Tom Hardy is not a movie star. This is not a judgment. Right now, at least, it is simply an observation, a statement of fact.
Tom Hardy is an English actor, London-born, thirty-six years old. He has been the star of—the lead and titular character in—two movies made in England, Bronson and the upcoming Locke. He has costarred in three American movies, Warrior, This Means War, and Lawless, alongside actors like Joel Edgerton, Chris Pine, and Shia LaBeouf. He also has been directed by Christopher Nolan in two movies of global prominence,Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. In Inception, he is a member of Leonardo DiCaprio’s supporting cast, part of an ensemble, billed beneath Joseph Gordon-Levitt and called upon to lend the proceedings a kind of amoral integrity. In The Dark Knight Rises, he plays Bane, the supervillain set in opposition to Christian Bale’s Batman, with a shaved head, thirty pounds of added muscle, a mask of rubber and steel fitted over his nose and mouth, and an accent—a voice—intense in its artificiality, its almost Elizabethan resonance, and its menace.
To the extent that American audiences know Tom Hardy, they know him as Bane.
Next year, they will know him—or not—as the new Mad Max, in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, with Charlize Theron.
Is Tom Hardy a movie star? The only conclusive answer is that we won’t know until the summer of 2015, when Warner Bros. finally releases Mad Max and the first weekend’s returns are in.
But that does not stop the question from being asked. Indeed, the question of whether a particular actor is a movie star is, in Hollywood, a philosophical one, almost an epistemological one, a matter of chemistry devoid of science. As much as it is in the business of making movies, Hollywood is in the business of finding movie stars, and as bad as Hollywood is—as low as its percentages are—at predicting what movies might be hits, it is even worse at determining which actors are destined for stardom. In truth, the number of actors who can, in industry parlance, “open a movie” is not just small; it’s unchanging. There are about a dozen of them in all, and an entire industry is built around their care and cultivation.
Tom Hardy is not one of them. He is not even like them.
He says things movie stars would never say and does things movie stars would never do. He admits to saying things they would never say and doing things they would never do. There are stories about him saying things they would never say and doing things they would never do.
And so, there is not only the usual element of uncertainty about the question of whether Tom Hardy will become what Warner Bros., among many others, is betting on him to become. There is also an element of something Hollywood hasn’t seen in a long time—danger. Which is the reason people think he’s going to be a movie star in the first place. And which is the reason they also think he can still fuck it up.
Over the past year, Esquire has put a bunch of movie stars on its cover, among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and George Clooney. They have all been smart, funny, charming, and personable. In some ways, they have been nothing but smart, funny, charming, and personable, because they all represent the same ideal—or, as Tom Hardy puts it as we’re driving around London,
"They’re all stand-up guys, but they’re all ambassadors, Tom. I am definitely not an ambassador.” There are many things he means by this. He means that they do not possess the graphic novel of a body he does, inscribed as it is with tattoos everywhere but on his neck, because “when you see a tattoo on my neck, that means I’m checking out.” He means that they do not have the history he has, which includes bouts with addiction and alcoholism. He means that they do not display the same lack of circumspection he does, and that they employ the services of publicists.
Or he might simply mean that they don’t, as a matter of habit and a matter of course, call people “cunts.”
Hardy does. He starts as soon as he picks me up in a big Audi sedan with a scrollwork of scratches and a shattered driver’s-side mirror. Is he Bane? Is he the eponymous hero of Bronson? Is he big and scary?
He is not. He is small, a few clicks under five ten, and the difference between him and his most famous cinematic incarnations makes him look shrunken. He not only has fine hands and fine wrists encircled by bracelets celebrating his sobriety and his allegiance with British Special Forces; he has a fine nose and ears the size of periwinkles, as if he’s been built, top to bottom, to a slightly different—and more concentrated—physical scale. He is proud of his crooked teeth and scar tissue, sports a gingery beard, and exhibits but two of the physical characteristics he makes use of onscreen: an active and expressive forehead and eyes as black and opaque as sunglass lenses.
