By Jen Vineyard | The Playlist December 7, 2011 at 10:05AM
Much of the cast of Steven Spielberg's new epic "War Horse" will be unrecognizable to mainstream American audiences (save for Emily Watson and David Thewlis) -- and that is by design. The director didn't want the distraction of recognizable people in his lead parts, so he instead plugged in a lot of up-and-comers, especially unknowns who had never acted before. And as The Playlist learned at the Sunday night premiere of "War Horse" at New York's Lincoln Center, based on their upcoming projects, they won't remain unknown much longer.
Tom Hiddleston, who plays Captain Nicholls -- the military leader who buys the horse Joey and effectively puts the war in "War Horse" -- took on Loki in "Thor" and will reprise his role as Loki in one of the most anticipated films of next year, "The Avengers," in which he takes center stage as the villain that requires the superheroes to assemble in the first place.
"Working with [director] Ken [Branagh on 'Thor'], it was Loki's origin story as much as Thor's origin story, so he was asking for an emotional volatility, a vulnerability, and a spiritual complexity," Hiddleston said. "With [director] Joss [Whedon on 'The Avengers'], he wants to take both of these characters further down the road and set them off, so he wanted a Loki who was feral and dangerous and having a really good time. Someone who overtly and openly delights in the chaos he creates, as opposed to being kind of incidental and accidental, while never losing sight that the birth of his traits comes from loneliness and spiritual desolation. He has nowhere to call home, no place he belongs, so he's a wounded soul, Loki."
Toby Kebbell, who plays a Geordie soldier who rescues the horse Joey from a no man's land when the animal is trapped by barbed wire, had success earlier with "RockNRolla" but is finally now on the verge of becoming a breakout leading man, given his recent auditions for "Akira" and "Arthur & Lancelot." ("Let's hope I get that one," he said. "It would be helpful!") In the meantime, he's playing a doctor in Brit Marling's much anticipated eco-terrorism thriller, "The East," in which he exhibits Parkinson's-like symptoms from taking a tainted drug.
"I had to get the hand shake right, the shaky hand," Kebbell said, while demonstrating a slight tremor. "He has seizures, as people with Parkinson's might, because he has a weakened hand, as if he has no tendons, and I had to figure out a respectful way to portray that in the film. I hope I did that right."
Kebbell's character has the condition because he got a sample from a pharmaceutical drug rep, and then prescribed the drug to himself, "so in that sense, he's very stupid," the actor said. Despite the shaky hand, his character also plays piano, and the piece he performs in the film was composed by director Zal Batmanglij's brother Rostam, of the band Vampire Weekend.
"The stories are really different," Kross said. "One's WWI, the other is WWII. In one, I'm the good German. In the other, I'm the bad German, a full blown Nazi. In 'War Horse,' I leave my troops because I want to take care of my brother, and in this, I take care of my troops. There are so many war films out there, but this one deals with the subject in a really different way."
Robert Emms, who originated the lead role of Albert in the London production of "War Horse" and plays Albert's would-be rival David Lyons in the film version, has a bit part in the upcoming Snow White film "Mirror Mirror" and the lead in the indie film "Broken," also starring Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth.
"In 'Mirror Mirror,' I'm the prince's valet," Emms said, "and I'm someone who's really hilariously foppish. I don't often get to do that." And in "Broken," he plays Rick Buckley, who seems like a harmless boy who lives on the other side of a suburban square from Skunk Cunningham, and "they fall in love, in a way," Emms said. "But it dovetails." And how -- considering Skunk is telling the story from her coma.
Fitting with the "War Horse" theme of celebrating emerging actors, guest Ralph Macchio was on hand to talk about his upcoming film "He's Way More Famous Than You," in which several stars, including Ben Stiller, Jesse Eisenberg, and Natasha Lyonne, play versions of themselves who thwart a wannabe actor and director.
"It's a film directed by Michael Urie from 'Ugly Betty,' who is also in it," Macchio explained, "and it stars the writers, Halley Feiffer and Ryan Spahn as well, so it has this insider take on making films. It's very, very funny, and very quirky. I play a darker, dirtier version of myself. Have you ever seen my Funny or Die 'Wax On, Fuck Off'? It's a little bit of that and my 'Entourage' character -- like I'm doing Stanley Kowalski in an acting class to hit on young actresses."
Also at the "War Horse" premiere was "Avatar" and "Terra Nova" star Stephen Lang, who just wrapped "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," which costars Lucy Liu, Deborah Ann Woll, and Ellen Burstyn. "I play a ne'er-do-well, a compulsive gambler, and that's acting!" Lang said. "He likes Vegas, anything in Vegas. You name it, he'll bet on it." Playing on his character's gambling theme, Lang said he'd bet on the up-and-coming "War Horse" actors to become major players in 2012. "Let's hope they all do well!"
"War Horse" opens on Christmas Day.