Tom Hiddleston: ‘If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for television’

I think I’ve finally figured out one of the big reasons why Tom Hiddleston has been bugging me recently. No, it’s not his incessant Shakespeare-geeking. And not his try-hard, humorless Twitter Q&A. It’s that I only really want to bang him when he has facial hair. Seriously. I was looking through photos from The Hallow Crown, and all of a sudden it hit me. Facial hair. He just looks sexier and more interesting with facial hair.

Anyway, The Hollow Crown will begin airing on PBS this Friday. UK viewers have already seen it, but it will probably be new to American viewers, and God knows, Tom might even get some acting nominations for it (a Golden Globe nomination, maybe?). So, Tom is doing some promotion in the American press, which is why I’m writing about this new interview with Tommy:

Tom Hiddleston calls Shakespeare both the greatest playwright and “the greatest humanist who ever lived.” That’s one reason Hiddleston doesn’t find Shakespeare’s spirit only in the Bard’s actual plays, like the ones that make up new “Hollow Crown” series debuting Friday on PBS.

He finds Shakespeare in roles as seemingly far removed as Loki in the “Avengers” and “Thor” movies.

“There’s nothing about human nature Shakespeare doesn’t understand,” says Hiddleston, who at 32 has a growing reputation both in classic and contemporary roles. “So a character like Loki, who I greatly enjoy playing, is in many ways a very Shakespearian villain.”

Hiddleston will be some distance from Loki in “The Hollow Crown,” an ambitious “Great Performances” project that compresses four of Shakespeare’s historical plays into one extended production.

It starts with “Richard II,” continues into “Henry IV” parts one and two and finishes with “Henry V.” It’s filled with deceit, lust, betrayal, violence and just about every deadly sin, which is why PBS bemusedly bills it as “a real-life ‘Game of Thrones’.”

Hiddleston has a prominent role in the last three installments as King Henry IV’s eldest son, who becomes Henry V.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Hiddleston. “I’m Prince Hal, a completely irresponsible boy who grows into the greatest warrior king in English history.”

And that, Hiddleston suggests, may not even be the best part.

“It’s a drama about a father and son,” he says. “That’s the part that anyone with a beating heart can relate to.”

For all his own love of Shakespeare, Hiddleston acknowledges that many people may think of him as someone you have to read in school, dry and academic. For that reason, among others, he says he’s delighted when producers wrap Shakespeare in new packages.

“‘Game of Thrones’ is Shakespearian,” he says. “And as long as it’s written as well as ‘Games of Thrones,’ that’s great. I think if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for television.”

Still, Hiddleston suggests that in the end, nothing matches the depth and nuance of reading the man himself.

“Even playing Shakespeare onstage and reading him can be different experiences,” he says. “I’ll read the speech from ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,’ and I can just sit and think about it for hours. On the stage, it’s part of the drama, so you have to immediately move on.”

[From The NYDN]

I had to memorize that Macbeth soliloquy when I was in high school. Sometimes I still test myself to see if I can remember it. From memory: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour on the stage. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Double-checking… Damn it! I missed the line “And then is heard no more.” My AP English teacher will be so disappointed.

As for this statement: “I think if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for television”? He might have a point, I think?

Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet and ‘The Hallow Crown’.

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86 Responses to “Tom Hiddleston: ‘If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for television’”

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  1. T.Fanty says:

    He’s a little bit hyperbolic with the whole greatest humanist stuff (time to step away from Harold Bloom, darling), but I do love Tom talking about Shakespeare. He does know his stuff.

    • TheyPromisedMeBeer says:

      He really is wordy. I wouldn’t have caught the “Shakespeare would be writing tv” line in that wall of text if Kaiser hadn’t pointed it out.

      • alex says:


        He has commented about the whole shakespeare sensory thing when he was at TIFF. A couple of times actually. He said something along the lines of whether it was Shakespeare alone or a team or somebody else entirely, whoever it was was brilliant at it and had an incredible understanding of the human nature.

        And idk…i understand people saying that his thoughts aren’t original enough but…these are just basic interviews. Nobody is asking him to write an essay or to dive into the complexities of Shakespeare. It’s the NYDN and other basic magazines and papers. Anything more than basic would go over most people’s heads or people would lose interest entirely.