This is not to say that he’s not menacing, however. He’s a proper menace to nearly everyone who dares share the road with him, and when a young man darts into the street in front of him, he doesn’t slow down. Instead, he addresses him in an almost theatrical apostrophe.
"Oh no you don’t, oh no you don’t, oh no you didn’t. Did you see that deranged cunt? Did you see what he was doing? He ran across the street to put money in the meter! Him and his fucking little scooter. He almost lost a leg! Try explaining that at the end of your life—’Oh, yes, I risked all, I risked quadriplegia, I risked a prosthesis, I risked this here carbon leg, but at least I didn’t get a ticket!’ Can you believe that? For a scooter? What kind of man is that? Fucking hell!”
Of course, he is an English actor, so he’s not just allowed to curse; he’s practically obligated to. He is not in the line of succession to George Clooney or any other American movie star but rather to Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, and Richard Burton, unrepentant hell-raisers all. He has gone to drama school; he has trained for the British stage; he regards himself as primarily a theatrical actor and employs an array of eccentricities to deal with the anxiety of performance. Where Olivier steeled himself by standing behind the curtain before it parted upbraiding the audience with muttered obscenities, Hardy is in the habit of coming to the theater early and “climbing into every single seat in the house and shouting from every chair. I stand on every single chair and shout from every single chair. And that’s my warm-up.”
And yet in the end, he is no more an English actor than he is an American movie star, because both English actors and American movie stars have tended to keep the secret that Tom Hardy can’t help but reveal. He is known for playing what he calls “hard men” and for going out of his way to put himself in hard situations in hard places. But it is precisely because he is not actually a hard man that everywhere he goes becomes a hard place, even London, where a driver stops in front of him without warning, and he addresses him as follows:
"You! Everybody else is a fucking cunt! But you—you’re a fucking genius!”
Here are some thingsI’ve heard about Tom Hardy: that he’s the finest actor in the world. That he’s crazy. That he’s incredibly loyal. That he’s incredibly difficult. That if he trusts you, he’s your lifelong friend, but that if he doesn’t—if you “betray” him—he’s your lifelong enemy, and that he senses betrayal everywhere. That he loves guns and dogs. That he regularly trains with British commandos. That he’s going to play Elton John in a biopic called Rocketman. That he’s often compared to Brando. That he’s taken swings at directors and costars and had a publicly acknowledged fistfight with Shia LaBeouf. That on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron found him weird and scary and wanted him kept away from her. That when the head of Warner Bros. went to visit theMad Max set in Namibia, he offered to let Hardy spar with him so that he could work out his issues. That Hardy’s performance in Mad Max is career defining. That he’s a Friend of Leo. That he’s going to be a big movie star.
Here are some of the things I’ve heard about Tom Hardy from Tom Hardy: that he’s a bugger, a wanker, a tosser, a scalawag, a saboteur, a trickster, a bit of a dick, a little petit bourgeois pain in the ass, a liar, a thief, a pretender, a phony, a fake, and a colossal fraud. And that he’s difficult precisely to the degree that he’s afraid of being exposed.
See, he does it all for you. That’s the thing about Tommy, as his friends call him. If you get him, you love him, so he makes sure you get him right away—he either doesn’t hide anything or he does the more complicated trick of hiding everything by seeming to hide nothing. There’s nothing you can say about him that he hasn’t said himself, and his desire to be understood is so powerful that it makes him seem, for all his purported menace, vulnerable and innocent. Indeed, it’s so powerful that the night before we spoke for the first time, he wrote, by hand, two pages of notes that he subsequently read to me, gripping the paper in both hands. They begin this way: “Who am I? I have no idea.”
He was driving around London, on the way to his house, when I asked him when’s the last time he got into a fight. “The last time I got into a fight?” he said.
"Yeah. You’ve gotten into fights, right?"
"The last time I got into a fight is that I don’t get into fights anymore. Oh, I used to, back when I was a naughty boy, back when I was a little bugger. But it’s too dangerous now. There are too many real athletes out there, men who can do you real damage. And you never know who they are, do you? That man in the corner of the bar, with the glasses and a ledger? Maybe he’s the one. Right? The one you least expect is the one with the goods. You get into a fight with him and you don’t know how it’s going to end up. The water is deep, Tom. And you will be judged.”
