THE HOLLOW CROWN, currently airing Fridays at 9 PM on PBS’ GREAT PERFORMANCES series, is a collection of four of William Shakespeare’s history plays made into films, with many sequences shot on location. RICHARD II aired last week. The remaining three, HENRY IV PART I, HENRY IV PART II and HENRY V, all star Tom Hiddleston, who begins as the hedonistic Prince Hal and goes through a great deal of personal and royal change to emerge as the regal Henry V. Jeremy Irons stars in the two HENRY IV plays as the title character.
London-born, Oxfordshire-raised Hiddleston has an award-winning stage career in his native England. Film audiences know him best as the antagonistic Loki in THOR and THE AVENGERS, as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and as a compassionate WWI cavalry officer in WAR HORSE. PBS MASTERPIECE MYSTERY viewers may have seen him acting alongside his future THOR director Kenneth Branagh in the first two seasons of WALLANDER.
Hiddleston currently has several feature films awaiting release. He stars as a lovestruck vampire opposite Tilda Swinton in Jim Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, reprises his role as Loki in THOR: THE DARK WORLD and voices one of the leads in Disney’s animated THE PIRATE FAIRY.
At the PBS section of the Television Critics Association press tour, Hiddleston and Gareth Neame (who, along with Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris and David Horn, is one of HOLLOW CROWN’s executive producers) spend forty-five minutes discussing the series at a Q&A panel. In a green room shortly thereafter, self-described “Shakespeare nerd” Hiddleston proves to be perfectly happy to talk further about THE HOLLOW CROWN, sounding hugely enthusiastic about every aspect of the undertaking.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you and Sam Mendes have conversations about doing Shakespeare together before this project materialized?
TOM HIDDLESTON: It wasn’t Sam, it was Richard [Eyre, who directed HENRY IV, PARTS I & II]. I got wind from Maggie Lunn, the casting director, that this was going ahead, and Prince Hal’s been a character I’ve wanted to play my whole life, and the idea of doing it on film was mouth-watering. And I tried to get to meet Richard, but he was busy running a West End production, I think, of BETTY BLUE EYES, and also opening MARY POPPINS all over the world, and I was doing press for THOR – this is spring 2011. In the end, I ended up meeting [Eyre] on a layover in Singapore on the way to Sydney. He was going to open MARY POPPINS in Sydney, and I was going to the world premiere of THOR, which was being held in Chris Hemsworth’s home country. And we’d been trying to meet all week, but our diaries hadn’t managed to meet, to coordinate. And we got off the plane and I said, “Richard!” at two o’clock in the morning in Singapore. He said, “Tom, what are you doing on the plane?” and I said, “I’m going to open THOR in Sydney.” He said, “I’m going to do MARY POPPINS.”
And then I simply told him how much I’ve always respected him and his work, because he was running the National Theatre when I used to go down there as a teenager, and I guess we had a chance to look each other up and down, and then, about two weeks later, I was packing to come to L.A. from the American premiere of THOR, and it was the day of the royal wedding, so Prince William was marrying his bride. And in the middle of the ceremony – I was packing and watching telly at the same time – I got a call from Richard Eyre saying, “I’d like to offer you Prince Hal.” And I was over the moon and jumped on a plane and knew I was shooting AVENGERS that summer, but also knew that’s what I was coming back to.
AX: So you shot AVENGERS and then THE HOLLOW CROWN?
HIDDLESTON: Yeah. THOR opened, we shot AVENGERS in the summer of 2011, and then I started work on THE HOLLOW CROWN in the winter.
AX: Had you done any of the plays encompassed in THE HOLLOW CROWN before?
HIDDLESTON: When I was at RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] as a student, I played Henry V.
AX: So you’d done it at drama school …
HIDDLESTON: Yes. I mean, we’d done a very contemporary production, where we were all wearing kind of modern camouflage, army surplus stuff. And we rotated the major parts, so that if you were playing Henry V, you had a red armband on. But also, when I was at RADA – I was there from 2002-2005 – there was a lot of activity in Afghanistan around then. 2003, I think, was the war of the United States and the United Kingdom in alliance fighting Afghanistan. There was a lot of military – the righteousness of military invasion was very much part of public debate. So that particular production of HENRY V had a very contemporary inflection.
