The New York Times celebrated the upcoming release of “Crimson Peak” on Tuesday night with a Times Talk featuring star Tom Hiddleston. The celebrated English actor was a last minute replacement for writer-director Guillermo del Toro, who came down with a cold and was unable to attend the event. Although Hiddleston began the evening by apologizing to fans who had hoped to see the visionary director in person (“I’m sorry I’m not Mexican,” he joked), the actor provided enough revelations about del Toro’s latest feature to satisfy the genre-loving crowd.
Starring Hiddelston opposite Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak” marks del Toro’s long-awaited exploration of the gothic romance genre. Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, an aspiring writer who falls under the spell of a seductive stranger. It’s a story any fan of the Bronte sisters, Ann Radcliffe or Daphne de Maurier will instantly recognize, and it was precisely how del Toro played with the genre’s archetypes that fascinated Hiddleston with the project.
“I think it’s impossible to grow up in England and not be [familiar with the archetypes],” Hiddleston said. “The trajectory of gothic romance is there is always a young, whole-hearted, innocent heroine who is drawn to a dark stranger with a mysterious past. She falls in love, perhaps, or is drawn by her sexuality towards him, and he always has a crumbling mansion on the hill. You’d think they’d know better!…In ‘Crimson Peak,’ [del Toro is] playing with these archetypes. I could see the influence of Lord Rochester and Mr. Darcy in my character, Thomas Sharpe, and he plays with your expectations. You expect each character to be one thing, and those expectations are confounded and subverted in a fascinating way.”
The actor admitted to being a huge fan of du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” which was famously made into a motion picture by Alfred Hitchcock. Of equal importance to Hiddleston’s research was Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” which he explained was the first time a fiction writer had used the supernatural as a manifestation of unprocessed emotional trauma. “These were archetypes at that time that were completely revolutionary,” he continued about the genre. “This was a deeply repressed time, especially for things like the sexuality of young woman and the darker aspects of our imagination. They were never discussed, it was not societally appropriate. It was a way of exploring those themes: how love is a force of change and is chaotic and often dangerous, and that it can impel you into situations which are terrifying.”
While there was no shortage of cinematic adaptations to turn to, Hiddleston’s pre-production work spent getting into character was focused mainly on literature and painting. Surprisingly, he cited the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich has the biggest inspiration for his character due to the way they “represent the passion of romance.”
Fans of del Toro have been seeing the genre’s influence in his work for years, but on set he was nothing like his dark obsessions. “He’s such a warm, generous, good-natured, sweet, sensitive man. Being around set with him is a very light and light-hearted set to be on. He’s so wise that he understands all of our lives are a balance of the light and the dark. He understands the place of the darker aspects of our nature and world that make for very interesting stories to tell in film, as a safe place to reflect those thoughts and feelings. I genuinely found his wisdom to be extraordinary to be around. ‘Crimson Peak’ for him, he’s poured his heart into it.”
One of Hiddelston’s fondest memories of the set was his first introduction to the eponymous mansion, which del Toro had fully built on a sound stage in Toronto. The set was an actual three-story house with working elevators and full staircases, and when the actor first saw it he was utterly amazed. “I ran across the lot and opened the door of what would be any other sound stage in North America and it was like entering a magical world,” he remembered. “It was fully realized, fully imagined…The clay that comes through the floor boards was there, it was real. It felt like the experience of a child — you feel like you’re disappearing into a fantasy.”
“The house is amazing. It is a principle character,” he continued. “It harbors secrets in the same way humans harbor secrets. If the house were a human being, it would need 13 years of therapy.”
Also in need of a good talk is Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe, an inventor with some troubling secrets and an even more troublesome sister. While talking about the film’s time period, Hiddelston set up the primary confrontation between the characters as that as a battle between the past and the present.
“It was a fascinating time, 1901, the world was changing. It’s amazing that Guillermo has chosen this time to set it. It’s at the cusp of the world being a completely different place. It is about a battle between the past and the future. Edith Cushing is the future. She’s taken her own destiny in her own hands. She won’t allow her future to be controlled by anybody. She’s going to make her own future. Thomas Sharpe, my character, and his formidable sister, played by Jessica Chastain, are the past; they were the old world and they are way down in the many secrets of the past — haunted by them, literally.”
“Crimson Peak” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, October 16. Hiddleston also has the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light” and the Ben Wheatley thriller “High-Rise” waiting to be released, and he starts work on the blockbuster “Kong: Skull Island” next week.