Tom Hiddleston can pull off extreme looks. In The Avengers, he strutted around in Loki’s two-foot horned helmet. For Midnight in Paris, he finessed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prim finger waves. And in his latest, Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive, Hiddleston lounges bare-chested in velvet-cuffed robes. The only style he can’t swing — at least, as far as casting directors seem to think — is modern, everyday mortal.
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Consider his last 12 months. As if out to prove his range, the 33-year-old British actor played a god in a Marvel blockbuster (Thor: The Dark World), took Only Lovers to Cannes, clocked three months performing Coriolanus in a 250-seat London theater that was once a banana-ripening house, and, three days after the closing curtain, bounced to Toronto, where he’s shooting the Victorian ghost story Crimson Peak with Guillermo del Toro. (“He’s like a great Mexican bear,” he laughs. “I hug him every day, repeatedly.”) Even with all that, there’s a huge swath of things he has yet to do: contemporary thrillers, clever dramedies, romantic comedies, and anything, well, normal.
“It’s crazy, because I was born in 1981 and I’m alive and well in 2014 — it’s not that I’m conscientiously not doing contemporary stuff,” insists Hiddleston. “I think it’s really difficult to make a good romantic comedy. I’d love to play them; they just don’t tend to come my way at the moment. I’m taking it as a compliment one way or another, but it’s very much an ambition of mine to wear jeans.”
Today, Hiddleston is on the phone from Canada. But in person, it’s startling to discover that filmgoers have yet to behold Hiddleston’s electric charisma and shock of blond curls. His movies prefer him dark-haired, dark-tempered, and cerebral. The typecasting is understandable: He does, after all, casually reference Milan Kundera and 19th-century poet John Clare in conversation. At the University of Cambridge, he earned a double first in Classics and, for fun, pondered how to rework The Odyssey and The Iliad as films. Meanwhile, his Tumblr fans have hoisted him up as the thinking girl’s dreamboat, second only to Benedict Cumberbatch. Imagine if he had a crack at the scripts that made a star of Hugh Grant.
For now, audiences who want to see him in a rom-com can make do with Only Lovers Left Alive, a love story in which Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play glamorous, long-married vampires reconnecting after a few years apart in Michigan and Morocco. Moody and romantic, it could be subtitled From Here to Eternity (For Serious). “And some people find it funny,” Hiddleston adds with a dry chuckle.
Swinton is the older woman, a 2,000-year-old Druid named Eve. Hiddleston plays Adam, a blood-drinking Byronic hero made immortal, naturally, during the Romantic age. Sexy and sulky, he’s spent the last several centuries mastering every instrument before migrating to modern-day Detroit where his long hair, pale skin, tight pants, and emo attitude help him pass as a reclusive rock star.
“We were creating this kind of cocktail of Gothic romance,” says Hiddleston. “And once all those elements were there, we just shook it up and started shooting.” Picture a post-millennial version of that glory-hog Lestat. Or really, picture one part Keith Richards to six parts Jim Jarmusch himself.
“He seems to have poured so much of himself into the screenplay,” says Hiddleston of his writer-director, who spent seven years pushing the project. Adam’s obsessions are Jarmusch’s obsessions: music, science, the secret biology of mushrooms. They share the same heroes — Bach, Tesla, Newton, Iggy, Hank (as in Williams) — each framed and hung on their own Wall of Fame. By channeling his personality into a fictional character that will, film format willing, outlive all of us, Jarmusch has created his own version of artistic immortality. Notes Hiddleston, “For Jim, I think that really is all that matters.”
Adam and Eve are proof of why all vampires are cool — they’ve had eons to master impressive talents while earning a this-too-shall-pass insouciance. In the film, the hipper-than-thou couple spend their nights driving around Detroit in a Jaguar SJS, name-dropping famous friends like Christopher Marlowe and digging into heady topics like stars in the sky that emit musical signals. That’s how we might imagine them hanging out even without a camera, though Hiddleston swears that the intimidating Swinton is “enormous, enormous fun,” and equally game to chit-chat about the cinnamon bagels at the craft services table.
Often, though, they talked about the future and what they wished they could live long enough to witness. “The world is changing at an astonishing rate. Will Detroit have a second wind? What cities will last and what will not? And how fast is it all going to come? What language will we all be speaking in 100 years time?” wonders Hiddleston. “There’s an interesting line in the film where Adam asks Eve, ‘Have the water wars started yet, or is it still about the oil?’ I won’t be around to see it, I’m afraid.
“If I lived forever, who knows what I would do?” he continues. “I would certainly get better at the piano. I would try to learn how to paint. I think I would try to read all the books I haven’t read. When I was a child, the house was full of books — the walls were lined with bookshelves — and I remember looking up at them once and thinking, ‘I wonder if I’ll ever be able to read all those books?’ and my mother said, ‘It’s all right; you’ve got loads of time.’ But actually we don’t have that much time — I know I won’t. There will be things I’ll miss out on.”
For now, his focus is on maximizing his newfound spare time. “Every six months for the last three or four years, I’ve been playing Loki,” says Hiddleston. “This is the first year where I won’t make a Marvel film for three years.” Sure, he can’t read every book ever written, but his increasing clout will make sure he doesn’t miss out on any role he’d like to play. Maybe even one that will let him keep wearing his Levi’s.