    • Miss Jupiter says:

      I agree with his point completely. Damned straight Shakespeare would write for television, especially HBO, and he would have much to say about Breaking Bad. And your point that he may have a Harold Bloom problem. TommyAnnE! Step out of the box!

    • Sixer says:

      I know I always say this and am both boring and annoying about it, but I’m hopeless at self-censoring.

      I do think the Tomster knows Shakespeare. But his knowledge seems entirely encyclopaedic and uncritical and not the result of any deep thought or insight.

      There, I said it. Moaning Sixer. Again. Sorry.

      I like the beard, though. And the ginger running free. And it is better to love Shakespeare than not to. However sophomoric you are about it.

      • T.fanty says:

        Yes. I agree. And the whole “world’s greatest playwright” thing kind of confirms that. Anyone who has sat through an unedited version of Two Noble Kinsmen would agree that ol’ Shakey isn’t infallible.

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Bardolatry they call it, and it is part of why I see him as someone who is stick at the college boy stage. If it is any comfort, he is much, much worse when he talks about poetry. Too. Much. Gushing. Reverence. He sounds like someone who watched Voices and Visions in college, and that as far as it went.

      • Sixer says:

        Indeed. It’s not the enthusiasm. I’m often enthusiastic about Shakespeare. It’s the cliches. And this annoying suspicion that if you could get him on his own, where there was no danger of saying something even one person could disagree with, he’d have really interesting things to say.

        At least, I hope he would.

        If anyone (well, any biscuit-idol) could give us something more, you’d think it could be him.

        I don’t know if it’s fear of being disagreed with or he isn’t as bright as we think he is. Or what.

        ETA: what Miss J said. A thousandfold.

      • Sixer says:

        *hands Miss J a chocolate-covered bon bon*

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        I’m fine with enthusiasm. I’m enthusiastic about Shakespeare, and I am a poet. I’m also about to plant saffron crocuses on Robert Creeley’s grave, so I’m no stranger to starry-eyed reverence. But good lord, lets have an opinion.

      • elisa says:

        He does fanboy Shakespeare, but I don’t really mind it.

        Like others have said, I would like to hear more of his <> on Shakespeare and his plays – i.e., what is his opinion on the Shakespeare authorship question, etc. It would be interesting, given his reverence. But then, maybe not given his reverence.

        Entirely off topic, but as I am a total Shakespeare fangirl myself, I believe that Shakespeare was the actual author.

      • j.eyre says:

        I, respectfully, disagree with you. What you are chastising him for is more, I think, him trying to homogenize Shakespeare to put the discussion on a level that everyone can partake in. And no, I am not talking about dumbing it down; I think the “fan-boy” analogy is better. He is both a fan and a scholar on the subject and I think he does want to discuss it with everyone. Of course he has cliched comments in his Shakespeare speak – as my editor often tells me “you may not want to believe this, but their are people int he world who have not read that.” By sticking to broader ideas in the mainstream, he is not being exclusionary.

        I do agree with Fanty that he went too hard on the Humanist statement.

      • Anna says:

        Miss Jane – excellently put and I wholeheartedly agree.

      • Sixer says:

        You’re Miss Jane, she who was C&C is Miss J. In ma heid, anyway.

        I hear you. You know, the Tomster is hot. And so I wish I could see it like that, Miss Jane, I do. But I just can’t. Whenever someone makes that (entirely reasonable) argument, I just go down the route of “Oh, it’s not that he’s an idiot; it’s that he patronises the peasants. Like that makes it all ok.”

        I concede I probably have unfairly high standards for the poor man.

        On the upside, PuddleTom talking is always an opportunity for me to get out my gag. And I like my gag.

      • j.eyre says:

        Sorry Sixer, I edited my comment to take out the “careful with your Miss J’s” line because I thought it sounded to combative and I wasn’t trying to be rude.

        ETA – and please see that I am very careful to not place my comment anywhere near calling what he is saying “patronizing.” I don’t think that is what he is doing. I think he is laying a foundation upon which further discussion can spring. Some of us cannot discuss Shakespeare on the level you ladies can. It is nice to understand someone who studied Shakespeare on my level.