And then he added: “I’m not a fighter. I’m a petit little bourgeois boy from London. I don’t fight, I mimic.” And those are two poles by which he lives.
On the one hand, he insists that what he does as an actor is fakery. On the other, he lives in an almost symbolic universe charged with threat and significance, where fighting and fakery—and, for that matter, everything else—are judged by the same standard. And where inauthenticity and authenticity meet in the person and the performances of Tom Hardy.
Indeed, when we pulled up to his house in a London suburb, he sat in the car and talked about the test of an actor on the stage, and for all intents and purposes it might as well have been the test of an operative in some dusty capital where the government was about to fall.
"There are two types of acting: There’s convincing and not convincing. That’s it, right? And so, if you are going to convince people, then put it in the real world. Can you get your passport back? If you needed to get your passport back to get out of a country that you were in danger in, can you do that?
Because you will need that skill. And that’s how your character is going to need to be convincing. So number one: Can you hustle? In the real world, have you got the asset to get whatever it is that you need by any means necessary without putting your hands on somebody? Number two: camouflage. Can you dress yourself up to look like somebody that you’re not? Can you speak another language? Can you do the hustle but in different languages? That’s it.
"And you will be judged."
It is what makes him a great actor.
And it is what drives him a little mad.
When we were in London, he drove around in search of free parking. He doesn’t like to spend money; he has a particular aversion to spending money on parking, and his willingness to jam his car into spaces for which it was not intended accounts in part for its condition. He finally resorted to a cemetery he knew about. It was an old church cemetery on the site of stables once owned by Sir Thomas More, and it lay behind an old wooden gate watched over by an old man selling flowers. Hardy drove through the gate and then drove around the edges of the cemetery, further scratching his car against a hedge and squeezing it between two trees. We got out and walked around, looking for a place to sit down. But everyplace we went was closed, and even in London no one recognized him. We went back to the car, and by this time the wooden gate was closed. Hardy had to get out and open it, and the old flowermonger made a sardonic comment.
"Clever old cunt, isn’t he?" Hardy said as he drove away, but then he threw the car into reverse and bought a bouquet of flowers wrapped in plastic.
"Why did you buy the flowers?" I asked. "I thought he was a clever old cunt."
"He is," Hardy said. "But maybe one day when the water gets deep, he’ll be the one with the skiff. He’ll be the one with the oar, and I’ll be glad I bought flowers from the clever old cunt."
Now we went to his flat, and he placed the flowers on the long kitchen table. The flat was like Hardy’s torso: more modest than might be expected and crowded with images of personal significance. One wall was adorned with paintings by him and every other member of his family, from his mom to his son, Louis, to his wife; another with a gun-range target of an intruder; another with a mirror decorated with the masks of comedy and tragedy and two feathers, one white and one black, that Hardy picked up at a local park and that, like everything else in his world, he could plumb for symbolic meaning. “I’m the white,” he said.
Shortly after we arrived, so did Hardy’s wife, Charlotte Riley, along with their two dogs, both of which Hardy found wandering the streets when he was filming in the United States and had to bring home. Riley played Catherine to Hardy’s Heathcliff in a 2009 British television production ofWuthering Heights, and she is built to his scale and to his temper. Wearing a white jersey and a pair of jeans, she shook my hand and said, “Sorry our home is such a shithole.”
"Charlie’s very special," Hardy said.
"Well, cheers, babe. You’re pretty special too, babe." They kissed, and she said, "Well, this is our home. But we’re renting at the moment because we’re renovating a place." "This is our home," Hardy said. "And there’s nothing wrong with it."
Riley offered tea and biscuits—cookies—and then, bending at the cupboard, said, “I might have offered you something I don’t even have. I’ve offered you a biscuit, but I’m afraid I don’t have any. So there are chocolates.”
"Now you’ve ruined everything," Hardy said. "You’ve promised something you can’t deliver, which is not allowed in this house! Now we have to put out biscuits." Riley ignored him. "I can make myself scarce if you like… ."
