Shanghai: Tom Hiddleston, BAFTA Launch China Talent Initiative

Credit: BAFTA
Tom Hiddleston

The 'Avengers' star says at the kickoff for "Breakthrough China" that he knows full well how a helping hand, in his case that of Kenneth Branagh, can help launch a career.

Avengers star Tom Hiddleston knows full well how a helping hand can help launch a career. It was the support of friend, director and multiple Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh that led the British actor to the role of Loki in the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, one that changed his life forever.

Now Hiddleston hopes the new British Academy of Film and Television Arts "Breakthrough China" initiative can have a similar effect on a generation of hopefuls from the other side of the world. "I'm hugely honored to be involved because I really believe in it," said Hiddleston, who has taken on the role of ambassador for the program, launched at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

"Anyone at the beginning of their career can often feel quite isolated," the star said. "Perhaps you had enough confidence to make one film or give one performance. But it’s hard sometimes to know how to keep going or to make that next step and I think mentorship is so useful."

The BAFTA scheme has been backed by Chinese philanthropist Wendy Yu and aims to identify and then help chart the course of the careers of five emerging Chinese creatives. It will provide them with a year of mentoring from those who have already made it to the top.

"This generation of Chinese talent has become far more global. I'm really looking forward to see the transformation of the talent," said Yu, whose Yu Holdings bills itself as an "innovation, cultural and creative exchange" between China and the rest of the world.

Hiddleston’s own cause was famously championed by fellow Brit Branagh, the director/actor with whom he had worked in both TV and theater and on whose persistent recommendation Hiddleston landed the breakthrough big-screen role of Loki in Thor (2011).

"Kenneth Branagh had a life-changing effect on me," said Hiddleston. "Being able to watch him at close quarters, at the end of that experience I had learned so much."

The China scheme is an extension of the successful Breakthrough Brits program, launched in 2013 and which has helped further the careers of such talent as Letitia Wright (Black Panther) and Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming).

"For the winners here we will look to give them the same support both in the U.K. and in China," said BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry. "We will provide a network of support for them. We’ve seen the most amazing success with Breakthrough Brits. We ask them who they wanted to meet and what they feel they need to progress their career and we make it happen."

Added Berry: "We’ve had the most extraordinary people mentoring. People have asked to meet Brad Pitt or Daniel Day Lewis, or Tilda Swinton — and they have said yes. It’s an initiative that BAFTA is uniquely placed to deliver."

Now, a panel of experts from both the Chinese and British film industries will be looking for directors, writers, producers, actors or game developers to fill the five places available. BAFTA has sent a call out to through the Chinese entertainment industry for recommended candidates who have a desire to work "with U.K. talent, or to produce content for global audiences." Once chosen — and announced at an event in Shanghai in October — the five creatives will head to the U.K.

"They’ll spend two weeks with U.K. mentors, but also [will be] getting to meet their U.K. peers," said Berry. "It all goes to a creative cultural exchange."