Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 14 News List

From misfit to Mad Max

In his personal life, he has battled alcoholism and crack addiction. In his work, he has specialized in misfits and criminals. Tom Hardy’s approach may not be conventional, but he is well on the way to becoming one of the UK’s great actors

By Alice Fisher  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

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Tom Hardy is incredibly tired. His fatigue is the sort that makes him stop mid-sentence and wonder what he’s saying. He’s got good reason. He was up all night in A&E with his girlfriend, the actress Charlotte Riley, whom he met when he was Heathcliff to her Cathy in last year’s TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights. She’s in bed now, “very unwell.” He’s also just finished producing, co-directing and acting in a micro-budget film called Myties Dynamo, which he describes bewilderingly as “a thriller about suburbia — one of those old-school, black-comic Hungarian films, a bit like Man Bites Dog.” He’s also worried about his own dog, Max, who had a heart attack this week and is now on beta blockers. “I call Max ‘Lives-in-Hope,’” he says, “because he does — ‘Can I have a biscuit?’ Max asks. ‘Can I go for a walk?’

“Inevitably the answer is no, but even if it’s a rainy day he lives in hope.”

Hardy’s looks may be remarkable, but his brain is astounding. Talking to him is extraordinary. Though his exhaustion means that his sentences — delivered in a voice that’s all gravel and cigarettes — occasionally fail, his imagination and his vocabulary never do. He seems to have a unique way of processing the world around him. Although the 32-year-old has worked consistently for the past eight years, he made his name with two performances that showcased his remarkable physical versatility and skill as an actor. First he shrank to nothing to portray Stuart Shorter — a homeless man who suffered from muscular dystrophy and a desperate drug habit — in the TV adaptation of the award-winning book Stuart: A Life Backwards in 2007. He then gained 16kg in five weeks to play Britain’s most notorious prisoner, Charles Bronson, for last year’s art-house film Bronson, which sparked a tabloid outrage for glorifying a violent criminal. At the time it seemed unbelievable that one man could inhabit such different roles so completely. After talking to him, it somehow makes sense.

His next role is more straightforward. He’s in Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s new film Inception, a stonkingly twisted and dark summer blockbuster. Hardy plays Eames, a member of a team of specialists who invade people’s dreams to tinker in their subconscious, stealing information or trying to plant ideas. He says that the chance to work with Nolan drew him to the project, and starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Juno’s Ellen Page was “the bonus ball.”

“In many ways I felt the work was done around me. I just drank lots of tea. I’d ask if there was anything I could do and they’d say: ‘Not really.’ So there was lots of tea for Tommy. Then they’d call me over and say: ‘Can you jump off this?’ I’d say: ‘Absolutely!,’ then I’d just loiter in the corner looking fab. As is my wont. I like to flatter myself into believing that the character I played was actually Chris Nolan. I felt he was key to Eames and I latched on to him and his mannerisms. I think Leonardo DiCaprio looks like Chris and Chris looks like Leo — not to upset anyone. I think they’re related, actually. In fact, you start to think: Are all of these people in the film actually Chris?”

Nolan says he cast Hardy because he’s a chameleon. “He can inhabit a role. He saw the potential of the character right away and brought a wonderful cheeky quality to his performance.” Eames certainly gets all the best lines in Inception. Hardy plays him as “my nod to the linen-suited Havana brigade, a faded luvvie who still has a really good fist fight,” and the character is the comic turn in the dark film. Hardy is best known for his intense performances and devotion to preparation and immersion in his roles — after playing two soldiers at the start of his career in Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down he actually joined the Parachute Regiment for “about five minutes”; he’s learned to cage fight for his next film, Warrior, which is released this September. But it’s the comic touch that he brings to roles which makes them so memorable. Both Bronson and Shorter only became truly touching when Hardy found the humor in their lives. “I do like to find comedy — not boom boom, but circumstance, an incongruous character juxtaposed with a certain situation. My old man is a comedy writer — he wrote for Dave Allen and he writes adverts, and I grew up around that. I have an acute awareness that I’m selling something — lying and keeping a straight face. I was incredibly boring as a child, but I had a sense of humor.”

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