Business Insider sat down with Tom at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan while he was attending the Tribeca Film Festival to talk about “High-Rise,” why he watched a real human autopsy to prepare for the role, how often he’s slept in his own bed in the last year, and what he thinks about no one going to see “I Saw the Light.”
Business Insider: Has it been fun to do these roles — “Crimson Peak,” “I Saw the Light,” “High-Rise” — where you play characters who are conflicted and have a lot going on?
Tom Hiddleston: I feel immensely lucky that I’m allowed to do so many different things. I have chosen to do those things, deliberately, but not every actor is allowed to do that and that’s an immense good fortune to choose different kinds of things to explore. They have all been fascinating for different reasons. Now in your position it’s a strange compression of all this work coming out at the same time. Where as for me, each project had its own integrity and focus. It’s very peculiar, the work of the last 18 months of the my life has been released in the space of one month.
BI: Is it daunting to have all these characters reaching the public at the same time?
Hiddleston: Not especially. It’s not like I have any control over it.
BI: It’s interesting because we as an audience are seeing you in different characters at once —
Hiddleston: Is that a good thing?
BI: I think so. Because we see you using different talents to play these characters at the same time. I don’t know if you look at it that way.
Hiddleston: The actors I’ve always admired have been actors who have followed their instincts and curiosities and led their audiences into new territory. I think that’s what’s fascinating — people think they have an idea of who an actor is, and then they go off and do something and you go, “Wow, I never saw that coming.” I think that’s exciting.
BI: How was “High-Rise” brought to you?
Hiddleston: I talked about it with producer Jeremy Thomas after making “Only Lovers Left Alive” [the indie vampire movie with Tilda Swinton], and he’d been trying to get this made for a long time. The combination of Jeremy with director Ben Wheatley [“Kill List”], and the material of author J.G. Ballard was a thrilling proposition.
BI: Why was it necessary for you to see a real autopsy done?
Hiddleston: [Laughs] It comes from a very simple place in me as an actor. If you have to preform something on camera, you want to make sure people who actually do that go, “Yeah, that’s how you do that.” When I played Hank Williams, it was important to me that musicians approved of the way I played the guitar and my singing. So I had to do a lot of work to get that right. Whether it’s making an omelet or dissecting a disembodied head.
BI: But it’s just one scene. Did you do more autopsy work in the film that was cut out?
Hiddleston: No. I dissected that head, and let me just say it was a prosthetic.
BI: Oh, glad we’re getting that out of the way for all the severed-head-rights people.
Hiddleston: [Laughs] Yeah. Beautifully done by the special effects department and we only had two.
Hiddleston: Exactly. And the reason I went to the autopsy was there was no one I knew who had the authority of how to do this. I didn’t have the first clue. So I simply got in touch with a forensic pathologist in a hospital in England, and I went to see him for an afternoon. I went and watched him perform an autopsy on a human corpse, and it was not an easy experience.
BI: There’s so much madness going on in the movie, and you guys shot it in this quiet seaside town in Ireland. Did Stockholm syndrome set in with the cast? Did what you film bleed into daily life?
Hiddleston: [Laughs] No. No. It was very sedate. We all became very close, which was nice. We all stayed in the same hotel for six or seven weeks. But I found it very reassuring that we were in Northern Ireland in a seaside town where you can get fish and chips all the time. The set was a contained madhouse. But we were shooting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and we would emerge into the evening covered in all kinds of stuff going, “And that’s it for Wednesday.” We would go have a shower and meet for fish and chips. That was actually quite healthy.
BI: Are you a high-rise kind of guy?
Hiddleston: I live in a house. I’ve stayed in high-rise hotels and sometimes I have good experiences and other times I like to have my feet on the ground, as nice as those places are.
BI: You’ve been very busy, even by the standards of successful actors. How many times have you slept in your own bed in the last year?
Hiddleston: I haven’t been home in a long time. Literally in the last 12 months, if I put them all together I would say three weeks.
BI: Does that make you go a little mad at times?
Hiddleston: I’m used to it now. When you’re an actor, you go where the work is and very little is ever at home. I’ve learned to feel comfortable, having the things I need. Honestly, it goes with the job. I look forward to going home and there may be a time in later life when I have more responsibilities and need to be home more, but right now it’s okay.
BI: Are you going to take your foot off the pedal soon?
Hiddleston: I’m going to put my foot off the pedal a bit before the next Thor movie, otherwise I would fall over.
BI: You’re at an incredible moment in your career. Can you settle, or is that when the good parts suddenly vanish?
Hiddleston: I don’t know. You never feel you’ve hit the peak, that’s the predicament. I think you can ask any actor or filmmaker, you never feel like the work is done. It’s never possible to say, “That’s what I feel about the world, I’ll go look after the garden now.” I think there are always more stories to tell, there’s always more complexity in human life to investigate.
BI: Is making a movie like “High-Rise” or “I Saw the Light” more satisfying than doing a big blockbuster movie?
Hiddleston: It’s a bit like playing an instrument in an orchestra. The director is the conductor and what you find yourself playing is different. Playing different tunes and music, maybe a solo. Honestly, the experience that I feel more keenly is about pace. Big-budget films, the money is spent on time. You have more time. And for smaller budgets, you shoot more quickly. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. There can be things you feel you missed because you were going so fast, but sometimes too much time gives you too much time to think and question and look from every angle and then you can’t commit to the best choice. I have no prejudice in any direction. I love when blockbusters work, there’s no better experience, but when a small independent film that’s been made for $2 million gets championed, that’s thrilling, too.
BI: That said, are you disappointed in how “I Saw the Light” was received? It was hyped as an Oscar-caliber performance for you, and the movie turned out to be the worst-reviewed of your career.
Hiddleston: The difference between me and you and whoever watches that film is that film took me six months to make. I took six months of my life and I thought about nothing else every day for six months, and for anyone in the audience, it’s two hours of screen time. As Mike Nichols used to say, “You can make the best film in the entire world and people will still say afterward, ‘Is there anywhere that’s open for a drink?'” It’s part of the rhythm of their day. So of course I put so much into it and it would be lovely to think more people have seen it than I believe they have. The people I’ve spoken to about the movie have at least caught the passion for which it was made and then of course there are other people who I don’t know personally who have found fault or flaws in it, but I can’t be the judge. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As an actor, you just have to put your best foot forward every time. Do you know what I mean?
[The interview ends, and as Hiddleston walks to the door of his hotel room, he brings up the reaction to “I Saw the Light” again.]
Hiddleston: You know, it’s a funny thing, I’ve been hearing that people are positive toward how I did in “The Night Manager,” and I didn’t do more or less with that than for “I Saw the Light.” As an actor, you can never tell. It’s really anyone’s guess how people will react.