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It’s not uncommon to hear of actors going to extreme lengths to prepare for a role; whether that’s extensive research, radically changing their bodies, or other steps, it’s not an uncommon practice. We recently learned that Ben Foster took performance-enhancing drugs getting ready to play Lance Armstrong on screen. While it’s not quite that radical, to prep for his role in High-Rise, Tom Hiddleston took some rather macabre measures.
Talking to The Hollywood Reporter at the Toronto International Film Festival, where High-Rise is making its debut—as well as Hiddleston’s Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light—the British actor revealed that, to research for his role as a doctor, he actually participated in an autopsy. Hiddleston basically went to work with a leading pathologist and watched him ply his trade, describing the experience as:
It's unlike anything I've ever done, to see a human body cut open.
Considering the subject matter and tone of the film, the source material, as well as the director at the helm of the whole thing, this sort of preparation makes total sense. It’s based on J.G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel, which is a dark, disturbing story full of the author’s trademark bleak vision of modern, or at least modernish life in an urban setting.
The story follows the residents of a new, ultramodern—ultramodern by 1970s standards, when the film is set—high-rise housing complex where their every need is taken care of, they never need to leave. Quality of life degenerates quickly, however, as power outages and other minor annoyances serve to split the residents along class lines, via where how high up in the building they reside. The tension ratchets up until they fracture into feral warring clans, and this isolated microcosm for society tears itself apart completely. Tom Hiddleston plays a young doctor, named Robert Laing, who lives in the building and finds himself embroiled in Heart of Darkness style conflict along with the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), his devoted assistant, Charlotte (Sienna Miller), and a documentary filmmaker neighbor, Richard Wilder (Luke Evans).
This is a perfect fit for cult director Ben Wheatley, who is fond of taking genre fare and filtering it through his unusual, dark sensibility. His resume is full of off-the-wall films like Sightseers, which is essentially a romantic road trip comedy about a couple on a vicious murder spree; and Kill List, an exploitation style horror film warped into a mystery with a twisted surrealist bend. I can’t wait to see what he does with Ballard’s novel and this great cast.
There is going to be some disturbing stuff in High-Rise, to be sure, and what better way to prepare for that than by watching a human body be methodically dissected and examined in great detail? This move will probably serve Tom Hiddleston well in his role.