December 9, 2002
These days leading up to the release of Star Trek: Nemesis are an exciting time for actor Tom Hardy. “Tom who?” you might ask. Well, he’s a relative newcomer, which suits Star Trek producer Rick Berman just fine.
You see, Berman wanted a secret weapon. With director Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals) and casting directors Amanda Johnson and Cathy Gelfond, he set out to find an actor who could pierce the complacency of moviegoers and stare down Jean-Luc Picard. And if early critical opinion of Hardy’s performance is an indication, it appears Berman has found his man. (Having seen the film, I can attest: it’s good; it’s snappily written and is as visually astounding as one expects a Star Trek film to be. Yet it’s Tom Hardy who comes through with the movie’s standout performance.)
So, “Where did this guy come from?” You might also ask. Hardy is from South West London. He cut his teeth at the prestigious (and infamous?) Drama Centre, where he appeared in productions ofMeasure for Measure, Tartuffe, The Matchmaker, Ivanov,Filumena and Anatol, the latter under the direction of renowned instructor Christopher Fettes. He left the school to appear in minor roles in Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. His work on the screen also includes the contemporary London drama Dot the I and the thrillerThe Reckoning. He recently completed work on a horror film for director Simon De Silva entitled LD 50.
On this day, the 5’11″, brown-haired actor wears just black; black pants and a black silk shirt. And he amicably introduces himself to each of the half-dozen journalists preparing to interview him. Finding a seat at the table, he asks if we wouldn’t mind if he smoked. Our quick, general consensus is, “Go for it.” Lighting his cigarette, he crosses his legs and sets in for the interview. And we, a group of six, check our recorders and set in with trading questions.
Here, Hardy discusses among other subjects: landing the role of Shinzon; his philosophy on bringing the character to life; and working with Patrick Stewart.
Star Trek: Nemesis opens this Friday, December 13th. The official site is located at Nemesis.StarTrek.com.
Q: After the whole process, you were finally chosen. The chosen one. That must have been a rather amazing feeling.
TOM HARDY: (He laughs) Chosen? Am I? For what? No, but absolutely. Absolutely.
Q: Can you attest to the news that the audition process was a nerve-wracking process?
TH: Yes. Absolutely terrifying. The whole situation. No matter how much you can prepare for it, there’s nothing worse than the anticipation. It’s always the killer of everything. The actuality of doing something is normally a lot easier than the waiting for it.
Q: One could say Shinzon has some serious issues. Tell us how you went about preparing your performance. Particularly in terms of modeling Patrick Stewart.
TH: Fundamentally, in approach to the character, Paramount was not tight in any way in terms of research and source material that they gave me to look at Patrick and to study his character his movements and his nuances. His shadow moves, his side moves, etc. So I had lots to work with. And I’d seen the script as well, which is the new stuff that we had to do. I’d ask lots and lots of questions, and read the script over and over again, and ask: what, where, when, why. Why these two? Why? (Laughs). Why these two? Why? Y = Y, I think somebody said that? (Laughs).
Q: Did you proceed with the idea of just an impression of Picard in Shinzon?
TH: On the journey you kind go off at what was necessary in mimicry, which I think is an appalling idea. And, posing and posture is wrong, fundamentally. So, what it came down was the fact that I have to find an essence, as one would do with any character, to find the human essence of this person, and then hang his nuances, his movements, his characteristics on that central issue, or as close to the center of Picard as I could get. I mean, it appeared as more Prince and the Pauper, or Greystoke, in with dealing with human issues as you’re dealing with an orphan, or an abused child who has collected baggage along his way. Which is entirely different to that of Picard – his life experiences, his family experiences are entirely different.
When portraying Patrick Stewart’s clone – and I don’t know any clones (he laughs), I was sort of cut off on that part, I sort of had to use the imagination and think: in order to make this gentleman three-dimensional, as opposed to one-dimensional, I had to find a human issue on him. And that means that I don’t have to copy or mimic anything that Patrick does all. Which is very free, because then all the sudden you have a foundation to develop character, and then proceed on the question: Why would he walk like that? Why would he wear these rubber teeth?
Q: Was there a particularly troubling element you were trying to get, or incorporate into your portrayal? Something you were trying to get across that really Shinzon and Picard?
TH: Well, I think the argument in the film is about that. Once I’d done the homework, and once I got the orphan-stage and the abused child and “the baggage,” it was then: how to handle that. We have this sort of back-story defining him to be an Emperor, and then all the accoutrements that come with that, and then necessarily not knowing anything about who he is.
Q: Shinzon is sort of a Napoleonic character.
TH: Yes. The physicality I used. I’d looked at pictures of Napoleon and Hitler and think, you know, “Why are these people monsters?” I’m not one to make any political comment, because I’m not, it’s just about human beings. I don’t think the baby comes out of his mother’s womb and is evil. It’s really: what is evil? What is a villain? It’s a human being that’s been through a sequence of circumstantial situations and its attracted baggage, both genetic and through his observation and senses, that leads them to commit acts of an atrocity that can be deemed as, and are, evil. However, you don’t go out there and play Camp Villian. So, that’s my meaning for going – and I don’t condone them, or whatever – but, how do you make them more human? Especially a fictitious character. How do you make that three-dimensional?