AX: Was there anything you took from that production into this production, or did you just decide, “I’m giving it over to the HOLLOW CROWN director”?
HIDDLESTON: Thea Sharrer, I should say – Richard Eyre directed HENRY IV PART I AND II and Thea Sharrer directed HENRY V. They were the three films. The one thing I really wanted to communicate was, I really wanted to do [the speech regarding] Crispin’s Day in an intimate way. I didn’t want to do a big, bombastic rabble-rousing rhetorical oration. I really wanted to speak intimately to my men, which is how I’d done it at RADA, but much less well, because I think you listen to the poetry, and I wanted to sort of break the mold of there being a set way that these speeches are performed.
AX: On film, you can do a speech in close-up, which is something you can’t really do …
HIDDLESTON: You can’t do on stage Yes. It was very intimate and touching. So that was an opportunity to be intimate with the camera in a way that you can’t be on stage. I’ve always seen HENRY V as really interesting – the thing is, people have inherited [Laurence] Olivier’s film as the definitive version, but the play itself is much more ambiguous, and the character of Henry V is not a hero without flaws, and he’s full of doubt and insecurity, and I wanted to bring that doubt and insecurity up and honor the text and make sure it was a complex reading of a young man who was discovering himself and thinking about the nature of warfare as he goes through it.
AX: Is Henry V also discovering the nature of leadership at the same time?
HIDDLESTON: Entirely. I mean, that’s what these plays are about. The crown, the hollow crown, is the symbol of power, and its hollowness is emblematic of how it feeds upon the soul of the man underneath it. There’s an amazing speech in HENRY IV PART II where I try the crown on by my father’s bedside, and later he says, “Wherefore did you take away the crown?” And I say, “I spake unto this crown as having sense, and thus upbraided it – ‘The care on thee depending hath fed upon the body of my father; therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold. Other, less fine in carat, is more precious, preserving life in medicine potable; but thou, most fine, most honored, most renowned, hast eat thy bearer up.’” This idea of power crippling and feeding on the soul of the person who wields it is a really fascinating aspect of these plays.
AX: So is Henry V conscious of that fear when he goes into it?
HIDDLESTON: HENRY V? Yeah, he has a whole speech about it. “We must bear all. O hard condition, twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath of every fool whose sense can no more feel but his own wringing.” It’s obviously a subject that really fascinated Shakespeare.
AX: To ask a perhaps silly question about some of the physical aspects of performing in HENRY V, you’re galloping and getting on and off a horse in full royal battle gear – is it difficult to get off a horse in all of that armor and not just fall flat on your face?
HIDDLESTON: [laughs] Yeah. It really is. My first day was very technical. I had to ride – I had to gallop at full tilt along the moat of a castle with a cannon going off in the background. And the horse was quite skittish – it was a genuine, bona fide explosion and I had to stop on a certain mark and then jump off and say the most famous line in Shakespeare that’s probably ever been written. But I’ve done horse challenges before in WAR HORSE, so I’m okay with that stuff now.
AX: So you learned all of your tough horse stuff playing the World War I officer in WAR HORSE and were able to apply it to your riding in HENRY V?
HIDDLESTON: Yeah, absolutely.
AX: Were there any other big physical challenges in THE HOLLOW CROWN?
HIDDLESTON: For certain. I mean, the stamina of it. I started shooting on November 28 . I finished on March 14, I think. So I was shooting outside in the dead of winter and doing a lot of sword fighting or horse riding in chain mail in minus-five and also speaking three pages of Shakespearean poetry. You just have to be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and come back and do it again the next day. It was a big, big undertaking.
AX: Do you feel differently now about physical combat now than you did before doing this? I mean, just in terms of, it sounds like in Henry V’s time, whoever could avoiding just keeling over the longest was the one who won the war.
