'Learning to sing like Hank made me want to hit my head into a wall'
Tom Hiddleston might be game for a laugh - and a dance - but when it comes to his craft, the actor means business. He talks to Susan Griffin about his latest big-screen challenge... and what it feels like to go viral.
Tom Hiddleston loves to let loose on the dance floor and only the other week, a video of him dancing with Taylor Swift at New York's glamorous Met Gala went viral.
"I love dancing. Who doesn't?" says the 35-year-old, laughing. "It's a weird one. I haven't actually danced for a long time, but I happened to be dancing at the Met Gala because it was a party.
"I was on a table with Taylor Swift and The Weeknd was playing, and she said, 'The thing about these parties is nobody gets up to dance'. And she was like, 'We've got to dance for The Weeknd', so we got up and danced." With a grin, he adds: "I didn't know it was going to ping round the world, but it's all good."
It's not the first time footage of him has gone viral. His recent performance as undercover agent Jonathan Pine, in the TV adaptation of John Le Carre's espionage drama The Night Manager, drew huge acclaim - along with calls for him to play the next Bond.
It was the intense sex scene with actress Elizabeth Debicki that caused a real sensation.
It must be strange to wake up to newspaper columns and online forums dedicated to the sight of your bare buttocks?
Hiddleston shakes his head and laughs. "I have no control over anyone else's opinion of my work, or who I am or what I do, so you just have to keep doing what you do."
Hiddleston, today dressed in dark trousers and a long-sleeved grey sports top, listens intently to questions, offers considered, articulate answers in a smooth voice, and generally exudes an air of calm.
It's difficult to imagine the actor, who was born and raised in London and Oxford, boarded at Eton and earned a double first in Classics from Cambridge, ever feeling ruffled, but he can where work's involved, he admits.
Marc Abraham, writer and director of his latest movie, I Saw The Light, has called him a perfectionist - which he doesn't deny.
"Marc's right about that. I put a huge amount of pressure on myself as an actor, with everything I do," confesses Hiddleston.
I Saw The Light explores the life of Hank Williams, who emerged from Alabama's music scene after the Second World War and revolutionised country music. It charts the volatile relationship with his wife Audrey (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and his struggles with substance abuse and spina bifida occulta, before his death on New Year's Day 1953, aged just 29.
"I felt a huge responsibility to Hank Williams and his legacy, and I felt it even more keenly when I arrived in Nashville," reveals Hiddleston. "I kept saying to Marc and Rodney Crowell (the country star and the film's executive music director), 'It's like I've turned up in Liverpool and I'm going to play John Lennon'.
"In Nashville, people have a very strong opinion about Hank Williams. He's revered as one of the godfathers of American music. But accepting the challenge felt "right.
"It's hard to say why I choose to do the films that I do. It's hard to say why I play the characters I choose to play. But it's always something instinctive.
"There was something in Marc's script, which I read for the first time four years ago, which seemed incredibly authentic and I really connected to. Marc had written Hank Williams with such compassion and lack of judgment."
Before filming began in late 2014, Hiddleston "filled myself up" with everything he could about Williams. Determined to sing all the songs himself, he stayed with Crowell for five weeks before the cameras rolled. "It was practise, practise, practise. Hank's tone is not an easy one to emulate and I had to refine my yodel and inflect my vowel sounds," says Hiddleston.
"Rodney was sweet about it, but he wasn't going to let anything past him. He'd say, 'Tommy boy, I can hear your English choirboy comin' out now'."
Some days they'd sing for eight hours straight.
"I didn't physically punch any walls, but I would have put my own head through one at certain points, I was so frustrated," the actor confides.
"I had to change the way I naturally sound to sound like someone else, and also to try and express the sincerity and authenticity of his songs.
"In some instances, that came very naturally - I recorded Why Don't You Love Me in an hour. But then it took me two weeks to record Lovesick Blues, because the way he sings it is so strange. That's where I'm a perfectionist."
Hiddleston is playing those Bond rumours down, insisting no one's talked to him about it, but his career looks set to continue on a stellar trajectory.
So how is he finding the whole fame game?
"The way I find peace with it, or the way I feel easy with it, is just going, 'Well I know who I am and know what my life is, and everyone else's opinion is their own opinion'. You just have to allow it," says the actor, who's currently filming Thor: Ragnarok, his fourth outing as the villainous Loki.
"A very great musician," Hiddleston adds, "who was at least as great as Hank Williams, called John Lennon, wrote a song called Let It Be, which is very wise."
- I Saw The Light is in cinemas now