Uncompromising, unflinching and unquestionably Britain’s modern day version of Marlon Brando. ShortList’s Andrew Dickens meets Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy is on a winning streak. If he were a footballer, he couldn’t miss if he tried. Thirty-yard thumps, flying volleys, balls bouncing off the back of his head — they’d all end up in the onion bag. He’d probably have one of those special analytical sections on Match Of The Day where Alan Shearer highlights why he’s so good, using words such as “movement” and “channels” and fancy graphics that dance over the top of replays.
For Hardy, goals are roles — he can’t stop landing really, really good ones. Last year saw him star in the biggest picture of the summer, as Eames in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, while this year he’s currently in cinemas alongside Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and John Hurt in the dream team of British actors that is the cast of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He’s then reuniting with Nolan as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, a film already fermenting enough anticipation to make the internet overheat. Oh, and next year he’s going to be Mad Max. It’s a purple patch he appreciates almost as much as the football analogy.
“Once you get over the ‘F*ck me, I’m playing for England’, you start playing for England,” he says, the noticeable helping of inner-London ‘Jafaican’ patois in his accent adding to the post-match interview vibe. “That’s so f*cking cool, man, because you start scoring goals.”
Hardy is not only a man on form, but also a man in shape. Sat on a low sofa opposite ShortList, leaning forward, wrists on knees and wearing a tight black T-shirt, he’s on the healthy side of intimidatingly large. The added bulk is partly because he’s filming Batman at the moment, and also a result of his latest film, Warrior, in which he plays Tommy Conlon, the prodigal son of a dysfunctional family who mysteriously reappears to take the world of mixed martial arts, or MMA to the uninitiated, by storm, bitterly competing against his older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) in the process.
These days it’s acceptable for one man to appreciate another man’s physique, and ShortList appreciates that his could inflict a great deal of pain. It’s not the first time Hardy has literally grown into a role, as anyone who’s seen the unflinching Bronson will know. However, as he explains with a nostalgic grin, turning yourself into someone who resembles a professional athlete is a lot less fun than becoming a psychotic criminal with circus strongman stylings.
“I was a mess after Bronson,” he says. “I got really fat. I was a real road crash. So Pnut [his friend, personal trainer and 16st ex-US marine who is sitting quietly in the room] had the problem of getting the rust off me. By the time I went to Pittsburgh to film Warrior I had two hours of boxing, two hours of muay thai, two hours of jiu jitsu, two hours of choreography and two hours of weight lifting a day, every day for eight weeks. I don’t know how people do that every day. Bronson was fun. For Bronson I just ate chocolate and pizza, lifted Pnut up and down the stairs, played Xbox, shaved my head and grew a moustache.”
Although Hardy has developed something of a reputation for shape-shifting, by his own admission he’s not in the Christian Bale league of yo-yo dieting. Dusting down the cliché dictionary, Hardy’s strength lies in being a blank canvas — and the acting community has duly taken notice. Whereas Al Pacino would still look and sound like Al Pacino if he were playing Mother Teresa, Hardy slips into parts like they’re disguises, doing it so convincingly that for the film’s duration, Tom Hardy ceases to exist. A surefire testament to his incredible skill.
BORN TO DO IT
It’s something that, from the outside, he seems destined to do. Born in 1977 and raised in west London, Hardy is the son of an artist mother and comedy-writer father. He went to two private schools, for which he had little interest, then on to study acting at Drama Centre London. However, while thespianism hasn’t ever been a lifelong plan, his professional career started on a positive note, his screen debut coming in nothing less than Steven Spielberg’s 2001 wartime mini-series Band Of Brothers.
“In the end there was nothing else I could do,” he says. “I had a busy head and I didn’t really want to do things that I found boring. The only thing that kept my attention was to play and have fun and manipulate. I’ve always been a liar, always been able to manipulate. I pretty much get whatever I want.”
His subsequent CV would attest to that. Following projects included, among other things, more bangs and bullets in Black Hawk Down (2001), a role as the nemesis bit of Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), and a part as Handsome Bob in Guy Ritchie’s underrated RocknRolla (2008), before his breakthrough moment, flattening critics with his performance in Bronson that same year.
“Acting really is a mixture of bullsh*tting and manipulating and the study of action-reaction,” he explains. “And camouflage — hiding yourself in other languages, bodies and shapes. Acting channelled me into something. I found some self-esteem and thought, ‘I’m actually quite good at something.’”
