If you’re looking for a project with Tom Hiddleston in it at the moment, you don’t have to look far. Currently on the big screen, he’s playing Hank Williams in the biopic I Saw the Light. Currently on the small screen, he plays the hotel manager Jonathan Pine in the mini-series adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager. And coming to screens both big and small, he’s playing Dr. Robert Laing in the film adaptation of the satirical J. G. Ballard Novel High-Rise. That film, which imagines an apartment building where the wealthy get the best views and services and the poor are relegated to lower floors, is at the Tribeca Film Festival now, and will be on demand April 28 and in theaters May 13.
In an interview this week in New York during the festival, Mr. Hiddleston discussed his work on High-Rise, the critical response to I Saw the Light and the social media response to a particularly steamy scene in The Night Manager. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
New York Times: How did you end up everywhere all of a sudden?
Tom Hiddleston: I apologize, unreservedly, first of all, for being everywhere. I’m sure it’s deeply tiresome and nobody wants to ever see my face again. There’s a strange coincidence in that the work of the last 18 months of my life has all been released at the same time. And for me, each piece of work has such integrity and focus. But it must seem different to be in the audience. I do feel very lucky that I’m allowed to do so many different things.
NYT: How did you get cast in High-Rise?
TH: I knew Jeremy Thomas, the producer, who is a legend in independent filmmaking. He and I made the Jim Jarmusch picture Only Lovers Left Alive together. Oddly enough, the director Ben Wheatley and his screenwriter Amy Jump, who happen to be married, told me that when they were conceiving of the cast for High-Rise, they had a picture of me on their fridge, which I found initially disconcerting, but actually is a huge compliment. I think Ben and Amy had always imagined me in the role of Laing.
NYT: What made you want to do it?
TH: I’m a huge fan of Ben Wheatley’s work. As a British filmmaker, he has a singular vision and voice. The combination of Ben’s taste with Ballard’s sensibility was a thrilling prospect. They share a very sophisticated kind of rebelliousness. They’re not afraid of being provocative or asking quite challenging questions in their work. And High-Rise seemed to present that. It is an exploration of human nature in extremis. I think the best drama puts human beings in extreme situations and challenges them.
NYT: When did you become familiar with Ballard’s work?
TH: My first introduction came when I was at college and my best friend at the time was a huge fan. He was reading Concrete Island and Cocaine Nights. He was always very vocal about Ballard’s prescience. As a science-fiction writer, Ballard saw where the world was going. He was fascinated by technology and our obsession with it. High-Rise was written in 1975, but if you read it, it feels like today.
NYT: How much time was there between shooting High-Rise and shooting I Saw the Light?
TH: I shot them back to back, so I had a week off in between.
NYT: What was it like to go so quickly from this stylized 1970s high-rise building world of the movie to the Southern environs of country music?
TH: It was very strange. I’m happy I had the week off. I finished High-Rise on the 25th of August, 2014, and I landed in Nashville on the 2nd of September. And I think it took me a while to shake High-Rise, in a way. When you’ve been immersed in one particular environment, it casts a shadow for a time. It was mad, thinking about it. Thank God I went straight to Tennessee, because otherwise I would never have been able to get my head in the game.
NYT: With I Saw the Light, the critical response to the film was relatively poor. I’m curious what you thought about that?
TH: Well I’d be a fool if I didn’t admit it’s not the best news in the world. But the experience of making that film was so pleasurable that I’ll always have it. The people I’ve met who’ve seen the film have been very generous and have somehow caught a sense of the passion with which it was made. It was a huge labor of love. I spent over five months of my life making it, thinking about it every minute of every day. That’s what it’s like making films. You commit a huge amount of time and energy to make things and it only takes two hours for anyone in the audience, whether they like it or not. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the only thing I can control is my commitment to the work.
NYT: When The Night Manager played in Britain, one of your sex scenes caused a sensation on social media. How did you feel about that?
TH: It was probably very good that I was away in Vietnam making Kong: Skull Island when that happened. When we shot the scene, I didn’t see it as being any more or less significant than any other scene in The Night Manager. The response is surprising, but it is what it is, I guess. The thing about any love scene, I think the representation is always quite different from the actual experience of making it.
Follow @Music_IntheDark on Twitter