Loki — out now on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — arrives a decade on from Tom Hiddleston’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the God of Mischief’s longevity isn’t up to some grand plan concocted by Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige and his cohorts. In fact, it’s the Loki fans. Loki died — for the first time — in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, just two years after we first met him. But due to negative fan reaction in test screenings, Loki was brought back with the ending of The Dark World tweaked to reveal Loki was posing as the Allfather Odin on the Asgard throne.
“There’s no question that 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,” Hiddleston said at a virtual Loki event over Zoom earlier this week. “That is incredibly gratifying for me and I see that as a big honour. And over time, I’ve been made aware of the different things that he represents for people.
“Some people enjoy his playfulness and his spontaneity, and that inherent sense of mischief that he has. Some people enjoy his quality as an antagonist. Some people probably can’t stand him, I don’t know,” Hiddleston adds with a laugh. “And I know there are some people who are drawn to his vulnerability. Underneath all those layers of charm and charisma is a kind of vulnerability, I suppose.
“And I owe that to the writers actually. I owe that to everybody who’s ever written this character. Obviously starting with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, going all the way through J. Michael Straczynski up to Daniel Kibblesmith. I owe it to Don Payne, who wrote the first Thor movie, did the most extraordinary job, made Loki a character with such pathos. And from Don all the way to [Loki creator] Michael [Waldron] and his amazing team, Eric Martin, Bisha K. Ali, Elissa Karasik and Tom Coffin. All those guys who put their heads together to think about this character.”
Fittingly enough, even Loki wasn’t part of some grand plan. The God of Mischief died — for a second time — in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War after Thanos crushed his windpipe. Even though Loki had faked his death before, that scene felt conclusive and final, something Hiddleston himself has repeatedly noted. Still, Hiddleston got to reprise his role for a couple of minutes in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, thanks to the Avengers’ time-travelling exploits that saw them return to past events, including those of 2012’s The Avengers. In that scene, Loki disappeared with the Tesseract.
“What that meant and where that specifically would go, we didn’t know,” Feige said, addressing the happy accident nature of the origin of Loki. “But 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.”
That’s where the newest Marvel Disney+ series picks up, as it reveals that Loki’s actions have earned him the wrath of the Time Variance Authority — abbreviated as the TVA — an organisation responsible for ensuring the proper flow of time and that “time variants” like this Loki don’t mess around with the “sacred timeline.” Think of them as time cops, essentially. Owen Wilson plays Mobius, a TVA detective-of-sorts whose job is to apprehend “particularly dangerous” time variants and he believes The Avengers-era Loki can help him in his pursuit of one such individual.
“Before we started filming, Tom very generously and patiently took me through the whole MCU and Loki mythology. We were calling them the Loki lectures,” Wilson said with a chuckle. “And I think that was really important and really helpful to our dynamic once we started filming the scenes. Because some of our conversations, just when we were going over that stuff, would work its way in. So that was really helpful to me, going to Loki school before we began.”
“Owen asked such insightful, intelligent questions that made me rethink various aspects of the character,” Hiddleston added. “And they did — our conversations found their way into the scenes themselves and in the interactions, which is really nice, because they’re quite intense conversations.”
Both noted that their scenes felt like they were borrowed from a play; Hiddleston even gave Wilson six or seven plays to read. Wilson chimed in: “Uh yeah, it was but I mean it was sort of a chess match, a little bit, with Mobius and Loki. It was, just, trying to stay on equal footing with the God of Mischief.”
Waldron noted that the writers’ room saw movies such as The Silence of the Lambs starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds to see how to craft a dynamic and build tension from Loki and Mobius’ one-on-one exchanges.
A RADA reunion
Outside the Hiddleston-Wilson dynamic that is at the heart of Loki, there are other new entrants to the MCU as well in the new Marvel series. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays TVA Judge Ravonna Renslayer, who oversees cases such as those involving Loki. Then there’s Wunmi Mosaku as Hunter B-15, part of the TVA’s minutemen who do the dirty work of bringing in the time variants.