        *blows kiss to Anna*

      • Sixer says:

        Ha. Now I look silly! Oh, I can’t be bothered to edit now I’m already in the reply box. Call me lazy. I need a man to do my bidding – extra typing is such a drag.

        I would never take offence at you or any other delightful Celebitch, Miss J. Never thee fear.

        I understand what you’re saying and I know it makes sense. I just can’t see it that way, you know?

        *blows kisses at you and Anna*

      • j.eyre says:

        Well then, on this one point we respectfully disagree.

        On the point of Tommyanna being hot, we are wholly united and can forever watch him on film, tv, interviews, through his bedroom window, etc. and sigh… with the sound off, of course.

      • Sixer says:


        On another tack entirely, does anybody here know of the Lymond books by Dorothy Dunnett? TommyAnne was made to play Francis Crawford.

      • Anna says:

        You naughty minxes, I certainly didnt expect to be kissed THERE!

      • j.eyre says:

        Ah, come on Anna – where else would we kiss you?

        Glad to know my aim is still good.

      • Sixer says:

        @ Miss Jane

        I’m now ridiculously late to the parade, but something you said was bothering me overnight. I don’t know if you’ll see this but I hope so!

        I hope I haven’t come across as wanting TommyAnne to talk about Shakespeare in an elitist/difficult way that will only chime with clever/already knowledgeable people. It’s not that, honestly.

        Have you ever heard Simon Callow talk about Dickens? He has encyclopaedic knowledge and is an unashamed fanboy dripping with enthusiasm. What he says and how he says it is as interesting and inspirational to a lifelong reader/student of Dickens as it is interesting and inspiration AND accessible to a 12-year-old. And, most importantly, it’s obviously personal and genuine. All his own work.

        And he can get it across in two-minute promotion interviews.

        For me, Tom talks in such sweeping generalisations, anyone could have said exactly what he said – and hundreds probably have already. It doesn’t share anything much. If I were a teacher, and I were marking essays on Shakespeare, I’d suspect Tom of simply paraphrasing what he’d read elsewhere.

        I am truly sorry if I’ve come across as elitist. I’m really cringing at the thought I have.

    • bettyrose says:

      I wrote my senior thesis on Shakespeare the feminist. Truthfully Shakespeare deals with many forms of prejudice through irony and biting satire. If anything, Shakespeare could have written for the Simpsons.

    • Lou says:

      @tfanty. Every actor that went through a classical training like Hiddleston does. Hardy, fassbender, Garfield even Orlando bloom has this training. Tom seems overly keen to present himself as a Shakespearean actor. I mean I am glad he likes Shakespeare do do I but it seems a bit over the top when he literally mentions shakespeare in every single interview like he discovered him.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Fassbender isn’t a classically trained actor. Some schools, like RADA for example, will facilitate training for a pure stage career doing classical drama. Many people then get farmed through a major rep company like the RSC and can build a career doing classical work. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Juliet Stephenson, Zoe Wanamaker, Judy Dench, are all examples of this.

        Hiddleston knows his Shakespeare. I know my Shakespeare and when he gets talking about the texts, I can confirm that he’s got the knowledge. The problem is ;
        1 – that he does fanboy about it in quite general terms,
        2 – that he hasn’t put in the legwork that the aforementioned legends have. He’s done a world tour with Cheek by Jowl and a Donmar Othello, (neither of which are to be sniffed at) which lack the sheer breadth of experience that the RSC would provide, nor can they provide him with unlimited access to people like Cicely Berry who will put him in quite the league he is striving for.

        All that said, he pulls off Hal admirably in The Hollow Crown and I do believe he knows his stuff.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Apologies for the myraid of typos, but for some reason I can’t go back in and clean it up.

      • Sarah says:

        Not quite.

        Fassbender went to drama centre london for 3 years the same school as Hardy and Colin Firth was trained at. Its a great school thats produced countless classical actors. My sister was a couple of years below Andrew Garfield at a prestigious drama school ( central, where Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier trained) and has friends who went to both Drama Centre, Rada and Lamda basically they all go through the classical repertoire, the philosophy with regards to training may be a bit different but they all familiarise themselves with shakepeare, chekov, ibsen and so on and so forth as part of their training. And some of them go on to be classical actors and others like Orlando Bloom goes the movie star route but they are all trained and equipped for the demands of the british theatre in which you have to know your shakespeare. This is not exclusive to Rada, its the same for all the top schools, Lamda, Central, Guildhall, Drama Centre.

