Tom Hiddleston: 'Myths about fantastic creatures like Kong play into our fascination with the natural world'
Making the new Kong movie was 'thrilling', but what does Tom Hiddleston make of monsters in real life? Susan Griffin attempts to find out from the hesitant action star
Tom Hiddleston is proving difficult to pin down. He's just been asked whether he believes creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster really exist. "I don't know. What do you think?" he responds, grinning - but the question's promptly batted back.
"I think the reason those myths exist is that human beings enjoy feeling there are mysteries that we don't fully understand," he offers, like a savvy politician attempting to avoid a pertinent query.
He laughs when this is brought to his attention, and then adds: "I'm a great admirer of nature documentaries, like those presented by David Attenborough. I always learn something new about some extraordinary creature on the planet that I didn't know about, so I think all those myths play into the fascination we have with the natural world."
The actor, who's promoting his new movie Kong: Skull Island, is evidently pre-empting headlines such as: "Hidders believes in Nessie".
It's perhaps understandable that the 36-year-old's a tad cautious these days. He received something of a mauling in the press over his brief three-month romance with singing superstar Taylor Swift, including that misjudged "I heart TS" vest, last summer.
Then there was his speech at the Golden Globes earlier this year when he received an award for his acclaimed performance in BBC One's The Night Manager.
He later apologised for what he described as his "inelegantly expressed" tribute to the work of Medecins Sans Frontieres in South Sudan.
But despite his restrained responses at times, Hiddleston is on great form today.
Ever the charmer, he laughs often and looks handsome in dark trousers and a blue top, his sleeves rolled up.
It's the morning after the London premiere of Kong and the actor, who was born in the capital and studied at Eton and Cambridge, admits "I was buzzing when I got home".
The action-packed movie, set in 1973 and co-starring Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly, is a reimagining of the Kong story and, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts says, "represents all the mystery and wonder that still exists in the world".
Hiddleston plays Captain James Conrad, a former SAS black ops officer, who's invited to join a mission to a remote, unexplored island in the Pacific.
What they find beggars belief, but it turns out that the monstrous ape known as Kong is the least of their worries.
"It's so thrilling," says Hiddleston, in his soothing, well-spoken delivery.
"I remember when I was younger the image of King Kong on top of the Empire State Building with the light planes flying towards him. I don't ever remember not knowing that image, in a way."
It's over 80 years since Kong first appeared on the big screen, and Hiddleston has a theory as to the enduring fascination with the mightiest of apes.
"Kong embodies the internal clash between our civilised selves and the place in our consciousness that still has a very real sense of something bigger than ourselves," he says.
Moving the story from the Thirties to a more modern setting (at the end of the Vietnam War) allowed certain themes to be explored. "It's a world before the tyranny of global satellites, near total surveillance and information overload," explains Hiddleston.
"We didn't have the illusion, as we do today, with the internet and mobile phones and GPS, that we know everything about the world we live in.
"The period setting also gave us an extraordinary prism to explore what Kong might represent in a conversation about war and the tendency of mankind to destroy what he doesn't understand."
The role required the actor to embark on a raft of stunts, but despite his on-screen graft, and experience in both the Thor and Avengers superhero franchises, he is reticent to admit that he's a natural action man.
"I don't know. That's not for me to say..." he says, laughing bashfully.
"I love shooting action because stage and screen combat is really more like choreography than anything else.
"You're having not only to physically execute the moves of the fight but you're also working with the camera so the requirements to be very precise are high, but I enjoy that. It's releasing, in a way."
The classically trained actor, who graduated from Rada in 2005, embraced the opportunity to play an adventurer.
"Conrad seemed like a character from a timeless, old-fashioned classic mould, someone who starts off a bit lost; he takes a commission to join an expedition to an unknown land and is humbled by what he finds."
The movie looks incredible. Aside from locations in Oahu, Hawaii, and along Australia's Gold Coast, it's the first feature film to shoot extensively in Vietnam.
"I had actually planned a trip to Vietnam as a student but never got to go because it was the same summer I got my first ever professional acting job, so it was really nice to go there as an actor," Hiddleston says.
"Vietnam is stunning, an absolutely breathtaking country. Beautiful, warm, generous people, and we all felt very, very lucky and privileged to be there with this film. We're there to do a job, but we still had days off and we could go exploring. It was really exciting."
It was widely reported that Hiddleston was going to take a breather from movies this year. However, when asked if this is true, he shakes his head.
"I finished Thor: Ragnarok at the end of October and I took some time off before this press tour came up because I'd been working back-to-back for a long time. But I've got lots of things I'm still finishing."
This includes Early Man, a prehistoric comedy animation from Aardman Studios, the same team that introduced the world to Wallace And Gromit, in which he'll voice the pompous Lord Nooth.
"I'm thrilled to be able to breathe some semblance of life into this hysterical villain Lord Nooth. He's larger than life in every respect," says Hiddleston.
"Nick Park, the director, is extraordinary in the way he works, and the animation of his characters takes a long time, so we keep meeting every month or so. I can't wait for audiences to see it."
Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now