“[Loki director] Kate [Herron] explained to me that this was more of an origin story for Ravonna Renslayer,” Mbatha-Raw said of her character. “Predating some of the stuff in the comics. There was the opportunity to feel like we were starting with something fresh with the TVA that hadn’t been seen before by fans onscreen. But there’s so much there [in the comics], that I feel like there’s plenty of potential for her in the future as well.”
Incidentally, both of them — Mbatha-Raw and Mosaku — went to the same acting school as Hiddleston, London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, often called RADA.
“Yeah, it’s so weird the circle of life, the sort of RADA reunion,” Mbatha-Raw said. “And I’m so proud of everyone. 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 — especially as we ended up shooting in the pandemic, it was a real comfort to have these long-standing relationships and friendships.”
Mosaku added: “Even though it was terrifying, like the idea of joining the MCU, because it’s like this huge thing, knowing that I was gonna walk into the room and have friends there — like I’ve known Tom since I was 18, my first year at RADA. So it felt really, really good. A little bit daunting still, because there is a thing about acting with your third year. There was something in that. But yeah, I love it.”
Mad Men meets Blade Runner
All of them come together to bring Loki to life, an adventure imagined by the aforementioned Waldron and Herron, who served as executive producers on the Marvel series alongside Hiddleston and Feige. Both Waldron and Herron have comedic backgrounds, with the former having worked on the adult animated sci-fi series Rick and Morty, while the latter has directed episodes of Netflix’s coming-of-age series Sex Education.
“I was coming off of Rick and Morty and I think maybe out of the gate, I was trying to step on the gas with the comedy perhaps too much,” Waldron said. “And I had to recalibrate and shift this thing to a more dramatic place. And that’s the great thing about this character: you don’t have to write jokes. Loki’s gonna make just regular exchanges funny and engaging, just with the way he interacts. And we just trusted Tom to do all the work.”
In addition to their comedic sensibilities, Herron and Waldron — along with Loki cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw — were inspired by film noir for the Marvel series’ crime thriller aspects. David Fincher’s work, including his films Se7en and Zodiac, were heavy influences on Loki, Herron and Waldron said. Herron said: “There’s a little reference to Se7en in [Loki] episode 2 with a little needle drop, which I’m sure fans of that film will recognise instantly.”
Loki also melds together disparate worlds. On one hand, Loki and Mobius are busy hunting the particularly dangerous variant across the end of worlds. That lends itself to film noir. On the other, we have the bureaucratic TVA that is fashioned as if it’s stuck in a period time period, akin to how offices looked in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Waldron noted as much, revealing that his one-life aesthetic pitch was Mad Men meets Blade Runner.
What makes Loki Loki?
The God of Mischief has to contend with these changes too, with Loki pushing him into a corner he’s never been in. Hiddleston said: “What I love about the series is Loki is stripped of everything that’s familiar to him. Thor is not close by. Asgard seems some distance away. He has lost his status and his power. The Avengers, for the time being, aren’t in sight. If you take away all those things that Loki has used to identify himself over the last six movies, what remains of Loki?
“Who is he, outside all of those things? And I think those questions became, for all of us, really fascinating to ask. What makes Loki Loki? Is there something authentic at the centre of him? Is he capable of growth? Is he capable of change? And do his experiences within the TVA give him any insight into who he might be? This mercurial shapeshifter who never presents the same exterior twice.”
These are questions that Loki episode 1 — now streaming on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — asks of the character. And the answers, thanks to the performances of Hiddleston and Wilson and the instant back-and-forth dynamic they share, make for some fantastic television. Who knew that Loki, the crafty villain introduced in the Shakespearean drama Thor, would go on to become the centrepiece of a time-hopping, part-workplace comedy?
“I just love playing the character. I always have,” Hiddleston said. “And I feel so fortunate that I’m still here, and that there are still new aspects to the character that I learn about. I think he’s a character of huge range. So it never feels like the same experience. And I think because of Loki’s complexity, every time he’s in a new dynamic, new stuff emerges.”