War Horse - Tom Hiddleston on Joey
War Horse - Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), mounted on Joey, his sabre resting on his shoulder, prepares to attack a German encampment © 2011 DreamWorks II Distribution

Up-and-coming star Tom Hiddleston has appeared recently as Loki in the blockbuster Thor and as F Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s comedy Midnight in Paris. He’s currently reprising his role of Loki in the eagerly awaited Marvels’ The Avengers, which will open May 4, 2012.

In Steven Spielberg’s new drama War Horse, he portrays Captain Nicholls, a dashing cavalry officer who, when World War I begins, purchases a horse named Joey from the Narracott family, who need the money to save their farm. But their young son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is devastated, as his horse will now be sent to the front lines.

At the press junket for the movie, Hiddleston spoke about what he learned about acting working with the horses, and his hero, Steven Spielberg.

Can you talk about playing Captain Nicholls?

Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) © 2011 DreamWorks II Distribution

I felt I had to pay [homage] to the kind of man that Captain Nicholls was, the kind of education that he would have had, because I grew up in contemporary London, listening to Radio Head, playing football, smoking behind the bike sheds, all the things that young people do and Captain Nichols certainly didn’t do.

He grew up fox hunting and in a world where cavalry charges were still thought of as threatening, powerful and effective. So what I tried to cultivate in myself was an innocence and kindness, and tried to conjure a world which didn’t have the cynicism of some of the wisdom that we now have.

The modern world really began in 1914 and that war was the end of an era. The children of an entire generation were lost in the massacre of the First World War.

What kind of training did you do for the film?

There’s nothing more thrilling than the challenge of a new physical discipline. We were all at the same stunt farm just outside of London with the best horsemen in the world and certainly the best trainers for horses in movies.

They’ve done everything you can think of. They worked on The Horse Whisperer, Seabiscuit and Robin Hood, anything where there are horses involve. These horses are all movie stars.

What was it like working with the horses in the movie?

Major Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch), Lieutenant Waverly (Patrick Kennedy) and Captain Nichols (Tom Hiddleston) © 2011 DreamWorks II Distribution, Photo by David Appleby

Horses have an accidental beauty. As an actor I’m chasing a freedom in the moment, a spontaneity and naturalism in front of the camera. There is an innate truth to the way that a horse behaves, which I had to strive to match in a sense.

They don’t care if a film is being made. They just are waiting for the next bale of hay. But they are so moving and so capable of being so many things, of being noble, of being strong, of being aggressive, of being playful, mischievous, downcast, sad. They are such sensitive creatures.

I suppose actors like to believe that they’re sensitive creatures too, but we were outmatched by these animals. They were incredible.

The Tom Hiddleston War Horse interview continues on page 2 (click below)

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane