War Horse actor is having the ride of his life.

THE EXPRESS Jan 15, 2012

SO HOW was your week?

It was definitely one to remember for Tom Hiddleston, and that is really saying something given the dashing 30-year-old’s remarkable run of success.

He’s worked back to back with Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris), Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Steven Spielberg (War Horse) and Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea).

Then there was the premiere of War Horse and a chinwag with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the red carpet last Sunday.Prince William needed no introduction to Hiddleston who was a contemporary at Eton.

“He said: ‘It’s nice to see you,’ as opposed to: ‘It’s nice to meet you,’ so I think that meant he remembered me,” says the actor who gives a beautiful performance as a kind cavalry officer in Spielberg’s First World War epic.

Referring to William’s schooldays, he says: “The great thing was he was treated like any other boy.”

Hiddleston was named on Wednesday as a nominee for Bafta’sRising Star Award, won in the past by James McAvoy, Eva Green and Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame.

The only Bafta voted for by the public, it’s indicative of the acclaimed actor’s growing popularity (his legion of female admirers are known as “Hiddlestoners”).

“It’s thrilling to be part of something as populist as these Marvel comics films,” he says of Loki, his villainous role in Thor, a part he will reprise for the sequel The Avengers (no relation to the British TV series, of course).

Due out in April, it features a galaxy of superheroes including Robert Downey Jnr’s Iron Man and Captain America, all ranged against Hiddleston’s crazed Loki.

“Sometimes I get letters from younger people saying how much they loved Thor and you think, ‘What an amazing thing, you’ve somehow connected with the imagination of a group of children’.”

So he won’t be following the example of Sir Alec Guinness, who sighed in despair every time a pint-sized Star Wars fanatic asked for his autograph as Obi-Wan Kenobi? “I should be so lucky,” says thepersonable star, perched on an armchair in a London hotel room.

Hiddleston first came to prominence as Kenneth Branagh’s fellow detective in TV’s Wallander, before making a striking film debut in Joanna Hogg’s lauded but little seen Unrelated in 2008.

Thoughtful, articulate and very bright (he picked up a double first in Classics at Cambridge before going to Rada), Hiddleston’s tastes and enthusiasms are far broader than his qualifications and pedigree may suggest.

“I’m in the front row for big blockbusters every summer but I also go to arthouse cinemas to see foreign films, and to the theatre. I love Shakespeare. I don’t have any snobbery in either direction about what I like to watch or do.”

Indeed, I ask him to name his favourite Spielberg movie and there’s the briefest flicker of doubt in his eyes (should he say one of the grown-up ones?) before he admits that it’s actually Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

“I saw it 50 times before the age of 10,” says Hiddleston, who lived in Wimbledon before moving to Oxford.

His father worked for a biotechnology company with ties to the university (his mother is a former casting director for Garsington opera house).

“Spielberg is sort of responsible for me wanting to be an actor in a way, because those were the films I lovedgrowing up,” he says. So how did he feel about meeting his hero?

He was summoned for an audience after recording an audition on tape. Then filming Thor in Los Angeles, he drove to Spielberg’s office across town and spent the two-and-a-half hour drive composing himself.

“I remember thinking, and this is the God’s honest truth: ‘I’m about to meet one of my childhood heroes, tothine own self be true. For goodness sake be honest, because you’ll never forgive yourself if you try to be someone you’re not.’”

Such steadfast conviction is one of the reasons you won’t hear him apologise for, or belittle, his alma mater (“Eton is a wonderful place, it gets a terrible rap for all sorts of reasons”) even though it created a certain amount of unwelcome baggage early in his career.

“It was like a badge on my lapel,” he says.

“Casting directors would go, ‘OK, so you went to Eton’, and immediately you’re put in a box. The whole point

of being an actor is you don’t want to be put in a box.”

Nevertheless, Old Etonian actors are doing pretty well of late.

They include Dominic West, Harry Lloyd, who plays a young Denis Thatcher inThe Iron Lady, and Eddie Redmayne, star of My Week With Marilyn and, coincidentally, also nominated for this year’s Bafta Rising Star Award.

“The drama department is amazing and they really believed in me and I guess that’s my blessing. A bunch of people were unafraid of saying: ‘You could probably go off and do this for a living,’ which is quite unconventional in terms of what people associate with that place. Eton is famous for churning out investment bankers and Conservative politicians.”

Hiddleston began acting as a way of dealing with his parents’ divorce. They separated when he was 12.

“It was a difficult time, as any divorce is,” says the actor, who has an older and a younger sister.

“Acting was a way of expressing feelings that, as a teenager, I couldn’t express in myself. Some people dye their hair black and play the drums. I just started to act.”

As much as Eton and Rada honed his acting instincts, undoubtedly the biggest influence on Hiddleston’s career (“Monumental,” as he puts it) has been Kenneth Branagh.

After Wallander the pair worked together on stage in an acclaimed production of Ivanov and it was Branagh who persuaded theHollywood suits that Hiddleston should play the villain in Thor.

“I felt the cold shoulder of rejection many, many times before somebody said yes and that person was Kenneth Branagh with Thor,” he says.

“He had the confidence to go to a big Hollywood studio and say: ‘This film’s going to cost $150million and I believe in this young actor.’ It was a huge gift and one I will never underestimate.”

Like Branagh, Hiddleston is the master of several media, switching from television and Hollywood blockbusters to small independent films and the stage.

Further parallels are likely to be drawn as the actor is currently filming the lead in a new BBC TV adaptation of Henry V produced by Sam Mendes; Branagh famously directed himself in the 1989 film. He will reprise the role, as Prince Hal, in Henry IV Parts I and II.

Is there a busier actor in Britain? “I couldn’t have dreamt it,” he says of his stratospheric success.

“When I left drama school, I placed a glass ceiling on my expectations. It was only really the experience of doing Othello at the Donmar and sharing a dressing room with Ewan McGregor, then working with Ken that made me go: ‘Hang on, I’d better redraw the map.’”

Hang on, indeed. Hiddleston is in the saddle and it’s going to be quite a ride.