March 13, 2009
This Is Nottingham
Much like Guy Ritchie, in whose RockNRolla he appeared, Tom Hardy’s ‘mockney’ persona hasn’t warmed him to many. Telling EG that Charles Bronson is a “genius” who “should be released” won’t help. SIMON WILSON met the star of Bronson, the latest movie filmed in Notts…
BRONSON is probably the best film to come out of Nottinghamshire since Saturday Night & Sunday Morning. And much of its brilliance is down to the performance of its lead Tom Hardy.
He plays Britain’s most notorious prisoner Charles Bronson, a terrifyingly violent inmate who has spent 30 of his 34 years in prison contained in solitary confinement.
Hardy feels that his “subject”, who he has met on a number of occasions, doesn’t deserve to be where he is.
“I hope he gets decategorised at some point and rehabilitated slowly towards his freedom,” says the 31-year-old actor.
“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t. There are murderers who are released back on to the street.”
Then again, during the interview he would also claim: “I’m not here to judge my characters.”
It’s hard to tell if he’s simply a clumsy interviewee or nervous but Hardy peppers the chat with oddities that really make little sense. At one point he states: “Is the film worth talking about? Yes because it exists.”
Back to the witness for the defence: “This is a man who has never killed somebody. Who is locked in a cell next to people who have killed. I’ve met them.
“One ate the brains of his cell mate. Another who killed four children. Another one who chopped his wife up and posted her through her mother’s letterbox.”
Hardy admits he was uneasy going into Wakefield high-security prison to meet Bronson in preparation for the role.
“I was very nervous. My hang-ups and prejudices of going into a prison and being surrounded by murderers… as with everything, these things turn out to be more pedestrian. The fear of being hit is much worse than being hit.”
Bronson didn’t hit him.
“I’ve given him numerous occasions to bash me. And if he was going to he would have done. I’m an irritating little bugger. I am quite cheeky.”
So how did he find him?
“Very measured and well meaning and articulate.
“I’m not in any way enamoured by him,” he insists, but he he does describe him as a “genius” and ” a remarkable creature”.
What is surprising with Hardy is his size. On the big screen, as Bronson, he is a menacing bulk. In person he’s muscular but lean.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors. I’m Bronson size now, though I had a lot more fat on me because it was a brawler’s shape.”
He had to pack on three stone in just five weeks for the role.
Today, Hardy is in his gym gear, taking a break from an on-going fitness regime with his trainer Peanut, who is waiting outside. Peanut is a martial arts expert from the Bronx, who trained to be a rabbi.
Haven’t we all.
The training is for his next role as a cage fighter in Warrior opposite Nick Nolte for which he’ll be adding a further two and half stone.
Lions Gate, the film’s production company, aren’t happy with his progress, he admits.
“We’ve been training ridiculously hard for the past ten days. A lot of weights, a lot of wrestling, a lot of kicking and punching. We put a tape together and sent it over and they said ‘we’re really disappointed – you’re not working hard enough’, he laughs. “It’s horrible and you want to cry. Well I do. But you just have to get on with it.”
Unlike Hardy, keeping fit is a way of life for Charles Bronson, whose real name is Michael Peterson.
“With Charlie that’s his tool,” says Hardy.
“It’s where they have no control over him. He said to me ‘it does their head in’.
“They can lock him up but they can’t physically stop him taking care of himself.
“Being physically fit is intrinsic to him surviving. Being in a cage, anybody, regardless of their crime, for 30 years is a tremendous act of endurance.
“And psychologically, I think a [testament to] the fact that the man is completely a genius.”
Bronson was born Michael Peterson to a middle-class family in Wales 56 years ago. It was after the family moved to Merseyside that he started getting into trouble, escalating from school bully to arm robber.
The former circus strongman and bareknuckle fighter was jailed for a bungled armed robbery in 1974.
He was 21.
Due to repeat attacks on fellow inmates and prison guards, hostage taking and rooftop protests – except for a few months when he was released – Bronson has been inside ever since.
Hardy’s world couldn’t be more different: he’s a private boys’ school graduate who has appeared in the award-winning HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, Ridley Scott’s war thriller Black Hawk Down and as a clone of USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek Nemesis.
He admits a fascination with dysfunction – one of the reasons he was draw to play Bronson but he’s aware of the danger of him appearing to be a “suburban middle-class mockney” by becoming matey with a dangerous criminal.
“I’m here to challenge myself,” he recalls of what he thought after their first meeting.
“Can I shape shift in an environment that is quite daunting but I think would be nice to shine a light in to? That’s the nature of any interesting dramas, you shine a light in to place that not many people know about.”
Does Bronson see the film as his last throw of the dice, to getting out? “Absolutely not. The Free Bronson campaign was trundling alongside constantly but none of us are trying to fight for him or against him.
“We wanted to make it a good film.”
He says he told Bronson: “I think this film could do you more harm than good.”
They are now mates, of sorts. Bronson has his mobile number and calls him now and again.
“He’s like ‘what are you eating? What’s going on out the window?’”
Though he admits: “I don’t know really what Charlie thinks, I don’t really know why he’s like that.”
Some have criticised the film for glorifying a violent man, paying little attention to his victims.
“The film isn’t about the victims,” he says, oddly.
“This film is about one man’s drive and ambition to be somebody. He wants to become a brand of some sort.”
Then he adds: “I don’t think it’s got anything to do with Charlie Bronson at all. It was more my job to portray Charlie in this script.
“And the script was from an angle of a man who didn’t really care about who Charlie Bronson was.
“What he [director Nicolas Winding Refn] cared about was why is he so ambitious and why does he want to make such a bloody noise?’
There was further controversy this week at the London premiere when a recording of Bronson’s voice was played to introduce the film.
In the speech he says: “People will see what I was, what I once was, a man trapped up in an evil and corrupt penal system.”
Then adds: “I’m proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on.”
Not that he has seen it.
Nor is he likely to for many years – if ever. Rumours that it would be screened in his prison were dismissed by the Home Office as “ludicrous.”
What does Hardy reckon Bronson would think of the film?
“I’m sure he’ll be cool with it. We’ve done him a good turn.”
Brief audio clip of the interview: