November 27, 2003
London Evening Standard
Despite a shaky start involving gun possession and being thrown out of two drama schools, Tom Hardy’s career has blossomed. Now, the young actor voted Best Newcomer at this week’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards is becoming a Hollywood action hero.
At the age of 26, he has already been a super-villain in Star Trek, performed his own stunt in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and received ecstatic reviews for his appearances on stage at the Hampstead and Royal Court Theatres. As Luca in the Royal Court’s Blood, he went to bed with Francesca Annis’s Rosa, and as Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis he had to play the devious clone of Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard. And now he has won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Newcomer. Not bad at all for someone who jokes cheerfully, as we walk across Richmond Green, that he was thrown out of his first drama school for being ‘a pimp and an alleycat’. Not bad for someone who saw the inside of his first police cell at the age of 15.
There is nothing two-dimensional about West Londoner Tom Hardy, who is being touted as a major heartthrob yet does not have the manicured attitude that accompanies such an image. Within seconds of meeting him, you are struck by the exuberance of a rebellious mind that rushes dizzily from one idea to another. ‘My philosophy is to jump in with both feet, and then step out tentatively. And then try again. Make a huge mistake but for the right reasons.’ This is a recurring theme in every story Hardy tells – and certainly seems an appropriate attitude for his latest role. Two days after we meet, he will start filming as Christopher Marlowe in The Golden Man, and there is no doubt that he is utterly beguiled by playing the Elizabethan rebel who was deeply immersed in the 16th-century underworld. ‘I would have given body parts to do the role,’ he laughs, ‘even though I got thrown out of the Drama Centre [his second drama school] for not completing a dissertation on Marlowe. My father got a first for the dissertation he did at Cambridge on Marlowe – and I’ve always been fascinated with the playwright. The live fast, die young thing really appealed to me.’ Hardy underlines that the die young part of the equation no longer appeals to him as he moves towards his late twenties with more experiences under his belt than most can boast of in their forties. He doesn’t want to talk about his marriage of five years, which is just going into divorce proceedings, but he is more open about the fact that he was thrown out of Richmond College For The Performing Arts because he never turned up to classes. He was born in Sheen and, since the collapse of his marriage, he stays there with his parents when not filming. He admits that despite having a happy middleclass upbringing, ‘I’ve always been a terror. At school I quickly found out that I didn’t like the rules.’ When asked about an incident in his teens when he and a friend were arrested in possession of a stolen Mercedes and a gun, he declares, ‘I’ve always had a problem with discipline – but now I have more adult ways of dealing with it.
I went against the grain, and I think it was something to do with being an only child and the whole alpha-male thing.’ Is his father an alpha male? ‘He was the first member of his family to get in to university – up till then several of them worked as firefighters. My mother comes from an Irish family of eight – she’s Catholic and I’m not, so she’s going into hell and I’m going into limbo.’ This last comment is delivered with a good-humoured laugh – partly a joke, partly the product of a brain that constantly seems to be working out where Hardy stands in the greater scheme of things. It is this, as much as his bad-boy past, that seems to explain the superlative reviews he has received for this year’s appearances on stage. The Independent declared that he played the smack-head, Skank, ‘brilliantly’ in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s In Arabia We’d All Be Kings at the Hampstead Theatre in May, while the Royal Court’s Blood, even though subject to mixed reviews, saw Hardy singled out by the Evening Standard for investing Luca with ‘raw energy and suppressed desperation’. So how does Hardy feel when he appears on stage? ‘Terrified – every time. You’re bringing a character to life in a gladiatorial ring where people want to see you fail.’ By far the most terrifying incident in Hardy’s career, however, seems to have been when he performed his own stunt for Black Hawk Down, in which he played Twombly. ‘There’s a bit where I get shot in the back and set on fire. Ridley told me he thought a stunt man should do it, but I begged him to let me take over and, in the end, he agreed. They strapped four Roman candles to my backpack.
I was wearing a bullet-proof backplate and protective clothing, and my heart was beating very fast. When the rockets went off, I hit the deck keeping my head to my chest, and then ran around the corner where the stunt men ripped off my clothes, down to my boxer shorts, and put me out! I’ll always love Ridley for letting me do that.’ Now, Hardy’s biggest challenge is to learn to cope with the praise currently dominating his career and the burden of expectancy that falls upon every Evening Standard Best Newcomer.
‘When I was nine, I ran in a school race, and I suddenly realised I was in the lead. I looked at the finishing line, and just freaked out, then ran to the side as if I’d hurt myself. It was everything to do with fear of success.
And I never want that to happen again.’
Thanks for the find go to Charlidos.