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Tom and his bolognese
It’s amazing Bolognese, the most incredible Bolognese you’ve ever had. You think you’ve had great Bolognese? Try Tom Hiddleston’s Bolognese before you continue to talk about great Bologneses you’ve had in your life. (You braise it in the oven after browning it on the stove — that’s the thing. Also: Bacon! Also: Butter! He also loves bacon and butter!) He made this Bolognese last night, after we’d parted following day one of our two-day early-January walking tour of London, which was half Before Sunrise ten-mile stroll-and-chat through the city, half My Dinner with André philosophy symposium. He settled into his Camden house (alone) and spent the evening cooking and watching a screener of Moonlight (alone), which he could now confirm for me was as amazing! and riveting! and touching! as everyone has said.
He heats up some Bolognese for me and we make our plan for the day, which I correctly predict will involve another walk through another astonishingly beautiful park. Yesterday, it was Regent’s Park. Everyone knows about Hyde Park, but do they know about Regent’s Park? No, and I must see it. In the park, I pulled out my old Olympus digital mini tape recorder, and Tom Hiddleston looked at it and whistled in admiration: “Hello, Olympus! This is a great Dictaphone!” He’d used one to test himself on accents when he was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Long walks, that’s his thing — to think stuff over, to figure out his lines, to process what’s going on in his life, both the triumphs (turning a routine Marvel villain into a fan favorite; a Golden Globe win for The Night Manager…a UNICEF UK ambassadorship to South Sudan) and the heartache…. On New Year’s Day, he says, Regent’s Park was even more beautiful than it was during our walk: It was foggy, and the lanterns were lit, but you couldn’t see anything beyond the mist. It reminded him of the London of old, the one he loves so much, the London of J. M. Barrie. It was a simpler time then.
…Tom Hiddleston is enthusiastic about everything: Barack Obama (“An enormously temperate man!”); his Thor director, Kenneth Branagh (“Such a humanist!”); Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (“It holds the Internet to account — it shows you how it can distort identity in an unhealthy way!”); Moana (“Incredible!”); Dwayne Johnson in particular (“That man radiates joy!”); Matt Damon (“I think he’s got real integrity!”); Michael Fassbender (“Extraordinary!”); Chiwetel Ejiofor (Amazing!”); this porridge he makes, which is just oatmeal and almond milk and chia seeds (“I’m obsessed!”).
This is important to keep in mind while you’re getting to know Tom Hiddleston: His zeal is bottomless. It’s one of many things that, were it not for what we know about his personal life, we might already know more about. For example, you might already know he’s the kind of compelling, versatile actor who can leave his mark on all kinds of roles — as a slick spy in The Night Manager, an emo vampire in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, a condescending Asgardian god in Thor — but maybe instead of it being a thing you know about Tom Hiddleston, it’d be the thing he’s known for.
…In the pantheon of things Tom loves, the thing he loves most is Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks is the greatest — what a career that guy has! It’s clear why he might love him so much: Tom Hanks seems as all-in as Tom Hiddleston. “His decency is poured into everything he does,” he says of Hanks. Even the comedies… “I’m nowhere near Tom Hanks’s contribution or even close. All of it’s not high art, you know? But there is a value in it, you know, somehow, somewhere.” What he’s saying is: It’s worth it for us all to think about what we’re putting into the world. He’s saying it would be great to be known for your decency.
And here Hiddleston does a brief impression of Tom Hanks (he does very good impressions of everyone, including me after a day) that is hard to describe, except to say that it summons Tom Hanks in a very profound way. Its only flaw is also part of its charm: While he does the impression, he’s also looking at you to see how much you’re enjoying it, and then he can’t stop smiling when he sees that you are, so ultimately what you get is an impression of Tom Hiddleston enjoying himself doing a Tom Hanks impression.
On every level, Hiddleston is in: He’s there, he’s present, he’s yours, he’s heartfelt, he’s real. And that can be a double-edged Chitauri Scepter, since it leads to the stuff about Hiddleston that wounds him: the Golden Globes speech in which his enthusiasm for his UNICEF work plunged him into a YouTube-able-forever moment (and its subsequent apology) that I can only watch through my fingers; the infamous I ♥ T.S. tank top, which is now synonymous with the words “Tom” and “Hiddleston.” The world might not be ready for the kind of earnestness and sincerity that comes along with Tom Hiddleston. I am here to tell you that we would be a much happier race of humans if it were.
