Tom brings new blood to an old story

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive
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There are two ways of playing gothic in Only Lovers Left Alive and Tom Hiddleston nails them both as rocker and vampire, says Tony Earnshaw.

It fell to Jim Jarmusch to wrest the vampire movie away from the wimpy vegetarian vamps of Twilight. And in steering the genre back on course for old Transylvania he gave it a much-needed injection of the red stuff.

The new blood comes courtesy of Tilda Swinton – who was born to play a prima vampira – and louche Tom Hiddleston, rising star of a string of superhero flicks and part of the ensemble in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.

Ask Hiddleston about his take on these old style bloodsuckers with the fresh twist and he immediately defers to Jarmusch.

It is the 61-year-old indie veteran who took the form and gave it a much-needed twist.

And to succeed he went right back to source and the romanticism of Byron.

It’s all there in Hiddleston’s performance.

He plays Adam, a reclusive rocker hidden away in a rotting Detroit demi-mansion, accepting only fleeting visits from his narrow circle of friends. His music is innovative, experimental, ethereal, odd.

Then his door is graced by Eve (Swinton), his ancient love and the one creature – we should not call her a woman – who truly understands him. In truth they are two sides of the same coin. And it is the currency of the old world…

“I had been playing a lot of soldiers and superheroes [when I was offered this],” says the 33-year-old. “I’d always been a huge fan of Jim and Tilda.

“When I first met Jim and he explained the story of the film to me it seemed that these were two very sophisticated creatures.

“Perhaps if you saw them walking on the other side of the street they’d stand out, but they’d stand out as wild and feral, but in a beautiful way. It depends if you’re in Detroit or Tangier.”

The journey of Adam and Eve takes them from modern America to modern Africa.

But what is modernity is a film in which these two immortals have learned to exist in the shadows, clinging on to their long shared past?

It’s typical of Jarmusch that he invents a new vampire lore – one that harks back to Byron, to Stoker, to performers like Bela Lugosi.

Only Lovers Left Alive crashes the ancient into the contemporary.

Old gothic meets new. With music.

“The story as it was presented to me was such a fascinating prospect because it was such an exciting extension of curiosity into an avenue I’d never really explored,” says Hiddleston.

“[I liked] the idea of playing a character who somehow embodied a romanticism and melancholy but was still motivated by a curiosity towards the things that he loved.

“Adam is someone who is fascinated by two separate things which are twinned: music and science. He is enamoured of vibrating particles. They might be stringed instruments; they might be stars.

“And he is so passionate about these things.

“He’s such a brilliant musician and a brilliant engineer but in a way that he can’t see that. Eve is almost broader than he is and she can hold his fragility.

“It just was a very beautiful story between two people who loved and accepted each other.

“And they happened to be vampires. And the idea of exploring love in a context of immortality: if you are challenged with immortality, is that a blessing, is it a curse? And what does that do to your commitment?”

Hiddleston deconstructs his character and the story in a way that Jarmusch cannot or will not.

But clearly the film has presented him with opportunities that are not present in the shared Thor and Avengers franchise that has both rocketed him to fame and clogged up his filmography.

Yet Jarmusch is but the latest high-profile director with whom Hiddleston has become attached. Others have included Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon and Spielberg. Coming up: Guillermo del Toro on Crimson Peak (in which Hiddleston 
replaced his pal and War Horse co-star Benedict Cumberbatch) and Ben Wheatley on High Rise.

It’s all happening.

If he continues to choose well then he may end up going head-to-head with Cumberbatch as the UK’s brightest of bright young things.

It was Branagh on Thor in 2011 who, says Hiddleston, encouraged him “to go to some pretty extreme places from time to time emotionally”.

Spielberg did it, too, in that apocalyptic cavalry charge in War Horse.

The Avengers franchise is something else entirely but Hiddleston lends it equal weight. Deep down he treats it all like Shakespeare.

“It’s always nice to know that the man behind the eye, behind the lens, behind the camera is someone who knows what it’s like to go to those extreme places in performance,” he says of Branagh though he could be talking about any of his directors.

“You can get any number of different sorts of acting notes from Ken.

“In one instance he came up to me and said ‘Tom, this is the moment where the thin steel rod that’s holding your brain together snaps’.

“He then walked away and promptly span on his heels, came back and said ‘I’m aware by the way that that’s a rather challenging thing to ask you to do. So we can have a couple of goes.’”

As long as he keeps his sense of humour he’ll do just fine as our next great star.

Only Lovers Left Alive (15) is on nationwide release.