Tom Hiddleston and Anna Sawai on What Connects ‘Loki’ to ‘Shogun’ and Why Saying Goodbye to the Marvel Antihero Is a ‘Wash of Relief’

Tom Hiddleston and Anna Sawai on What Connects ‘Loki’ to ‘Shogun’ and Why Saying Goodbye to the Marvel Antihero Is a ‘Wash of Relief’

Anna Sawai’s excitement is palpable as she sits down with Tom Hiddleston. It’s her first experience with the awards season rigmarole, but Sawai’s stunning performance in FX’s historical epic “Shōgun” as Toda Mariko — the last surviving member of a disgraced clan of samurai in feudal Japan — has catapulted her into the race. Hiddleston, meanwhile, is a veteran. For nearly 15 years, the Emmy nominee has embodied Loki, the diabolical yet endearing comic book god, across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the second season of Disney+’s “Loki” finds him at the top of his game.

TOM HIDDLESTON: Your work in “Shōgun” is extraordinary. You’ve created Mariko with such care, diligence and love. I’ve found the whole show and your performance extremely affecting. I love the metaphor of the eightfold fence — the idea of a private self, hidden within the many selves that we are, that is only for you. I wondered how you related to that.

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ANNA SAWAI: It’s unfortunate that the women back then were forced into those situations where they really had to protect themselves. They weren’t permitted to speak up and to show exactly how they were feeling. It was easy for me to understand because the societal expectations are very much still alive in Japan. Reflecting on my own experiences, it was like, “OK, I know what this is.” In the show we get to see it as something that’s not as negative as I just explained it — it’s more Zen, and there’s that beauty in it.

HIDDLESTON: What’s been the response from Japanese women?

Anna Sawai Variety Actors on Actors
Anna Sawai Variety Actors on Actors

SAWAI: I’m trying not to get emotional. We were on the press tour in Washington, D.C., and we showed our first two episodes to a Japanese community. After the screening, multiple young girls came up to me being like, “This is the first time I’m seeing a real Japanese character that I can really relate to.” They were getting emotional as well, because it was something that they had internalized — not being able to speak, having to behave — and they thought that’s the way that they should be.

In Japan, we see characters like that; but in Western media, it was my first time reading a script that felt like she was not sidelined. We were seeing that vulnerability but also the strength within her. We see her find her voice. I feel like if I had seen characters like Mariko on-screen growing up, that would’ve formed me in a different way. I wouldn’t have internalized all those expectations.

Watching “Loki,” I realized that we shared the same themes — free will, purpose and sacrifice. I was not expecting to, but I shed tears watching your show.

HIDDLESTON: I always saw Loki as a broken soul with a shattered heart, deeply damaged by the fact that he was unwanted. He’s mischievous and playful on the surface, but it’s masking all this pain. What I’ve loved about this series is tracing my way back to that vulnerable soul and healing that damage. Showing that pain can be transformed into courage and strength — how does that relate to you?

SAWAI: For most of this show, we see her being very quiet and contained. I thought of it more like letting go. Because that’s what she always wished to do but wasn’t able to because of being a woman. But in the end, she’s able to serve her purpose, reclaim her identity, finish her father’s battle, and get what she always wanted: to follow in the footsteps of her family.

HIDDLESTON: Then the sacrifice is the final moment of her self-definition, maybe?

SAWAI: Exactly. For Loki, all he wanted was to be with his friends; still, he chooses to be alone, so that they can keep living. The final line that you have, which is …

HIDDLESTON: “I know what I want. I know what kind of god I need to be — for you. For all of us.”

SAWAI: It’s so beautiful. Who thought of that?

HIDDLESTON: Our brilliant directors found me and said, “What do you think you might want to say?” I remembered at the end of “Thor,” the last thing he says is, “I could have done it, Father — for you. For all of us.” It’s full of need, desperation, yearning for acceptance and misguided intention. It’s full of his own broken heart. I thought, “I wonder if I should say that again?” But it has a completely different meaning, which is full of love, sacrifice, selflessness and generosity.

It’s very similar to what Mariko goes through. It’s a moment of release, and the clarity of defining your own identity in sacrifice. In his last moment, he gets agency. He gets to decide what his life has represented up until this point. His final utterance is one of profound love and generosity. That the journey of a thousand miles has led us here. It was very satisfying and moving for me too, because it’s been such a long journey.

HIDDLESTON: When the time comes, how did you say goodbye to Mariko?

SAWAI: I didn’t have time to say goodbye. I wrapped, went back to my apartment in Vancouver, slept eight hours, woke up and went to my next job.

HIDDLESTON: Oh, my. Which was?

SAWAI: “Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.” [Sawai plays Cate, a science teacher in search of her father, in the Apple TV+ series.] I remember walking onto the set and having my hime bangs, the Mariko haircut. We were trying to cheat it so that they couldn’t see it. But I really didn’t have time to do anything to really say goodbye. Going into that new character helped me leave her. I don’t know if I would do it again.

Tom Hiddleston Variety Actors on Actors
Tom Hiddleston Variety Actors on Actors

HIDDLESTON: Did you get to the weekend and then be like, “Wait, who am I? What’s my name?”

SAWAI: When I woke up, I was like, “OK, I guess I’m Cate now.”

HIDDLESTON: Did Cate feel radically different? Did it feel like a vacation?

SAWAI: Oh, yeah. You’re wearing normal clothes and walking normally. You don’t have to study how to hold a cup. I mean, you played Loki for 14, 15 years. How do you say goodbye?

HIDDLESTON: I just felt this wash of relief because it had been a very meaningful experience. That sense of … the exhale.

SAWAI: Do you still carry a little bit of him?

HIDDLESTON: Always. It’s changed the whole course of my life, no question.

SAWAI: In Japanese, you would say, “Otsukaresama deshita,” which you say at the end of work. It’s like, “Thank you for your hard work.”

HIDDLESTON: How do I say that? [She says it again, and he repeats it perfectly.] Lovely. I’m going to take that with me.

Production Design: Keith Raywood

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