"No, I want you to go out and buy some digestives now because you promised the man biscuits and you can’t deliver it. Only do what you say you can!"
It was one of his mottoes. It was also something she’d clearly heard before, and she disappeared upstairs. And yet there is no story in Hardy’s life that does not eventually assume the shape of a morality tale. An hour and a half later, she emerged smashingly in a short shift. “You lookincredible," Hardy said. It was the night of Hardy’s father’s birthday dinner, and when she put her bag down on the kitchen table, she found, among scatterings of stuff, the bouquet of flowers Hardy had cast aside.
"Flowers?" she said. "How nice."
Hardy looked as if he’d forgotten them entirely. “Tulips,” he said, and then, with his crooked teeth, smiled as if he’d just bought the last place on a skiff oared by a clever old cunt in the deepest of waters.
Olly Williams mey Tom Hardy when Williams was twenty-six and Hardy was seventeen. Williams was an instructor at a London gun club frequented by Hardy’s father, Chips. The elder Hardy had said to Williams, “Christ, could you meet my son?”
Hardy’s father was and is a writer and creative director for a large advertising agency. Tom is his only child, and, says Williams, “what we saw was this very handsome, very talented kid who had a beef with his father.”
The problem, Hardy says, is that “I don’t like me very much. Never have.” Put another way: “I was a sensitive. I didn’t want to be a sensitive.”
What he wanted to be was a hard man. Instead, he was a “naughty boy,” a “bugger,” a “scalawag,” a “petit bourgeois pain in the ass.”
He was drinking and drugging and getting kicked out of school. “I was a shameful suburban statistic,” he says.
What Chips Hardy saw in Olly Williams and his brother, Greg, were two hard men who were also, in Olly’s words, “artists and writers and creatives.” Olly was a former soldier who was beginning to turn his interest in conservation into art done in collaboration with wild animals. Greg was a photographer who was going to war zones in Chechnya and Sierra Leone.
What Greg Williams saw was “a beautiful boy, with gorgeous eyes and lips and skin, who really wanted to carry my bags into war. I said no, because he was so young. But he really wanted to. The desire to test himself was already there then and has never really gone away.”
What Olly Williams saw was a boy who was “looking for a brother.” And that’s what Olly and Greg became. “There’s love there—you can use that word with Tom without being a nancy boy or a ‘thes.’ If he loves you, he’s a brother. That’s it. He’s a man who needs a good brother.”
It is his basic psychology, and it is no secret to anyone. It is on display in nearly everything he says and e-mail he writes, big or small, serious or comic. It is also on display in his movies, because it is at the heart of his relationship with directors, from those he likes to those he doesn’t.
"We talked for ten minutes, and I felt very close to him," says Daniel Espinosa, who directs Hardy as a police detective investigating a serial killer in Stalin’s Russia in the upcoming Child 44. ”We both instantly knew each other, because we’re both very interested in family conflict and what it means to be a man. A lot of directors he builds into fathers so that he can rebel against them. Sometimes it doesn’t go well. I was more like his brother.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, on the other hand, was more like a father. But he was also Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he also shared a history of addiction, and he was also, in Hardy’s phrase for virtually every director he’s respected, “a leader of men.” And so when Hoffman directed Hardy in a 2010 production of Brett C. Leonard’s The Long Red Road, the experience became fundamental to Hardy’s understanding of what kind of truths could be found in fakery.
"What Tom wanted, more than anything else, was to please Phil," Leonard says. "And Phil was not easy to please. What he demanded was that you be true to the character and the story, and Tom wanted to please him. Finally, Tom said, ‘It’s really hard for me to play a part that I know you could play better.’
And Phil said, ‘I wasn’t even offered the part. Brett didn’t write the part for me, and I’ll never have it. I’ve seen you do every part in this play better than any actor could ever do them, so let’s get it together and do this play.’ And that was the turning point. It was an amazing thing to be around.”
Here’s how Tom Hardy describeswhat goes on in his own head: “And then there’s this character that goes, ‘Well, fuck it.’ Which is a very small voice, but a very dangerous voice, and you’d rather have this character working for you than against. It’s a very useful character. It’s got me a lot of scripts. It’s a trickster—not the best person to have at the driving wheel of the person who is me, but a very useful character to have in the council of the head. I’ve just got to deploy it in the right position. And celebrate in the right way, because that kind of trickster character makes the wrong decisions at the wrong time. It’s very hard to cut your teeth in a business without making a bit of a mess of things, getting a bit of a reputation, but if you don’t have a reputation, then no one will fucking want you, anyway… .”
The “trickster”—or, as he also calls it, “the saboteur”—has always been part of him, as far back as he can remember. ” ‘Tommy, don’t touch the fire.’ Boom—right away my hand’s in the fucking fire.” When does it whisper its counsel into his ear? Usually when things are going well, and he’s feeling … inauthentic.
He tells a story about his early success. He was in Band of Brothers andBlack Hawk Down when he was
twenty-four; Star Trek Nemesis when he was twenty-five. The story is about meeting the hard man he played in Black Hawk Down.
"I asked him how he liked the movie," Hardy says, "but really I was asking how he liked me. I thought he’d be honored that I played him. He said he liked it fine, but that I looked nothing like him. He said he was the hairiest man in the unit, and I looked like a fucking model, and that besides, the movie made it look like he was connected to the death of another soldier. That stayed with me for a long time. It stays with me now.”
Was this—and the consequent feeling of fraudulence—what set loose the saboteur? Hardy says no. He says that he’s an addict, and that’s all there is to it. But the saboteur nevertheless began speaking, the naughty boy began listening, and he not only drank and drugged, he found the perfect prescription for his “low self-esteem and raging ego”:
"I was told very clearly, ‘You go down that road, Tom, you won’t come back. That’s it. All you need to know. And that message stayed with me very clearly for the rest of my days. The beginning, really, of a new life.
"I couldn’t value life until I risked losing something worth more to me than my behavior. I’m fucking lucky to be here, to be honest. Any near-death experience—if you’re lucky enough to fucking realize that it is one—is going to leave an indelible mark on you. And then you add shame and guilt and fear into that, it’s a recipe for awareness if you have the ability to become aware from it. And good things can come back into your life."
No, it wasn’t acting that saved his life. It was the prospect of death. But it was acting that told him how to keep his life saved once he was sober. In 2007, he played the title character in a movie made for British television,Stuart: A Life Backwards. Homeless, alcoholic, sociopathic, a junkie in and out of jail, scrawny, his face askew and his pants falling down, and yet keenly sympathetic, Stuart had not only been a real person; he was a real person Hardy played in order to show some hidden part of himself.
"Character transformations started happening to me because I got tired of not being able to get on the floor," he says. He means not being able to get jobs. But the transformation went deeper than that, and to this day meeting Tom Hardy feels less like meeting a movie star than it does like meeting Stuart, cleaned up instead of dead.
What is he afraid of? The answer is simple, if unexpected. “I have always been frightened with men,” Hardy told me. “To the point where I couldn’t go into a gym because of the testosterone, and I felt weak.”
"I don’t feel very manly," he wrote in an e-mail. "I don’t feel rugged and strong and capable in real life, not how I imagine a man ought to be. So I seek it, to mimic it and maybe understand it, or maybe to draw it into my own reality."
"People who are scary, they terrify me, but I can imitate them," he said. "I can stay terrified, or I can imitate what terrifies me."
In 2008, a year after he made Stuart, Hardy made Bronson, turning his terror into something terrifying. For four years, he talked to Charles Bronson, known as the most violent prisoner in the British penal system—the hardest of hard men. When Hardy started training for the role, he weighed 150 pounds, and though he changed his body, he says that he never gained more than 15. He shaved his head and grew a handlebar mustache, and what he calls “intention” did the rest: The physical transformation required by the role allowed him to express everything he knew about men and fear and fear of men, and he succeeded in scaring not just audiences but people on the set.