His conscientiousness was built into him as a boy by his father, who is the best chemist in the world. They lived in a modest home in Wimbledon along with his mother, who is the most compelling arts fund-raiser alive; his elder sister, Europe’s best journalist; and his younger sister, a gifted midwife with a singing voice that comes directly from God. The Hiddlefamily was solidly middle-class, but Tom’s parents sacrificed to send him to the best schools — Eton, Cambridge, and then RADA. He learned the basics of scrupulosity, though, from his father, who taught him that there is right and wrong, fact and myth, and that sometimes you have to work hard to spot the difference. This was a life lesson for Tom Hiddleston, passed down from father to son, but it’s also an acting lesson.
…In Skull Island, the Kong reboot, he plays a former British SAS soldier who is a renowned tracker, hired to help find whatever it is they’re looking for (which turns out to be monsters). For that performance, he: read The Tracker, the seminal memoir by ur-tracker hero Tom Brown Jr.; trained with a former Navy SEAL, even though this is like the 70th time he’s played a soldier; and researched a jungle-warfare school in Malaya where actual British SAS soldiers are believed to have trained in the 1960s.
We’re at a pub he likes in Hampstead Heath called The Bull & Last — evening, day two — eating steak and broccoli. He does an impression of David Attenborough’s voice-over for Planet Earth II, which we’d watch a bit of after dinner, only Hiddleston’s narration is about him eating a bite of my meal (“…the male must dine on his companion’s steak…”).
Where would we be without experts, is his point. How would we learn? And so one of the things Tom Hiddleston is determined to fix about the world right now is what he calls our “strange public distrust of experts.” In his Twitter feed, which consists solely of enthusiastic re-tweets of film promotion and causes he loves, one tweet stands out: a Guardian article about the rise of fake news and how David Cameron’s name turned to pudding when the Daily Mail published an account of him sticking his dick into a dead pig’s head as an initiation rite.
And guess where that all came from? An unconfirmed rumor and an anonymous source! But it doesn’t matter, Hiddleston points out: That story is now part of the David Cameron story. Which would be one thing if we knew for sure it was true, he says, but we don’t. Which is why it’s time for “a movement in critical thinking, to really resist this dilution of truth and holding people to account for twisting it or distorting it.”
(As if to underscore this: A few days after I returned to the States, a friend sent me a link to a Daily Mail article containing nine pictures of Hiddleston and a “mystery brunette” — me — hugging, laughing, and bidding each other farewell. For the record, I was laughing about his Attenborough impression; I was hugging him because we were saying good-bye after two days and because: Tom Hiddleston!)
So yes, fake news is a thing, and now is the time to talk about it. This is the first time he’s talked about any of this, he says — about politics, news, anything beyond the scope of his roles. He used to politely beg off. But he sees that’s no longer an option. We can’t afford complacency anymore. Look what’s happened in the past year to the world’s most powerful democracies.
Which is why he’s decided to step into the fray himself, consequences be damned. “If you’re under attack,” he says, looking me square in the eye, his voice raw, “if your values are under attack, if you’re being shamed, if you’re being humiliated, the animal response is to hide in the bush. It’s to be less, to make yourself smaller, to diminish in size and volume. And the lesson of 2016 is we have to love more, we have to risk more, we have to be braver, we have to be more outspoken.”
It wasn’t until much later that night, after we’d parted, that I realized we had started talking about Taylor Swift long before we started talking about Taylor Swift.
It is tempting to say that the union of Hiddleswift was cooked up in a panicked publicist’s office: That professional breakup lyricist Taylor Swift — who knew this very magazine was about to publish a story suggesting that maybe she hadn’t been so honest about whether she knew she’d be a lyric in Kanye’s “Famous,” that maybe there was even a videotape to prove it — urgently needed a professional, tactical, romantical distraction…
But — but — it is also equally possible that it was real…
“Taylor is an amazing woman,” reads the prepared statement Tom Hiddleston has memorized and is now giving me at The Bull & Last, where his voice has gone low. “She’s generous and kind and lovely, and we had the best time.”
