LOS ANGELES - Everyone's buzzing about the all-star team of do-gooders in "The Avengers," from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man to Chris Evans' Captain America to Chris Hemsworth's god of thunder, Thor.
Well how about this wily bad guy who's such a peril that humanity has to assemble half a dozen Marvel Comics superheroes to rein him in?
British actor Tom Hiddleston first played Loki, wicked younger son of Norse king of the gods Odin, in last summer's "Thor," scheming to take brother Thor's place as heir to the throne. Hiddleston's Loki proved so diabolical that he's back as the villain of "The Avengers," which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday and is already playing in some overseas markets.
As Hiddleston says, Loki is mean and hateful, which can be great fun - and greatly challenging - for an actor to play.
"Sometimes, it's really hard, especially when you get up in the morning feeling in a good mood, and that sort of innate contentment is of absolutely no use to you, because you're having to stoke the bonfires of anger and sadness and despair and all that stuff," Hiddleston said.
The 31-year-old classically trained actor, who studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, clearly managed to overcome his good moods to imbue Loki with venom. Not only was he cast in "The Avengers," but Hiddleston's also returning for "Thor 2," which begins shooting late this year for release in November 2013.
"He sort of steals the movie," Hemsworth said of Hiddleston's performance in "The Avengers." `'He's the catalyst for everything that's happening. What he's doing, that's where it either stands or falls, and he really pulled it off."
A rising star of British theater and TV drama, Hiddleston followed "Thor" with a charming turn as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," then played a noble English cavalry officer in Steven Spielberg's "War Horse."
Hiddleston co-stars with Rachel Weisz in Terence Davies' infidelity drama "The Deep Blue Sea," now playing in U.S. theaters. He also just finished production on British TV adaptations of Shakespeare's "Henry IV" parts one and two, playing Prince Hal, and "Henry V," in which he has the title role.
Despite his comic-book roots, Loki himself has a Shakespearean dimension akin to such villains as Iago in "Othello" and Edmund in "King Lear," Hiddleston said.
"He's motivated by the same things. He's motivated by jealousy and pride and ambition and vanity," Hiddleston said. "Shakespeare's very unforgiving of those things, and in a way, it's the same job. It's just, I'm wearing a crazier costume and blowing up Manhattan."
Hiddleston has older and younger sisters but no brothers. Yet he still recognizes the Thor-Loki rivalry as a universal struggle.
"I've never had a brother, but I really understand it, because I had friends when I was a kid, whose brothers were very close in age, and they would beat the crap out of each other. And I could understand that that was sort of a natural thing."
Hiddleston can't say yet whether Loki and Thor are still beating on each other in "Thor 2." He had not yet received the script, so he's as curious as any other fan about what Loki will be up to next.
"What's interesting for me is whether he's redeemable now at this point. ... Can he be forgiven by Thor, by Odin, and can he forgive himself?" Hiddleston said. "Is he even self-aware enough to know that's what he needs?"
Tune in late next year to find out.