The screenwriter Kelly Marcel was there, and out of gratitude for the work she did on the Bronson script, Hardy has tattooed the nickname SKRIBE on his right arm. “Tommy is excessive, for good and for bad,” she says. “But you have to know what you’re in for with him. You don’t show up without knowing what you’re doing, because he’s going to come at you full force like an uncaged fucking lion.”
Was Hardy difficult during the filming of Bronson? The director, Nicolas Winding Refn, says he was anything but. ” ‘Difficult’ is when they don’t care. So I would never in a million years describe Tom as difficult. He was eager. He wants to be your instrument. He wants you to be part of him, he wants you to devour him, he wants you to use him up.”
But the problems on Bronson had less to do with Hardy’s willingness than they did with Refn’s preparation. “The script wasn’t right,” says Marcel, “and Tom was like, ‘Look, I’m not saying this. I’ve given you months, now here it is, and I’m not saying it.’ “
When Hardy’s asked about it, he answers as if to Refn himself and as if his objections could never leave the present tense: “If something’s full of holes, don’t be surprised if I point them out. If you’re fair weather and haven’t been able to contribute to the challenge, why challenge me when you don’t have the strength? You said the work would be done and it hasn’t been done, and so whose fault is it that we’re in confrontation? You can call that difficult—I call that not being prepared. You can call that difficult—I call it being betrayed.
"It’s full of holes, man. And I can’t have it full of holes. I can’t lie. Because I’m terrified of being found out as a fraud."
Bronson did not make him a movie star. What it did, however, was reintroduce him to Hollywood as an actor with the potential for stardom. He had not worked in Hollywood in six years, but suddenly “Bronsonbecame the must-see movie for casting directors and CAA executives,” says Hardy’s producing partner, Dean Baker. Hell, people still remember the experience of seeing Bronson and then seeing Tom Hardy walk through the door for a meeting—all 150 pounds of him. It was less a movie-star moment than it was a “how in hell did he do that?” one.
So how did he do it? How does he do it? His answer: He steals. He calls himself a magpie; his friend Olly Williams calls him a black mynah bird to the extent that “whenever I see Tommy, I can tell where he’s been and who he’s been with just by the way he talks.” It’s why Hardy, for all the comparisons to Brando, claims never to have seen his most important movies. “I’ve never watched On the Waterfront. People think I’m lazy, but if I watched it, I would steal it, wouldn’t I? Because I steal everything. One day, I’m going to steal you.”
And Bane? Did he steal Bane?
"I dropped a bomb. I was talking with Chris Nolan and said, ‘I have a voice for Bane.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘It’s based on something I saw on YouTube.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘It’s the voice of a Romany bare-knuckle fighter named Bartley Gorman.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ And then I did the voice."
He never had to try anything else. “At first, I responded with a great deal of trepidation, because like everything else that comes from Tom, it’s off the beaten track,” says Christopher Nolan. “Then I became massively excited, because when you work with a great actor—and Tom is one of the greatest—you start to understand that they’ve found something. It just becomes part of the character. It’s something that you’re never going to be able to take away from the character. It’s not really a matter of having an opinion about it—it just is. Okay, that’s Bane.”
And yet if you seek out the YouTube videos of Bartley Gorman, you’ll find that he sounds very little like Bane. “In saying that he copied this voice, Tom oversimplifies his process greatly,” Nolan says. “What he did is actually quite different from the source material. There is no simple answer for where that voice came from.”
No one cared who I was till I put on the mask: That is how Hardy famously introduces himself as Bane.
"People didn’t sit up and take any notice of me until I started putting on weight and kicking people and being aggressive": That is how Hardy explains the course of his own career. He has used his voice as a mask, he has used his body as a mask, he has used his aggression as a mask, he has used his reputation as a mask, and now the mask has both trapped him and set him free: "The trouble with Hollywood is that they want you to do something, they want you to be something, and then they think you are who they wanted you to be," he says.
At the same time, Hardy is in such demand that he no longer has to subject his body to the rigors of transformation, and he gets the opportunity to do movies like Steven Knight’s upcoming Locke. Hardy does not wear a mask in Locke, just his own gingery beard. He wears no added bulk, either, except for an extra cable-knit sweater. He swigs cold medicine only because during filming he had the sniffles.