But I didn’t ask that, I say. I asked something else. So I wait, and he says, “Of course it was real.”
I ask if he wants to say anything about Australia, about the Fourth of July party at which he donned that fateful tank top, about the rumors that she thought he was too eager. Does he want to say anything about any of it?
And here he puts down his fork, a bite of my steak still on it. He looks off into the middle distance, and here is what he says: “The truth is, it was the Fourth of July and a public holiday and we were playing a game and I slipped and hurt my back. And I wanted to protect the graze from the sun and said, ’Does anyone have a T-shirt?’ And one of her friends said, ’I’ve got this.’” The friend pulled out the “I ♥ T.S.” tank top that Taylor’s friends are contractually obligated to own. “And we all laughed about it. It was a joke.”
So that’s his statement on the entire relationship: an explanation of the tank top. “It was a joke,” he repeats. “Among friends.”
I can vouch for this depiction of Tom Hiddleston…: “I have to be so psychologically strong about not letting other people’s interpretations about my life affect my life. A relationship exists between two people. We will always know what it was. The narratives that are out there altogether have been extrapolated from pictures that were taken without consent or permission, with no context. Nobody had the context for that story. And I’m still trying to work out a way of having a personal life and protecting it, but also without hiding. So the hardest thing is that that was a joke among friends on the Fourth of July.”
He still isn’t looking at me. The last piece of my steak is now poised on his fork in mid-air. He is so sad, and I can’t take it anymore, so I put my hand on his and I say, “Tom, Tom, it’s okay. You don’t have to talk about the tank top anymore. I got it. I understand. I’ll tell the world.” But he can’t stop talking about it. He literally cannot stop talking about it.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I just, I was surprised. I was just surprised that it got so much attention. The tank top became an emblem of this thing.” It’s hard to tell me this, he says. He wants to trust me. He wants to trust that the world won’t use this to embarrass him again, but he doesn’t know. He just knows it will follow him until he talks about it.
…“I only know the woman I met. She’s incredible.” But, man, all those cameras. “A relationship in the limelight… A relationship always takes work. A relationship in the limelight takes work. And it’s not just the limelight. It’s everything else.” He wanted a regular relationship. So did she, he says she said. “So we decided to go out for dinner, we decided to travel.”
After the breakup, he moved to Australia for Thor: Ragnarok, and each morning he’d wake up at five and go running, and the cameras would be there. “I’m getting up so I can do this job well. I’m getting up to go for my run so I can play Loki as well as I can.” Everywhere he went, whether it was checking e-mail on a park bench or looking at a menu, if he furrowed his brow it meant he was miserable and that would incite a new tabloid story about how hard he was taking all of this. It was a tough time, a public tough time. Chris Hemsworth gave him some good guidance; Hugh Laurie checked in. His family worried.
So you can think whatever you want about Tom Hiddleston, you can swift-boat Hiddleswift all you want. But he is as bewildered by the whole thing as you and I are.
He looks at me finally and he says, “I’m not going to live my life in hiding.”
Location: F Cooke, Traditional Pie and Mash, London
He explains that he wants to be honest with me, that it would be hypocritical of him to talk about honesty in the world and then not be with me. I have to understand, he says, that a relationship is between two people, that it doesn’t belong to him alone. But like David Cameron now knows, it is neither practical nor wise to let rumors hang in the air. He wants me to know that he has no regrets, he says, “because you have to fight for love. You can’t live in fear of what people might say. You know, you have to be true to yourself.”
But I understood all that, I tell him. I understood last night. It’s six in the morning, Tom. I have a flight to catch. And he shakes his head, feeling foolish because maybe there was something he thought he could say that wasn’t quite coming out the right way, and instead he says, “Yeah, okay, I just wanted to make sure.”…
…He carries my luggage downstairs for me and I get into a cab for the airport, and I think about sincerity and I think about snideness and I wonder why so many of us seem so much more comfortable with snideness. I think about one of the last things he said to me, which was about David Bowie. Had he mentioned how much he loves David Bowie? He loves David Bowie! On New Year’s Eve, he listened to “Under Pressure” with his friends. ’Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word, he recites. And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves. This is our last dance, this is our last dance, this is ourselves…
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