Hardy is now 34 years old. It’s a number he wasn’t always certain to reach. During his 20s, he didn’t just burn the candle at both ends — he tried to drink it, smoke it and sleep with it, once claiming that he’d “played with everything and everyone”. He ended up in rehab in a battle with addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine.
Although he’s been on the wagon since 2003, certain scenes in Warrior would still have been distressingly familiar. In the same way that Rocky isn’t just about boxing, Warrior isn’t just about MMA. The film tackles serious, painful subjects, particularly during the scenes featuring Nick Nolte — whose own hellraising makes Hardy look like a teetotal virgin — as Tommy’s redemption-seeking alcoholic father, Paddy, a man on good terms with rock bottom.
Hardy admitted during a candid 2010 interview that he had homosexual encounters in his narcotic-peppered 20s. We begin to approach this topic by mentioning his ‘experimental’ period.
“When I did drugs and f*cked men, is that what you mean?” Er, yes, that kind of thing. Does that experience make him a better actor?
“Yeah,” he says, pausing for a moment. “In the [alcohol abuse] scenes with Nick Nolte, if you’ve been to those depths, experience allows you to think ‘this is right’ or ‘this is wrong’ and know how to react. There’s only so much imagination you can use before you have to go out and live life again. You see these kid actors who work from 10 to 21 and then all of a sudden they disappear for a bit. They’ve got nothing to draw upon apart from a life of working, so you need to go out and catch up and then come back in again.”
And if he does find those scenes difficult to film, it’s not something he’ll automatically show. “I find crying difficult. It takes a long time for me to go. And I won’t know what will send me. I’m quite sentimental. If my son tells me he loves me, that will make me cry. [Richard Dreyfuss drama] Mr Holland’s Opus, unbelievably, broke me. A random anomaly. Bambi would probably do me. Or Shrek. And yeah, I did go in Warrior as well. The relapse of Paddy, when I put him to bed and give him a kiss, I was like, ‘Yeah, I get that. I’ve been there.’”
Somehow, for all his apparent honesty, Hardy’s managed to remain relatively private, practically unknown as a ‘personality’ by the public. It would be too dramatic to call him an enigma, but there is a sense of a barrier or mask. But what he says next makes us wonder how much of what the public hears is actually true.
“There’s a definite detachment between a public persona and a person,” he explains. “It would be insane, for me anyway, to open myself up entirely to the world. There are two things in my world that are important to me — my family and my work — and I will protect both of them fiercely to the death. So when things about me come out, then you can have it, it’s cool, because it will never touch what’s inside here [taps his chest]. Whatever I
tell you, it doesn’t matter — it’s yours and it’s to be shared. But then I also have to be very careful not to give away what is most important to me — my privacy.”
PLAYING WITH THE A-TEAM
Getting back to that public winning streak, Hardy says he’s playing for England, but it isn’t just any England — it’s some kind of all-star team. It’s all well and good being among the best of your peers, part of the unstoppable flow of young British acting talent that’s flooding Hollywood, but holding your own when sharing a scene with the likes of John Hurt or Gary Oldman, who’s also in The Dark Knight Rises, is a whole different ball game.
That said, if he’s feeling any pressure to up his game, it isn’t showing. “Gary Oldman is my absolute complete and utter hero,” he says. “He’s the f*cking man. I look at him and I want to be like that for my generation — I want to have that same quality. He’s incredible. And there is a definite ‘hang on a minute’ [moment], but I’ve got past the star-struck part now.
“There’s no feeling of, ‘I’ve got to be the best in the world.’ I’m going to be the best I can. I tell myself, it’s only storytelling and it’s going to be OK and you love doing this. Pick any one of the reasons to do it and, for the next five minutes, enjoy that.” It’s one thing being on top, but knowing what to do while you’re there is something else. Do you milk it for everything it’s worth or try to be choosy in order to gain some longevity? Do you ‘do a Daniel Day-Lewis’ and go to work as a cobbler in Italy? Flogging that football analogy one final time, it’s a choice between going out like Teddy Sheringham or Eric Cantona. So what does the future hold for Tom Hardy?
“It’s almost the beginning and the end of a phase for me,” he says. “It’s the beginning of working in America, and we’ve managed to put together a range of projects, but I think over a period of time I’ll slowly pull out. Otherwise you’re exposed to the market.
“Once I’ve completely finished on a couple of films, such as The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max, you’ll probably see me fade away. I might f*ck off completely. It’s like laying a field down with crops — you need to leave the field, man, sometimes, so you can grow sh*t again. I’ll f*ck off if I have to. Sometimes you need to know when to leave the casino.”
Warrior is at cinemas nationwide now.
(Images: All Star)