September 9, 2011
TimesOnline via strikethetinderbox
Bulking up to 180lb for his new film, Warrior, has made the London-born actor a heavy hitter in Hollywood
Tom Hardy is huge, in every way. No really. On screen, in his new movie, Warrior, he’s a mixed martial arts monster bulging with 180lb of garish, eye-gouging muscle. In the flesh he’s even bigger, now up to 184lbs for his role as beefy über-villain Bane in the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. “I’m very excited! I’ve managed to put another 4lbs on, and it’s not fat!” announces the 33-year-old West Londoner, rocking his hefty frame on the edge of a couch in a swish London hotel suite and stroking his freshly shorn head affectionately (Bane is bald).
Hardy is huge too in Hollywood, where his sudden star is blindingly bright, and where he turned A-list heads with his prison biopicBronson (“Leonardo DiCaprio saw it, and loved it, and took me under his wing”). He has since stolen scenes in Inception and the upcoming Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and will ultimately carry an entire blockbuster franchise when the Mad Max series is rebooted early next spring with Hardy in the title role.
But mostly we know that Hardy is huge because of the gaggle of LA publicists who flit solicitously around him all afternoon, and who instantly eject a serious French journalist from his room when she dares to ask him about his criminal past (at 15, he was arrested, famously, in a stolen Mercedes with a gun). He later confesses to me that he surreptitiously texted his publicist during that interview, “Get rid of this one! Get them out now!” But then he puts his sudden ascent into the wider context of a Hollywood story that’s somehow even bigger than him and requires his compliance. “It’s a very different system now, and I’m getting fast-tracked, and learning how it works.
“My agents will say that this can keep going, and we can churn up interest, and keep pushing and campaigning, and go all the way, and there’s Oscars, and there’s red carpets, big productions and big movies. I can’t say no to that. So I’ve got to take this as far as this will go, and in the way that it’s going.”
I have ambiguous feelings about this. For a start, Hardy is one of the great conversationalists, with a rapid-fire delivery that’s akin to sing-songy street poetry — a Molière quote here, a Homer reference there, and a bit of extreme revelation on top. For instance, on sex, he muses: “Sex is very interesting. You’re trying to get into another mother’s womb. Even if it’s half-arsed. Half of you, biologically, makes it back. It’s like The Odyssey.” On his often-fragile mental state he decides: “So, did I walk on the wrong side of the tracks? Hell, yeah. Am I capable of getting up and strangling that waitress? Yeah. Is it sensible? You know the answer to that! I’m not mad!” In short, no matter how many publicists try to mould this voice into cosy sound-bites, it won’t work.
Also, Hardy and I have met each other every year now for three years. There have been texts in between and one late-night call. I have been flattered by his ostensible attentions just as I have been struck, especially during our first long encounter, by the Little Boy Lost in the essence of Hardy (his soft and sad downturned eyes could twang the strings of the blackest heart). Back then he spoke at length about his middle-class background, his issues with his mother, his need to feel loved by his father, and why he wasn’t charged for the Merc and gun incident (“I was very lucky to be with a diplomat’s son. And if he wasn’t there I couldn’t be there either, and if I couldn’t be there, then the gun wasn’t there. I just had to sign a form and walk away”).
He spoke too about his addictions and the drug and alcohol-fuelled benders that culminated in a collapse in Soho, in 2002, in a pool of his own vomit with a crack-pipe in hand.
At the time he was on the eve of his first Hollywood foray, playing the villain in Star Trek: Nemesis. But the career had to be curtailed, as rehab followed and Hardy sought to manage an addictive personality that has since never moved beyond huge devotion to work and a little light meditation.
And in our last interview he waltzed into the room and launched straight into a dissection of his love life, confessing to the end of his relationship with assistant director Rachael Speed, the mother of his three-year-old son, Louis, and the beginning of his new love with Charlotte Riley (his co-star in the TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and now his fiancée).
Thus, I worry, genuinely, about how the Hollywood machine will tackle, or mangle, someone as seemingly fragile as Hardy. Just as I am frustrated by the blur between the professional and the personal in our relationship — he tells me, for instance, the unvarnished truth about making a recent movie, and about the ineptitude of one “talent” in particular, before adding, “This is between you and me, that part. I’m sworn to secrecy, but you’re cool.”
