Tom Hiddleston Gets Kinky On The Set Of CRIMSON PEAK

A late night rendezvous with one of the leads of Guillermo Del Toro's next film.

When Tom Hiddleston signed on for Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic romance/haunted house movie Crimson Peak, he asked the director if they would shoot in some dilapidated mansion in England. No, Guillermo told him. They were shooting in Toronto. ‘How?’ Hiddleston asked, and Guillermo - in the most Guillermo way possible - told him:

‘I’m going to build a fucking house!’

And he did build a fucking house, a three story funhouse inside a huge stage at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios (where he also shot Pacific Rim). Stepping into the house transported you from a studio soundstage into the Victorian world of Crimson Peak; every detail is accounted for, every peeling piece of wallpaper is painstakingly pulled, every step carefully warped, every room baroquely decorated and heavily dusted. There’s a working elevator in the middle of it all, and as you ascend the steps in the main room you find a series of hallways that unsettle; they’re lined with subtle spikes and, in the right lighting, take on the appearance of a creepy figure in negative space. There are bedrooms and kitchens, and above it all is an attic that is coming apart, tree limbs and spider-webs encroaching on your walking space, and by the time you’re up here you’re out of Toronto - you’re deep in the north of England, inside a haunted house squatting above a clay mine, a house whose history comes through the floorboards in the form of wet, blood-red clay.

“Your imagination doesn’t have to supply any extra detail - it’s just there,” enthused Hiddleston on set.  “We did the bit where I brought Mia [Wasikowska] to the house for the first time and I say it’s difficult to stop the damp and erosion because the house is so old and I step on a floorboard and a red ooze starts to seep across the thing - there’s even stuff beneath the floorboards! The house is improvising. The house is giving a better performance than I am.”

Hiddleston is playing Thomas Sharpe, heir to Crimson Peak. His sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) live there with him, and he tinkers with machines, hoping to become a great engineer and revolutionize clay mining. But the state of the house reflects the state of the family.

“They’re destitute, they live in this mansion they’ve inherited, and in a classic case of old money they’ve inherited this old pile of crumbling bricks, which they don’t have the money to refurbish,” Hiddleston explained. “They have all the old paintings and all the old clothes and the leaky roof and it’s damp and it’s essentially sinking into the clay that is below the house, and his dream is to make use of the riches in the soil and use the revenue to fix the house and who knows after that.”

We talked to Hiddleston at 2 in the morning; our group of journalists sat in a prop room for hours, slowly going punchdrunk as we debated whether or not it was worth the wait. It was - Hiddleston arrived in full, lush costume, exhausted but filled with the kind of energy that the great film actors must have - the energy that allows them to bring it take after take even after a 16 hour day. And he was happy to talk, and to explain to us just what Crimson Peak was about… or as much as he was allowed to explain. After telling us the condition of the Sharpe family, he continued with the complication - when Thomas meets Wasikowska’s Edith.

"[Thomas is] brilliant and [Lucille is] shy and retiring, and they go to the new world. They go to Boston, to Massachusetts, where everything is full of hope and graft and optimism. They’re looking for investors in the machine, in Sharpe’s machine. He falls in love with a sort of prodigious and slightly willful young woman who is rebelling against her own father, and they have a spiritual connection about certain things. They just get each other. I think he doesn’t expect to fall in love - he’s ostensibly gone to America for business reasons - and he meets this young girl who writes her own novels and won’t be told what the contents of those novels should be by prospective publishers. They think they can tell this young woman what to do, and she writes her own stuff, and he loves it. It’s incredibly romantic, after the manner of the great gothic romance novels. There’s a big ball, and they dance, and look into each other’s eyes, and fall head over heels in love - which is against the wishes of many, many people in the room, who have other plans for their family members.”

Earlier in the set visit we had spoken to Del Toro, and romance wasn’t the word he used. The word he used was kink. We asked Hiddleston about the kink.

“It begins with romance, but progresses to kink,” he said.

How kinky?

“It’s really kinky. You’ll see.”

This wasn’t enough. How does Tom Hiddleston define kink?

“In my life? In my work? I called Scarlett Johansson a mewling quim!”

Big laugh from the table - his catchphrase!

“No, there’s a sexuality in the film, which is expressed, and you think you know what it is, and then you realize you’re only scratching the surface. I really can’t reveal more than that! Thomas Sharpe - and he’s not the only character in the film - but he has a history. I suppose the interesting thing about the film, the story, is that it’s about the difference between expectations and reality. Each character is projecting certain things. You’ve got Thomas, Lucille, Edith and Michael [Charlie Hunnam], and they’re all projecting onto each other, and have certain expectations of who the other might be, and when the masks are pulled away you see a different picture. That might be where the kink emerges. Without spoiling things too much.”

Those masks are important, and each actor had a secret. Del Toro gave each actor a thick biography of their character, and he included in it information that each actor should keep secret from the others, but that could inform scenes.

“If there’s a moment in the backstory that references a line in the film you know exactly how that line should be played because you know what it means to the character, even if the other actors don’t know how much that line means. It makes the whole world of the film have a huge level of detail and you realize the story is a moment in time. It’s a slice of these people’s lives, and they’re already fascinating, and there’s a longer 24 episode version where you could see where everyone is coming from and going, but this is the one moment where they intersect. It’s brilliant.

“They do inflect the way you do things. Even yesterday we had a scene between the four of us and I knew something none of the others did. Guillermo knew, and he put it front and center in the scene, but no one else knew what was going on. And it’s great because it’s true to life in a way. Sometimes we can’t tell what’s going on other people’s heads. “

Hiddleston was serious about being secretive - he had a (fakely) injured hand and didn’t want to spill the beans on that - and he wouldn’t really talk too much about the film’s spookier elements. He was willing to explain to us how he approaches acting in a spooky movie.

“It’s really scary, and what I find is the most playful aspect of acting in a very, very spooky film is that you play against that. So it becomes about the banality, everything becomes terribly normal. That’s almost more terrifying. I love it when I’m watching horror films and everyone is acting like nothing is wrong and you know something is around the corner! In a way that’s really fun, to play it really straight, to play it like it’s every day. What could go wrong? It’s just an old house with creaky floorboards! An old house will make odd noises. Right?”

Still to come: Guillermo Del Toro and Jessica Chastain!

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