Brit actor Tom Hardy tears up the screen in his latest movie Lawless. Film critic Tony Earnshaw thinks the actor behind a series of movie hardmen is on a fast-track to superstardom.
When it comes to actors we live in interesting times.
The old guard is giving way to the new and a handful of names are in the vanguard of electric talent that, one hopes, will lift movies to a new level of brilliance. We all know the names: Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale... and Tom Hardy.
Sometimes a performer seems to come from nowhere. Like Marlon Brando, who leapt from theatre to film and stayed there until he got lazy and fat – but still strangely mesmeric – Tom Hardy has the capacity to transcend the ‘Wow!’ factor. And he’s only getting started.
Like his contemporary Michael Fassbender, Hardy got his break on TV’s Band of Brothers, part of a largely British ensemble portraying an American infantry unit from D-Day to war’s end.
And like Fassbender he’s played it cool, happily playing second fiddle to other stars or joining in the ensemble. One suspects it won’t be that way for much longer.
Equally at home on the stage or the studio floor, the 34-year-old Londoner has been making big films for a decade. Be it Star Trek: Nemesis (as an intergalactic villain) or Bronson (as the modern UK penal system’s most notorious member), Hardy has become one of the key figures in 21st century Britain’s acting fraternity.
Recent projects have hinted at his versatility: Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, comic strip bad guy Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, maverick agent Ricki Tarr in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and, now, bootlegger Forrest Bondurant in Lawless.
Next up is Fury Road, the reboot of Mel Gibson’s ’80s Mad Max franchise with Hardy taking on the role of the road warrior of the Outback. And if anyone can do it right, it’s Tom Hardy.
He’s been metamorphosing into a leading man before our very eyes for the past three or four years. Hardy knows it, too. But right now he’s still content to be part of the gang, hero-worshipping his Tinker Tailor... and Lawless co-star Gary Oldman and getting to play stand-offs with Guy Pearce, playing his adversary.
It could have been so very different. In his early 20s Hardy was a serious drunk and drug addict. He’s been clean and sober since 2003 – about the time his career took off. Now he ploughs his energies and intensity into the job. And in Lawless it’s all on the screen: violence, romance, family schisms and quiet psychosis.
After roles in Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down, Bronson and Lawless, playing a man of violence is second nature to Hardy. The trick, he says, is to make it plausible. In Lawless he revenges himself on an enemy via emasculation. Yet Forrest remains a quasi heroic figure.
“It can be in an artificial way but violence in reality is truly horrific. Truly horrific and truly pedestrian,” observes Hardy in that quiet way that suggests he knows more about it than most people.
“The irony of it is the pedestrian level of violence. It’s often matter of fact. The look of fear, terror, violence, anger... it’s the same look. When you look at photographs of somebody who has committed an atrocity the look is always pedestrian.
“What I care about is the character (of Forrest): whether you like him and whether he can get away with doing some heinous stuff and you can still feel for him. It’s whether you like him at the end of the day. Would you want to sit in a room with a man who has cut a man’s testicles off? At the same time you feel for him, and you feel for his heart.”
Working closely with Guy Pearce, playing a bent detective, also allowed Hardy to study the relationship between his co-star and writer/director John Hillcoat, for whom Pearce has become something of a totem. Hardy was impressed with Hillcoat’s attention to detail and passion.
“You see that attention to detail with the extras in the film. They all have wonderful faces – a guy standing up against a post in the town, some of the homeless people, the drinkers. If you look at the film – the casting, the design, the costumes – it’s all so good.
“It’s not easy to make a film but I think we all wanted the same thing: to do good work and make the film as successful as possible. We’re just acting and telling a story and it’s meant to be fun. The mortgage pays itself in those situations. That’s credit to John and the producers for putting this cast and crew together.”
Shia LeBeouf, as the youngest Bondurant brother, refers to Hardy and Jason Clarke, playing middle sibling Howard, as “dudes who are on the precipice of being regarded as the next great actors”. And he’s right.
Yet Hardy seems to steer through such talk, preferring to focus on the work.
He also appears to be soundly grounded. Witness his thoughts on the Cannes Film Festival.
He remembers: “The camera was panning along all of our faces and I remember thinking I’d just try to avoid it thinking: ‘This is all too far too overwhelming. I’ll just pretend to be security and get people to their cars.’
“And then when the camera got to John’s face I saw him well up.
“I saw the relief and the release of something in my friend and I realised how big a moment that actually was for him and for me.
“I suppose it’s taken 12 years to come to a premiere in Cannes and be the guy who is going ‘Wow, I’m in Cannes.
“And this is an amazing experience. I’m alive. My mum and dad are here, I’m sober, I’ll remember it all in the morning and I’m not going to hit anybody’.
“I allowed myself some pride and then I quickly put it away because I’ve got a feeling that God will go ‘That’s mine! You’re the wrong Tom Hardy’ and despatch me into the blackness.”
Lawless (18) is on saturation release.
Career marked by top awards
Tom Hardy won the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer in 2003. He has also been nominated for an Olivier Award, a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society Award.
He has frequently bulked up for film roles: as Charles Bronson in Bronson, as Tommy Conlon in Warrior and as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
He met his fiancée Charlotte Riley when they starred in Wuthering Heights. She played Cathy to his Heathcliff.
With Roger Delamere he co-runs the London-based Shotgun theatre company.
In Mad Max: Fury Road he takes over as the post-apocalyptic lawman.