Of course, it’s obvious what the machine itself wants from Hardy. He is currently one of the most exciting screen actors of his generation, leagues ahead of workmanlike peers such as Jake Gyllenhaal, James Franco or Shia LaBeouf, and boasting a simmering intensity not seen since early DeNiro. Warrior, for instance, is a macho slice of pugilistic mayhem that might once have been found in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s rejection bin. It’s about two brothers, Tommy (Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) who enter a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament in Atlantic City, under the watchful eye of their former alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte). The brothers, naturally, end up fighting each other in the final, while the movie, directed by Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory), reveals itself to be an extended homo-erotic paean to real men’s inability to express their love.
And yet, in Hardy’s hands Warrior becomes a thing of beauty and sadness. Yes, he has bulked up obscenely for the role (all weight gained, he reveals, from eight weeks of eating nothing but chicken and broccoli while training for a whopping eight hours a day). But there’s also a painful tension between his physical bulk and his vulnerability — the soft feminine pillow lips and those wounded, Brando eyes. His scenes with Nolte are heartbreaking, especially when he yells at the latter: “Where were you when it mattered? I needed this guy back when I was a kid. It’s too late. I don’t need you now!”
Similarly, in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy his charismatic Ricki Tarr is a jobbing MI6 agent in Istanbul who suddenly becomes a nervous target on both sides of the Iron Curtain and who trusts only the presence of Gary Oldman’s George Smiley. The pair have pivotal, and intense, conversational scenes together, which have nourished the man-crush in Hardy — “I am totally, totally in love with him. Most of my time in Tinker, Tailor is doing duologues with good Sir Gary, which is f***ing awesome!”
Hardy, however, and despite flawless turns in Bronson andInception, sees nothing inevitable about his current stand in the spotlight. “Something like Star Trek came very early. And it was like an inoculation against what can be. I was like: ‘OK, if this ever happens again, be warned, it is quite overwhelming. And it can be exposing in many ways.’ ”
But back in the Star Trek days Hardy was another beast entirely. The only child of advertising copywriter and occasional playwright Edward Hardy and his artist wife Anne, he was the archetypal wild child from the Richmond ’burbs, nurturing authority issues and a burgeoning teenage drug habit (“I demanded to be treated like an adult, although I was very high on crack and all kinds of shit at the time. A real rich middle-class twat”).
He nonetheless parlayed his angst and rebellion into a successful acting career and, despite being thrown out of two London drama schools, easily balanced private indiscretions with plaudits for his emerging stage career – from Man of Mode at the National to Festenat the Almeida to In Arabia We’d All Be Kings at the Hampstead Theatre, for which he won an Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Newcomer.
Naturally, the movies came calling, first with a small part in Black Hawk Down, and then the lead villain in Star Trek, which was duly accompanied by the aforementioned interpersonal implosion (see crack-pipe, Soho, etc). At the time he was married to the producer Sarah Ward — they met on the streets of Covent Garden and were wed three weeks later. But she too became a casualty of his collapse. “I lost my wife because of my behaviour,” he once told me. “I ended up in hospital, and had to go back home and live with my mummy, and learn to walk again.”
Hardy, of course, has learnt to walk again in spectacular fashion. He says, nonetheless, that staying straight is a daily struggle, but that he combats the old urges with meditation, Xbox and some serious conversations with close friends. He’s in between homes at the moment, spending time in America and about to head into a full year’s shooting in Australia for Mad Max. He talks about this, about serious acting, and about how you work with someone like DiCaprio in Inception (“There’s no point in fighting for alpha-male dominance with someone like Leonardo DiCaprio. You know? Get in where you f***ing fit in!”) He talks too about other movies and how his current star moment will crash into inevitable obscurity. “It will end for me tomorrow, be sure of it,” he says. “As it has for every other actor.” This is pure shtick. I’ve heard it a hundred times before from Hardy and, taking advantage of that blurred line between us, I groan and tell him to change the record, and that he’ll be saying the same in ten years’ time.
“That’s a lovely thing to say,” he shoots back, the sad eyes suddenly vulnerable again. “You expect to see me in ten years? Well, I don’t. I don’t think like that. I genuinely think that I have to put in the effort for right now. Because right now is all I have.”