HIDDLESTON: Yes, certainly. Although what was interesting is, I kept discussing with the other guys – in HENRY IV PART I, we were shooting a battle in the snow for two weeks, and we were doing fight choreography in the mud and the wet and the frost and minus-three degrees and I did say, “At least if you were actually at the Battle of Shrewsbury, it was all over in an afternoon.” You know what I mean? You didn’t have to come back the next day and do it again. But yes, it’s without question physically one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
AX: Given that you got to play the evolution of Hal to King Henry, was having to do it somewhat out of order in any way disappointing?
HIDDLESTON: No, because that’s how you shoot things. You never shoot anything in order, you shoot according to locations. If you’re shooting in one location, you shoot that location out, then you move on. But it’s so rich that, if life was longer, I would love to have another crack at it.
AX: Could you do it on stage now?
HIDDLESTON: I probably could, yeah. I could have a try. [laughs] I have to stop making superhero films in order to make the space for it.
AX: Did AVENGERS in particular do anything for your ability to say, “I’d like to do this project” and have people say, “Oh, good, you’re bankable”?
HIDDLESTON: It must have done. No actor is ever told, I think, quite how the picture changes. Of course it must have helped. The only real hard evidence I have is when directors who I respect have seen the film and admired my work in it. That’s really what I know. Whether people who run studios or people who are clocking up figures and numbers – I don’t know whether it makes a difference, really.
AX: Well, you’re a big part of this movie that made more money than anyone knew existed …
HIDDLESTON: [laughs] Yeah, it helps. If there’s ever an element of doubt that I’m not a good investment for a feature project, my agents always say, “Well, you know, he was in one of the most successful films of all time …”
AX: Online, there’s a clip of you in character as Loki in full costume, minus the helmet, addressing the audience in Hall H at Comic-Con, where you’re about to introduce the trailer for THOR: THE DARK WORLD. You get the audience to chant Loki’s name and swear fealty. Did they have to persuade you to do that, or did you think, “Oh, this sounds like fun”?
HIDDLESTON: Oh, it sounded like a hoot. I didn’t need – it didn’t take any persuading. [Marvel Studios president of production] Kevin Feige had a good idea. He said, “I think you should turn up in character and do something.” And I was like was like a dog with a bone, you know, I just ran with it and thought, “This will be a laugh.”
AX: You end by saying, “It seems I have an army,” and those people looked like they were ready to follow you anywhere. Were you tempted to go and conquer San Diego afterwards?
HIDDLESTON: No. The adrenaline of standing up in front of seven thousand people, all of whom are like, the faithful in terms of where the affection for this character’s been born – I walked into a wall of sound and fury, and the adrenaline coursing through my body must have been – people say when you perform like that, doctors have been known to say, the adrenaline going through your body’s a bit like the adrenaline in the middle of a car crash. And I walked offstage and I just started sweating, and so I was very glad to get the costume off as soon as I possibly could, and San Diego was safe from my autocratic, fascistic clutches [laughs].
AX: Are you happy with the way THE DARK WORLD turned out?
HIDDLESTON: I’ve seen bits of it – I haven’t seen all of it. I’m very, very excited to see it. I think it’s going to be utterly beautiful and really spectacular.
AX: Back to THE HOLLOW CROWN – does this experience or any other experience give you any desire to direct Shakespeare?
HIDDLESTON: I’d love to one day.
AX: What do you think needs to happen before you can?
HIDDLESTON: I probably need to make the time and be brave enough to conjure up a dream of what play to do and why I want to do it, and be very rigorous with myself about what I can bring to a new interpretation of a very big play.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about THE HOLLOW CROWN?
HIDDLESTON: Gosh. You know, I suppose what I hoped in the [earlier question-and-answer] panel I managed to communicate is my enormous and undying passion for Shakespeare and that he should be passed on like this Olympic torch from generation to generation and is open to reinvention and reinterpretation and re-vision [said like “new vision,” not “revision”] in so many respects. And I just hope that audiences can be entertained and thrilled by the drama and spectacle of this playwright who understood human nature more deeply than anyone I can think of. And that they take as much pleasure in watching it as I took in making it.
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Article Source: Assignment X