While Loki has been a fan favourite ever since Hiddleston debuted the character opposite Chris Hemsworth in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor in 2011, then he has had less than two hours screen-time over the course of ten years, each of those six films only featuring Loki’s connection to his family and, most importantly, to his brother Thor.
But today, Loki steps out of his brother’s shadow, resuming his role as the God of Mischief in this stand-alone series which manages to be comedy, noir crime-thriller and an adventure, all at the same time.
The starting point of the series is the moment in Avengers: Endgame when Loki takes the Tesseract – from here, Loki lands in the hands of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a parallel timeline concurrent to the current day Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For Hiddleston, he never thought that that final glimpse of Loki in Avengers may be the beginning of something new.
“I had to scratch my head because that scene in Avengers: Infinity War had felt so final and so conclusive as the end of Loki’s story. But I knew that Avengers: Endgame was coming around the corner where Loki picks up the Tesseract and disappears in a puff of smoke. But where does he go? How does he get there?” asks the actor whose questions were only answered several years later.
“One of my favourite things coming out of Endgame was people saying that we forget to tie up the loose end of Loki. Loki just disappears and we forgot to mention what happens to him at the end of that movie,” chimes in MCU boss Kevin Feige as we quietly laugh at the notion that the tightly-run MCU machine would “forget” something.
“And, at that point, we did know that Disney+ was coming and the show coming, so it became very exciting to make people wait until we figured out what the show would be.”
After Michael Waldron (upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) was hired as head writer and British director Kate Herron (Sex Education) tapped to direct, this cross-timeline journey quickly took shape. By placing Loki in a fish out of water scenario, the MCU takes its fun by placing the god of mischief smack in the middle of the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Time Variance Authority and its by-the-book mentality.
If the MCU is delighted to have a female director at the helm, then Herron modestly insists that she fought for the gig.
“I found out they were making the show and I told my agent to just call them every day until they caved. And it worked!” she laughs. “But essentially, I was like, ‘just get me in the room’. So, persistence and being a pain in the butt, I guess, got me the job.”
She was excited to helm the series – for more reasons than just being a fan of the genre. “I love genre cinema, sci-fi and fantasy, but, what was really important to me was stripping away all the fantastical elements to find the heart of this story. In Loki, ‘if we took away all the bells and whistles of this story, what is the relatable message at the centre?’
“For me, it was a journey of self-discovery and someone trying to find their place in the universe because, obviously, we literally delete his universe. We delete his reality. It’s a story of reinvention and also morality. Can Loki find goodness in himself? Loki’s journey, to me, is really about acceptance of himself.
“And it’s not a two-hour story. It’s a six-hour story. What’s exciting to me about that is that we can now go down a slightly more mature and darker path with this particular story. But we can also subvert expectations, and maybe we don’t give viewers the story they are expecting. It’s cool and fun to see a studio that wants to play like that and to be part of it,” she adds.
This is Loki as we’ve never seen him before. Stripped of his self- proclaimed majesty but with his ego still intact, he faces consequences he never thought could happen to such a supreme being as himself. In that, there is a lot of humour as he is taken down a few pegs by the TVA.
With his powers removed and sentenced to a lifetime of bureaucracy by Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer, it’s a sad Loki without any mischief. But Owen Wilson’s Mobius, a TVA agent specialising in investigating particularly dangerous time criminals, offers him a lifeline when he deputises Loki and partners up with the fallen god.
Offering insight as to how Mobius fits into the storyline, Wilson says, “Mobius is a detective in the TVA. He’s a bit like Nick Nolte getting Eddie Murphy out of jail in 48 Hours to help him investigate. It’s that kind of idea, where Mobius believes in this investigation and the fact that there is someone creating real mayhem for the TVA that Loki can help him find.”
But working with Loki may prove a challenge, he cautions, “Of course, it’s a bit of a chess match to gain Loki’s trust, and Loki seeing how far he can go with Mobius. And who’s manipulating whom? And whose purposes ultimately are going to be served, and who is going to win out in this match between them? But I think in that shared endeavour, there is an interesting dynamic between them that maybe you haven’t seen with Loki in the Marvel movies.”
Intriguingly, Hiddleston found himself in a situation where he actually knew more about Loki than almost anyone else involved in the series, and actually hosting a series of what his crew and cast-mates affectionally called ‘The Loki Lectures’.
“We all really wanted the tone of the show to represent the best of Loki’s character. Loki has this extraordinary range,” explains the actor.
“He can be fun, light-hearted and witty. He’s always got a good line: he’s the God of Mischief, after all. So, we wanted the show to be imbued with mischief, a sense of fun and a sense of momentum. But we also know that Loki has this very sensitive, damaged, broken heart with an enormous capacity to feel emotion on the biggest scale. And to go to some quite profound places that explore some of the deepest experiences of being alive that are about loneliness and sadness and anger and grief and loss. We wanted the tone of the whole show to have all of it, to have that sense of fun, to have that sense of mischief. And to have that sense of emotional depth and breadth that hopefully could be contained in this epic story, which starts from the things that people are familiar with.”
If Loki features many newcomers to the MCU universe, then Mbatha-Raw and actress Wunmi Mosaku, who plays Hunter-15, were not new to Hiddleston’s circle, the three actors having trained together at London’s prestigious RADA.
“Even though joining the MCU is a huge and terrifying thing, it was less scary knowing that I was gonna walk into the room and have friends there. Like, I’ve known Tom since I was 18…” says Mosaku.
“It’s so weird, the circle of life,” agrees Mbatha-Raw. “But there is a comfort, like Wunmi says. I’m so proud of everyone, and it’s wonderful to see your generation rise, and stepping into these surreal, epic, larger-than-life worlds. But when you have a shared experience, when you remember the same acting tutors and you’ve walked down the same corridor and the same canteen, and all these cultural references that we all had… Especially as we ended up shooting in the pandemic, it was a real comfort to have these long-standing relationships and friendships,” she says.
Hiddleston certainly hopes his “Loki Lectures” pay off in the final edit. “I think they were all curious about so many different decisions that had been made by everybody who had been the inspiration for what had come before. From Kenneth Branagh and Alex Byrne (costumes) and Bo Welch (production designer) to Taika Waititi and Joe and Anthony Russo; all these people who contributed to Loki’s story. And things like why his costume changes or their adaptations to his choreography or changes in the dramatic arc.
“So, I really hope as the show unfolds, the specificity about these different aspects of Loki might become clearer.”
Ultimately, he’s delighted that Loki gets another day in the sun: “I think the reason I am allowed to continue to play him is because he clearly means so much to so many people and for so many different reasons. And that is incredibly gratifying, and I see that as a big honour.
“Over time, I’ve been made aware of the different things that he represents for people. Some people enjoy his playfulness and spontaneity and inherent sense of mischief. Others enjoy his quality as an antagonist and some people see a vulnerability beneath those layers of charm and playfulness.
“And I guess there’s also some people who probably can’t stand him,” he laughs.
Marvel Studios’ Loki launched its first episode on June 9, 2021 with new episodes dropping weekly, exclusively on Disney+