Yahoo Movies visited the Toronto set of “Crimson Peak” in early 2014: At very near the stroke of midnight, after a long day of shooting a dramatic scene, Tom met with them to speak about his role. Read on for his thoughtful take on his character’s personal demons, family dynamics, and why this is his most “kinky” film to date. The film arrives in theaters October 16.
When Benedict Cumberbatch dropped out, Guillermo sent the script to you. He said you turned around almost immediately and accepted — within 72 hours. Was your decision based on him? Was it based on the script?
Tom Hiddleston: It happened very quickly. My agents called and said, “Guillermo del Toro is going to call in the next hour.” And he called me, and he told me the story and he said, “Don’t say yes or no. I’m going to rewrite the script this weekend and send you a new draft.” Then an hour later Jessica called me and said, “You have to do it. I want you to do it. Guillermo wants you to do it.” I was really excited. I couldn’t wait to read the script. It must have been a day later and I got it and read it immediately in one sitting. He had rewritten the part for me in a way, so I got my own draft. And it was just brilliant. It was just a brilliant screenplay. I knew that Jessica and Mia and Charlie were locked in; I love Mia, and I knew Jessica from before, and I wanted to work with Charlie. There was no possible way I was going to say no. The screenplay was brilliant. It was rich and captivating and terrifying. The role was amazing and different from anything else I had done. It was a very, very quick “yes.”
Can you talk about your relationship with the two ladies? Jessica told us the sibling relationship is codependent.
Hiddleston: I have been literally reading a book all day called The Politics Of The Family by RD Lang, who is a very famous psychologist from the ’60s. He talks about the difference between a subjective experience of someone within a family unit and then the public definition of what that family unit comes to be, and the gap between the two in every family is often quite wide. There’s often a tussle about who gets to define what the relationship is, in a public context, within a family. I think Lucille and Thomas would probably disagree about what the nature of the relationship is, and who does the talking and who does the listening, who does the leading and who does the following. But they are both… sorry, I’m trying not to reveal things I don’t want you to know! They’re both orphans and have lived together. It’s late 19th century, so it’s a time when a woman’s power is expressed through the capacity of the men closest to her. It’s still, sadly, the situation. Her proximity to her brother is one of codependency in that she is invested in his success in the world. He feels very protective of her as well, but not just because of their isolation. There’s the thing of siblings who are close in age who have been left alone, who depend on each other, who need each other.
Does that mean the relationship with Edith is not based on genuine love?
Hiddleston: That’s the fascinating thing! The film opens — and I’m not spoiling anything by saying it — with Thomas and Lucille, who are old-money from the north of England [and] who are borderline destitute He’s brilliant and she’s shy and retiring, and they go to the new world. They go to Boston, to Massachusetts, where everything is full of hope and graft and optimism. They’re looking for investors in Sharpe’s machine. He falls in love with a sort of prodigious and slightly willful young woman who is rebelling against her own father, and they have a spiritual connection about certain things. It’s incredibly romantic, after the manner of the great gothic romance novels. There’s a big ball, and they dance, and look into each other’s eyes, and fall head over heels in love — which is against the wishes of many, many people in the room, who have other plans for their family members.
You said romance. Guillermo gave us “kink.”
Hiddleston: [Laughs] It begins with romance, but progresses to kink.
How do you define that? What’s the kink?
Hiddleston: It’s really kinky. You’ll see.
We haven’t seen you do kinky. What is kinky?
Hiddleston: In my life? In my work? I called [Black Widow] a “mewling quim” in The Avengers [Laughs]. No, there is a sexuality in the film which is expressed, and you think you know what it is, and then you realize you’re only scratching the surface. I really can’t reveal more than that. Thomas Sharpe [is] not the only character in the film, but he has a history. I suppose the interesting thing about the film, the story, is that it’s about the difference between expectations and reality. Each character is projecting certain things. You’ve got Thomas, Lucille, Edith and Michael, and they’re all projecting onto each other, and have certain expectations of who the other might be, and when the masks are pulled away you see a different picture. That might be where the kink emerges. Without spoiling things too much.
How aware is your character of the living, breathing entity that is the house and the supernatural things going on in it?
Hiddleston: I think it’s really interesting in the quartet of central characters. Thomas’ journey is one of revelation. He thinks he knows who he is and what he has inherited in every sense of that word — emotionally, financially, physically, with the house, Lucille, all that stuff — and he wakes up to certain truths within the course of the film that change his intentions and ambitions before the end of it. He has an almost Damascan experience in the middle of the film where he realizes that things are much more complicated and spooky than they might have, at first, appeared.
Is there a point where these characters should just get out of the house?
Hiddleston: I think it’s more complicated than that because the house is the Sharpe Mansion, and it’s part of his identity. It’s his responsibility, so he couldn’t. Logically if he left where would he go? And with what resources? At that time I’m sure you could disappear, but into what? What future? I think the fascinating thing is that everybody has demons, and sometimes you don’t know what your demons are until it’s too late.
Guillermo called Jessica’s character the antagonist. She said she’s researching with books about female serial killers. It seems twisted. What about Thomas – is he as twisted?
Hiddleston: I think he’s the anti-hero. But certainly he’s the most morally ambiguous or complex figure in the story. I think he’s genuinely caught in between people and in between conflicting emotions, and is trying to find the best route through a very, very difficult tangle of what people need from him and want from him and his responsibilities to those people. Mia is the heroine, and I think there’s something very heroic about Charlie’s character that evolves… but again, you can’t be too definitive about who is protagonist/antagonist, good guy/bad guy in this film because if you see the story from each character’s perspective, they’re each justified in their actions. There is something very appealing and sympathetic and heroic in Thomas, especially with his ambitions and his dreams, and as you start to peel away the layers you realize he’s much darker than you might have imagined. On the other side of the darkness there is a kind of light.