'The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part 1': Tom Hiddleston on the essential Shakespeare
Tonight (Friday, Sept. 17), on PBS' "Great Performances" (check local listings), "The Hollow Crown" series of royal dramas by William Shakespeare continues with "Henry IV, Part 1," starring Jeremy Irons ("The Borgias") in the title role of the British monarch; Tom Hiddleston playing his wayward son, Prince Hal; and "Downton Abbey" star Michelle Dockery as Lady Percy.
In real life, it won't be long before Hiddleston takes up the Bard live once again.
On Dec,. 6, the British actor returns to his favorite playwright as he assumes the title role of the war-themed Shakespeare tragedy "Coriolanus" at the Donmar Warehouse in London's West End. The production will be filmed and broadcast as part of National Theatre Live on Jan. 30, 2014.
Although Hiddleston has had big-screen success in the U.S. playing the villain Loki in director Kenneth Branagh's ("Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet," "Henry V") 2011 film version of the "Thor" comic book -- and which he reprises with even more screen time in the sequel, "Thor: The Dark World," coming out this fall -- stepping onto the stage and into the skin of a hero and defender of Rome is like returning to an old love.
"We're lucky we have this tradition [of doing the classics]," Hiddleston tells Zap2it over tea and cookies in Beverly Hills in early August. "The thing is, if you want to be an actor, it's not easy. It's not easy anywhere in the world, but in England, if you want to be an actor, your ambition is rightly challenged and tested at different points, if you're beginning.
"You realize that the people who are held up as great examples are people who have usually committed to a long career of really humble, dedicated exploration of the classics. It's no accident that in the last James Bond film, there were actors who played in 'Hamlet.'
"Judi Dench, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes -- I'm sure Dan [Craig] did it when he was at drama school."
Hiddleston may not be right about that, but he has lots of other examples to look at, including one of his "Hollow Crown" co-stars.
"My heroes," he says, "are those actors -- they are John Hurt and Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart and Jeremy Irons and Kenneth Branagh and Anthony Hopkins -- who've cut their teeth on the classics.
"The truth is, there's nothing after that more challenging, in a way. After you've done
Shakespeare, it feels like everything else is an iteration of the same thing."
While doing Shakespeare can certainly improve an actor's memorization skills, Hiddleston asserts that it offers so much more.
"It demands everything," he says. "Your body and your mind and your heart have to be working in tandem all the time. Your brain has to be completely engaged; you have to wrap your head around the complexity of the language, the meaning of it, and the speed of the change of thoughts.
"At the same time, as [you're] speaking those incredibly complex and beautiful thoughts, clearly, you have to be feeling the emotions with absolutely naturalistic intensity, as well as performing the physical action.
"So, that's what I find so extraordinary about doing [Shakespeare]."
Below find a clip from "Henry IV, Part 1," featuring Irons and Hiddleston.
And now here's the first trailer for "Coriolanus" ...