He doesn’t kick anyone; he never even gets out of his car. For almost ninety minutes, he is the only visible character and all he does is talk on the phone via Bluetooth in a low, unwavering Welsh-accented voice lifted from a security contractor who once escorted him to Kabul. There is not a single phone call in Locke that any man would wish either to make or to receive; there is also not a single phone call that Locke flinches from, and so the movie becomes a thriller about one man’s moral choices. At the start, a concrete contractor named Ivan Locke has a family, a wife, and a job; at the end, he has only his brutal and brutalized integrity. At any time, he could make life easier for himself and those he loves by lying, but he never does. He barely even raises his voice, and when, at the end, he has to endure the most devastating call of all, the only thing that moves on his face is a tear trickling down his cheek.
Of course, Locke can be seen as the opposite of Bronson. It can also be seen as Bronson's bookend. Spielberg called Hardy after seeing Locke at Sundance. And what he asked—what everyone asks after seeing Locke—is the same question people asked after seeing Bronson:
How did you do that?
The day after I met with Hardyat his flat, I talk with him again in the restaurant of London’s Soho Hotel. He shouldn’t be here. He’s not supposed to be here. It’s the day of the BAFTAs—the British equivalent of the Academy Awards. A few years ago, he not only lost when he thought he should have won for Stuart; he cared when he thought he didn’t. “I behaved badly with the camera on me. If you’re like me and have no skin, it’s no place to be.” He swore never to go again, but on this night he’s accompanying Kelly Marcel—nominated for her Saving Mr. Banksscreenplay—and he’s presenting the award for Best Actress. It’s a movie-star moment, and a tux and a groomer await him in a room upstairs.
Right now, though, he doesn’t look like a movie star. Right now, he’s a bearded man in jeans and a long-sleeved black jersey, rubbing his own head and puffing an e-cigarette as contemplatively as a geezer with a meerschaum. Nobody bothers him. Nobody seems to recognize him, for it’s early yet and the restaurant is still given over to civilians. Then the first tuxedoed man appears, and the first woman whose body appears less a manifestation of nature than of will, and there is a chemical change. The patrons become more purposeful, their movements more ritualized; they are not only either more contained or more expansive; they appear to have chosen to be so.
And they recognize Tom Hardy. They are not movie stars; they are not famous people—they are money people; they finance movies and get them made. They recognize Hardy because they’ve placed bets on Hardy, and they approach him. Among friends, Hardy is big on “cuddles”—hugs—but these men don’t cuddle, they clasp, and then talk about the running times of Hardy’s upcoming movies. The first man talks about Child 44; the second, a few minutes later, about Mad Max.
He is especially sleek and satiny; if Hardy ever plays Bond, he’ll have to snap the neck of someone who looks just like him. Instead, Hardy asks, “Have you seen it?”
"Yes," the man says. "It’s six hours."?
"It’s going to be awesome, though."
"Yes, at two hours and twenty minutes."
Hardy cocks a playful finger at the man. “Two-forty.”
"Two-twenty," the man says, and then is gone.
Hardy sits back down at the table and activates his e-cigarette. His shoulders are frozen in a shrug, and he scans the room.
"Who are these people?" I ask.
"Sharks, Tom," he says. "Can’t you see it in their eyes?"
And he will be judged.
He, who has made all of life a test, is finally being tested. Mad Max: Fury Road took six months to film, primarily in Namibia. It was filmed primarily in the desert, filmed where there was nothing—anything that existed had to come into existence, had to be built or shipped in. “It was a really hard place for a star,” says Kelly Marcel, who came to the set when Hardy needed to figure out his character. Oh, it was madness, really. “Some of the stuff they were doing, it’s unbelievable,” Hardy says. “Like fifty vehicles out at once, moving across the desert at forty kilometers an hour, the whole movie on the move, cars and vehicles as platforms of action—it’s crazy. And none of it’s CGI. It’s almost too much. It’s like trying to fit three alligators in a bathtub. It’s like trying to take a shower in a bathtub with three alligators. Imagine that.”