        A sidenote, if anyone has less training its probably Cumberbacth ( only 1 year post grad acting training) but hey he is the new Hamlet so whose to complain. Garfield actually won awards for his romeo straight out of drama school. Chiwetel also won awards for his Othello as did Whishaw for his Hamlet but you dont really hear them bring up shakespeare with regards to unrelated projects.

        Hiddleston is a decent actor and i am in no doubt that he knows his stuff but he does talk about shakespeare rather a lot, like he is the greatest shakespearian ever to be quiet honest, bless him though i think he is just over earnest. I havent seen the hollow crown but i will check it out if i have a chance.

  2. TheyPromisedMeBeer says:

    1. Best palate cleanser ever after the horrid guard dog post.
    2. Messy, going into battle, facial hair, and riding a horse. Hummanahummanahummana … and now we have a look that’s doing it for me.
    3. He isn’t wrong – Shakespeare was pretty much the television of his day. New plays on a regular basis, unobjective politics, and detractors whining that he was derivative and unoriginal. Yup. :P

  3. Tish says:

    Please let all the awards and nominations go to BEN WISHAW he was sensational as Richard II!

    Sorry, Tom.

  4. Harpreet says:

    Everyone I know doesn’t watch tv, but will always go to the movies…why?

    I am such a TV fan, so much better stories than what Hollywood film studios are cranking out.

    TV is much better for women as well: The Americans, Orphan Black, Being Erica, the list goes on…

  5. Annie says:

    I´ve seen the Hollow Crown and i loved it!I´m not english or english language is my basic language but i totally understand the whole series….Richard II was my favourite and hear Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston reciting shakespeare was…simple amazing!!!

  6. Sephora Wilson says:

    I said the same thing. He looks better with facial hair IMO. But I still can’t get into him.

  7. tifzlan says:

    It’s funny coz like, the way Loki talked in Thor and The Avengers really annoyed me. Like, a lot of the stuff was so unnecessary and i know that is probably the writers’ fault but then again, i honestly think Tom is Loki IS Tom and there’s really no difference between the two in terms of how they express themselves.

    He’s still kinda cute i guess.

  8. Sixer says:

    Ho ho ho, Kaiser. You said Hallow Crown.

    ETA: Ok, you did but realised. Sorry!

  9. MissThing says:

    Well did an article once listing why if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing dick jokes for Cracked. It was actually very accurate. Shakespeare was the popcorn movie writer of his day.

  10. Madpoe says:

    Shakespeare writing for tv? I thought everything on tv was “reality” shows.
    Hold thy tongue!

  11. Mary-Rose says:

    Ben is by no doubt brilliant in the hallow crown. He doesn’t over do it like some actors do with Shakespeare (ahem Branangh) it acted how the role is intended to be :

    Irons mumbles his way through it and Rory has execellent chemistry with Ben.

    I agree that TommyAnne plays Hal very well but his Henry is very stiff and has no real charisma. Having said that he is better than Brananagh. I felt that has king , TommyAnne short changed him.

    I still don’t get the Loki/Henry v reference he goes on about. But I kinda get the Hamlet one.

  12. Browniecakes says:

    The jig will be up at my house if I watch how many hours of PBS to air this Hollow Crown? I will not be able to hide my TH crush from the fam any longer.

    • Mary-Rose says:

      Prince Hal *swoon* watch out for his red leather jacket , rumbled hair and the sauna scene !

      I really can’t wait for you guys to watch it. You need to watch the brilliant Richard ii first before you get to Prince Hal.
      Henry V is ok but way better than the over actor in Shakespeare plays Brannagh

  13. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    I guess he has the good memory required for Shakespeare since he just recalled what people have been saying for decades.

  14. Sunny says:

    Oh Hiddles I love you. However what I cannot stand is his constant intellectual name dropping. I agree with his point here about the Bard and tv, I really do but I cannot stand how he feels the need to drop that Macbeth line in and how he just spends hours thinking about it. Just no that makes you sound too pretentious.

