in there and it’s thrilling because you’re so close to it.”
A graduate of both Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Hiddleston has a long history with Shakespeare. This year he appeared in “The Hollow Crown,” a four-part television series originally made for the BBC that aired stateside as part of PBS’ “Great Performances.”
The series featured four historical plays by the Bard — "Richard II," starring Ben Whishaw in the title role; "Henry IV," Parts I and II, which starred Hiddleston as the wayward Prince Hal, who becomes king Henry V; and "Henry V."
Hiddleston said he wasn’t terribly familiar with “Coriolanus,” though he had seen Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 film.
“It’s about the rise and fall of a public figure, that’s what I found most exciting,” Hiddleston said. “The capacity of the people, of all of us as a group, as a mob, to celebrate someone and destroy them, which is what happens to Caius Martius.”
The decision to perform the play using swords and armor — rather than updating the production design to a more contemporary look — was an easy one, Hiddleston said.
“I think people want to see definitive classical productions of Shakespeare that have 400 years of resonance — or 2,000 years worth of resonance because [this is] set in ancient Rome — as opposed to 'Oh, that’s kind of like now,' ” he said.
“I think if you speak it properly you can hear that it’s kind of like now.”
“Coriolanus” runs through Feb. 8, 2014.
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