Right now, Tom Hardy is what you’d call ‘on it’. With a flurry of projects due in multiplexes over the next 18 months, the Hammersmith-born actor who used to twist himself into anxious, self-loathing, substance-abusing knots of worrying where his next job was going to come from is, as he puts it, “in a very good place”.
For starters, there’s this months tasty twosome: mixed martial-arts fight drama Warrior and a new version of John Le Carré’s spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Then comes The Wettest County In The World, a Depression-era crime dram about bootleggers from The Proposition’s John Hillcoat and Nick Cave, followed by – of all things – This Means War, a romcom with Reese Witherspoon. And last but definitely not least, there will be Mad Max: Fury Road (locked in scheduling nightmares, but due to go into production in early 2012) and the role he’s shooting as we speak: Bat-nemesis Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Reclining on the sofa of a Soho hotel suite, fiddling with an unlit cigar, as his upper-body muscles threaten to rip through his snug, long-sleeved shirt, Hardy’s looking and acting like a player. There’s a brash confidence (combined with a tangible sense of exhaustion – the guy’s been working his nuts off lately) that’s more noticeable than it was a year ago, when we first met the now 33 year old actor in the presence of his best friend and personal trainer, and African-American ex-rabbi/Marine from the Bronx named Peanut. Then Hardy proved a mile-a-minute conversationalist, ripping through his new body-conscious training regime (his days of wine and crack pipes are long behind him) but still ‘fessing up to a few addictions: coffee, cigarettes, sugar. “My naughty bits…”
A year later, the fags are history, the conversation less frantic, but the caffeine still needed. “One espresso coming up,” says a publicist. As for that cigar, it’s for his ‘passion project’ playing Al Capone in Cicero but, meanwhile, he’s currently on “priority call” for The Dark Knight Rises and has been shooting scenes around the UK before heading off to the States. A relative newcomer in the Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Bane wasn’t the villain on fanboy lips when Hardy’s name first cropped up. He recalls Nolan phoning him up while he was shooting This Means War in Vancouver to sound him out about playing the chemically enhanced muscleman, and pressing him hard on whether he’d get frustrated acting behind a mask. “I remember saying, ‘Hang on a minute. You’re asking me to come round the world with you, playing a villain in a Batman movie, and the only downside is I have to wear a mask? Hmm, let me think. I’ll get back to you… No, I’m fucking there, man! Anything you need.”
The Brit filmmaker has promised a “new interpretation” for Bane – which we assume means something very far away from the inarticulate thug who cropped up in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin – but he hasn’t clarified how he’ll deviate from the comic-book’s vision of a freaky-strong, highly intelligent criminal mastermind who, at one point, broke the Gotham City crimefighter’s spine. Put the question to Hardy and he suddenly resembles the Cheshire Cat. “Mmmm…” he grins, stroking his chin. “Good lead-in, but all I can say is that Chris has a plan up his sleeve that’s not at all disappointing. And that is a definite choice that’s watertight in every respect. I think Bane’s fucking cool so I’m really excited to play him. It’s not the guy in Joel Schumacher’s film, but it shouldn’t disappoint fanboys…”
With Heath Ledger’s Joker still lingering large in people’s minds, is Hardy feeling the pressure to match his lofty incarnation? “No, none at all,” he insists. “Brilliant actor, brilliant work – that’s it. I’ve got a job to do. It’s the same with Mad Max and Mel Gibson. I’m not here to engage in a competition with their talent. It’s to play the character that I’ve been given.”
As for Bane’s creepy headgear, unveiled in a viral web campaign and compared by Entertainment Weekly to something that “wouldn’t look out of place at a Slipknot concert”, Hardy’s loving it “on an esoteric level… Anytime you put something over your face, you’re going to adopt a personality and a physicality that has nothing to do with acting. It allows a performance to be free. The only downside is you can’t hear a fucking word anyone’s saying.” Hardy bursts into peals of laughter. “Batman can’t hear me and he can’t see me speaking so we sort of stand there looking at each other for a while. We’ve been doing hand signals! I put my thumbs up when I finish my lines or I wink. And he sort of wiggles his fingers out of shot and I go ‘OK now I’ve got to run up and kick you in the bollocks.’”
Once, Elle Macpherson was “The Body”. Now that nickname should go to Hardy, for encasing himself in such daunting musculature in what was a deliberate career move, sick of his sporadic, pre-Bronson jobs in unmemorable TV and film work. On the back of Bronson came Inception, and from Inception came the opening of the Hollywood floodgates – including Warrior. Hardy says he now has a reputation for being a “character actor who’s prepared to fuck his body up on very little wages!” In order to convince as Warrior’s mixed martial-arts champion, Hardy went on a no-carb, no-sugar diet that turned him “foul-tempered, belligerent and unreasonable.” He winces in remembrance, “99 percent of the job is imagining other people’s insecurities, and that went out the fucking window! I felt very sensitive and I hate pissing people off – but I fucked a lot of people off on Warrior.”
Despite his extreme hunger and resultant prickliness, Hardy insists he didn’t get into any fights on Warrior. If you believe Shia LaBeouf in a new interview with Details, however, he and Hardy did scuffle on the set of The Wettest County in the World – and the skinny Transformers star emerged the winner. If LaBeouf had told that story about Megan Fox, we might believe him, but we’ve seen Hardy in the flesh so we don’t. Having turned his life around from his low years as a “fuck-up” and heading straight for the A-list, it’s unlikely Hardy will feel overly bothered by LaBeouf’s trash-talking. There’s a steely new determination behind those eyes.
“I used to have one foot in the future and one foot in the past worrying about what didn’t happen,” he says. “Since I’ve started being in the present, the work has come. My focus now is being the best I can be.”