    And I love him as an actor and I fully adore Shakespeare. I feel like Tom drops lines in interviews to showoff his cleverness. Like that time he name checked Eliot in an interview and quoted the opening lines of Prufrock.

    That being said I can’t wait to see this production and I love that they are covering the complete tetralogy because I really think these plays work best together when taking in sequence. They can stand individually but together they are masterful!

    • icerose says:

      I am pretty sure he knows quite a bit of Prufrock as it is his favourite poem and he has quoted it before on occasions.
      Much of what he says is his usual interview stuff on Shakespeare. Get him in a discussion and he would probably go into more depth He studied classics at uni not Shakespeare although he appeared in productions at Cambridge and RADA so his knowledge is not completely education based. I wonder how much he was influenced by Ken.I find his intelligence and use of language refreshing but I suspect when he is in discussions with friends he goes much deeper. By name dropping do you mean other well known people or books he has read. Either way I kind of like that he does not hold back re his literary leanings.I would rather he was himself than pretend to be something he isn’t

      • Sunny says:

        I absolutely take your point re:him going into more depth in discussion. I guess what bothers me is that feels the need to quote any lines in particular. I mean, he could just say he enjoys Macbeth and finds it thought provoking or that he is a fan of Eliot.

        I think he has genuine passion for these authors/poets but I tend to find anyone who just quotes a line from a great work as if to prove you have read it a little off putting. For example, someone recently mentioned to me that they loved Frost and then quoted the last line from The Road Not Taken. I thought there was no need to drop the line and it sounded smug.

      • Mary-Rose says:

        What I find ironic Is that TommyAnne played Henry V better than Ken and a lot of people have said that. Bet that went down well with Mr lovey.

  15. sauvage says:

    The greatest humanist who ever lived is Terry Pratchett. There, I said it.

  16. LilyRose says:

    A little OT but still Shakespeare, here’s a thing about Original Pronunciation and Received Pronunciation. For those of you better versed in English lit (SouthAm here; Garcia Marquez, Borges and Neruda any day ladies) but did pick up some of the puns and double entendres.

  17. Chickie Baby says:

    He’s growing on me…but I’m totally on board with the comment about the scruff. I think the natural hair color is far more appealing than the Miss Clairol Blackest Black look he sports as Loki. And what a pretty smile. Yum.

  18. icerose says:

    I have watched all four eps several times. I love Ben’s performance but from my perspective Tom had the much harder job as he carried the character development through three episodes. He was excellent as Hal and his take on Henry was intriguing and unusual.

    Production wise I prefer the Henry episodes as Richard the 11 felt very staged for what was being sold as a TV drama
    Tom is doing a great job on the publicity for the Hollow Crown and seems to be PBS’s front man for it. He hits the right note not too simplistic for those who are familiar with Shakespeare and putting across a good case for watching it for those who might be put off by the author

    Its a shame that Benedict Cumberbatch’s publicity for The Fifth Estate was so off putting. Some of what he has sais coupled with the lukewarm reviews have put me off seeing it. I am going to opt for the documentary which actually sounds less biased and more interesting..

  19. flower says:

    He always brings the bard up, always. Tiresome.

  20. Naddie says:

    My love for this man is nearly unconditional.

  21. icerose says:

    A review here of the Hollow Crown favourable to all involved. My only slight question is that he seems to think Richard the 11 is not performed that often but there is a TV version with Jacobi and I can think of at least five well known actors who have played him on the stage.

  22. Browniecakes says:

    It will break my heart but I think TH needs a girl. ‘I can just sit and think about it for hours.’ Oh Tom. The quotes are becoming an awkward exit line.

    Thor promo coming up fast.

    • Mary-Rose says:

      I wouldn’t take Shakespeare’s word for what Henry V was like and I wouldn’t discribe him as psychopath.
      As someone who I studying Medieval History , I’m disappointed TommyAnne didn’t do his research better before using his mouth. I know he likes Shakespeare but to use his plays as historical evidence is stupid and wrong.
      But then we all know TommyAnne sometimes unintentionally engages his mouth before his brain at times (espically with Shakespeare) it’s just annoying when he’s stating fiction as fact.
      And I still don’t get the Loki / Hal reference. Thor/ Hal yes I do