And the feud with Charlize Theron?
"The feud with Charlize Theron?"
"All you have to do is enter your name into an Internet search. People are afraid of you."
He is sitting in the restaurant of the Soho Hotel. He leans over his e-cigarette and takes a puff.
"That’s disappointing," he says. "I think she’s fucking awesome. I think she’s incredible. I think she’s one of the most talented actresses of our generation. But it’s very interesting, the concept of what danger is, and this has nothing to do with Charlize Theron or Mad Max, actually, but this has to do with life in general. There is a flicker of energy that can come from certain people, whether it’s fear-based or whether it’s contrived, which can unsettle a room. And if somebody mismanages that, or if a trickster is in the driving seat of that particular asset and has no business being there in said room, well … but I am no more threat than a puppy. People are frightened by passion and heart. I’m terrified of it. And by decision making, especially if it’s not their own. There are many sides to a coin as well.
Reputation can work for you and against you, but I’d rather have one than not have one. But at the same time, it better be the fucking right one. It has to be authentic. It will have my signature on it. If I punch somebody in the face, they will know it. If I haven’t, someone knows as well.”
That you haven’t?
"Yeah, if there’s a transaction that hasn’t actually happened and it’s a bullshit reputation, someone on the planet knows. And if it has happened, someone on the planet knows, whether it’s that person or a witness. But I guarantee there are more witnesses for that which hasn’t happened. Because witnesses we don’t need." He laughs, the occasional high-pitched whinny he uses not to express merriment but to punctuate his sentences. "If I really wanted to hurt somebody, I would."
I already know he is not an ambassador. I’ve known that from the first, because he told me. And now he asks a question of his own. It’s not in the form of a question, but he puts forth a scenario intended as a test of me.
"There’s not a single person who has had to lead who hasn’t upset somebody, has a huge fucking demographic of people who dislikes them, hates them, and wants them dead. Well, in that case, if somebody hates me or dislikes me, then that’s a compliment. I’ve done something right. And you only have to judge me on my integrity and whether you believe, whether you feel that I am somebody who you’d let look after your daughter for the afternoon. You don’t have to answer that, Tom, but I guarantee that you could leave your daughter with me and my little boy and we’d have a great afternoon, and that would be that."
Esquire has put a lot of movie stars on the cover of the magazine. Tom Hardy is not a movie star. He is not yet a movie star. But we are putting him on the cover because we saw his performance in Locke and because we want to ask if all movie stars now have to be ambassadors or if they can be allowed to unsettle a room like Tom Hardy. But here’s the thing: We asked Hardy to shave his beard first, so that he would be recognizable. And here’s what he said:
"Don’t get me wrong, there is part of me that wants to win an Oscar and wants to be on the front cover of a magazine and all that kind of stuff, but there’s also a part of me that really doesn’t. I’m not the guy you need—I’m not a role model. Don’t look too deep, because after you scratch the surface you are going to find out that I’m normal and I’ve got skeletons in my closet.
"But my intentions are good, and if you want to talk to me about the work, or if you want to work with me on something, then I hope you find that I’m a reliable team player. But you have to be as open and honest about it as I am, because you will be fucking judged, as I’ve been. But let’s have some fun! Some people will hate you, some people will like you, but then most people are completely indifferent about the fuck of my ideas and why the fuck he’s even being talked to. Who the fuck is this guy with the crooked teeth and the beard? He’s fucking ugly. Nobody buys a magazine with a beard on the front.
"So I ain’t shaving my beard for you. To shave my beard off would be to cut my fucking nuts off. You know what I mean? And give them to you to sell—to prove that I am a man. But without them, I am no longer. You sold them! And I am now a lie. Why would I do that? Oh, I’m a serious actor. Yes, I am. I cut my beard off, how do I look?”
So now is the time to answer his question and ours: When you close the magazine, take a look at the photograph of Tom Hardy on the cover. How does he look? Does he look like a movie star—or simply like a bloke with balls and a beard?
Source: http://www.esquire.com/features/tom-hardy-interview-photos-0514?click=promo, supplemented via thaac! Many thanks! (I only got part)