Q: In being more human, he makes a serious attempt for Picard’s sympathies. He attempts to get under his skin that way.
TH: Absolutely. But then there’s the story. There is the human issue that we’re dealing with. And that’s the wonderful thing about Star Trek. It’s that all their stories are very human, and yet they’re set in a wonderfully sort of neutral surrounding in the future.
Q: And in light of potentially horrible situations, there’s positive intentions.
TH: And there is hope. I mean, there’s always hope. You wouldn’t get up out of a foxhole if you didn’t have hope. I think you have to admit you’re already dead first, so that you both cover the light and the dark.
Q: And as an actor you battle with these opposing themes with Shinzon?
TH: And you ask questions constantly, and never become partisan, and never say there is an answer to anything. Then with in the movement of the story you have opportunities for inspiration. It’s like when you’re playing table tennis, in repartee, or you’re talking to somebody: there’s always an opening for inspiration or something which makes the movie, the story, open and develop organically as opposed to being imposed and procured with comment. I mean the comment should come out of the action, as opposed to procuring something. Here – because the script is already written, the lines – it’s up to you to take it to that level off the page.
Q: Growing up, were you into science fiction? Were you a Trekker?
TH: No. I wasn’t a Trekker. I knew Star Trek existed. I think everybody does. I think, as one is exposed to an awful lot of things, it’s like Coca-Cola, really. It’s there. Or, it’s out there! Somewhere, and it’s coming for you (he laughs). And it didn’t matter at all that I’d be the villain in a Star Trek movie. I’m sorry, I’ve lost complete track of that question (he laughs).
Q: In some people’s opinion, the show has been going on for so long, that it needs to be reinvented. Shaken up. Do you think that’s what needs to be done?
TH: Did I think about shaking it up? No. (Here, he pauses.) And yes. But I think everything has to move along anyway, organically, like I was talking about the script.
And as just anything, obviously, there’s a commercial part of it. There’s money to be made, and a fan base that needs feeding, you know. And that means the stories have to change and move with the times. But, fundamentally, that’s not my job.
I’m an actor. I came in to survive and feed my family. That’s what I do. I have my own war, and Star Trek is its own baby. It’s grown into this huge being that lives and exists in “space” through connections between telephone and Internet and televisions and cameras. So, within that, what can you shake up?
It’s like you don’t go in there and say, “Right… I’m going to Marlon Brando-you over,” (he laughs) give you something to think about, get naked and cover myself in blood and rock (he laughs). Anyway, that’s all drivel, and once you get on with the formidable posture, I don’t think you can go in and say I’m gonna shake this up. It would be nice to do so, but I guarantee you: when you step up into the forum and have to fight, you’ll be terrified.
Q: Then you have to do your best within parameters?
TH: What it was was just a really wonderful opportunity for a young actor. You don’t get those opportunities. They don’t grow on trees. I’d be stupid to not take it seriously, so I do. I think it’s fantastic heritage to be a part of and I’m very proud of that.
Q: Can you talk about the rubber suit you were wearing? Did you get to keep it?
TH: (He laughs.) I’m not allowed to keep it, and I did ask. I think Rick Berman’s got that in his closet. But, um… (and again he breaks down with laughter) OK… no, I didn’t say that.
Well, first it was incredibly uncomfortable. It’s a very beautiful costume. And Bob [Ringwood] is a very talented and amazing costume designer. But it was incredibly uncomfortable, and within that being uncomfortable it added to the character for me. You know what I mean? Because he’s a very bowed and repressed young man – a little boy trapped inside an infrastructure of empirical La De Da. He’s supposed to be an Emperor, you know, and he’s come from the equivalent of Rio de Janeiro back-borders.
(He pauses and takes a drag from his cigarette, and flicks ashes into an ashtray.)
That whole suit was very constricting and it didn’t allow much movement because his whole life hasn’t allowed much movement. And so, it helped, even though it had a mind of its own. (He laughs.) And I couldn’t move in it anyway! It might have seemed to have worked more practically on screen, but what it allowed to portray was that I was uncomfortable.
Q: At some point weren’t you going to fall down the stairs?
TH: Oh yeah! And I did! (He laughs.) On numerous occasions! It was when they put those translucent, milky-white eye contact lenses on, and I had to chase Picard up the stairs with the knife and I couldn’t see anything. And I might have been a bit nervous. (He laughs.) And Stuart then would say, “Stop looking at the floor and look up!” and I was like, “I can’t see anything! I don’t know where the bloody stairs are!”
I also had these lights coming up from beneath me so I was completely flared. Yes, it was dangerous to say the least (he laughs). And lethal… actually it was, and I think that sort of added to the character. Working with that suit – it’s like they say: don’t work with children or animals – it’s like: don’t work with a suit like that unless you’re prepared for agony (he laughs).
Q: Now, you were one of the soldiers in Black Hawk Down?
TH: I was. I was the Ranger who got left behind. And he made Nelson’s character, Ewen Bremner, deaf. He was sort of, if you could call it, comic relief to very precarious situation – which was technically approached by the actors involved.
Q: What was it like being part of those two apparatuses –Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers?
TH: It’s contemporary and classic isn’t it? And then it’s contemporary within classic. It was kind of strange. Band of Brothers was my first job so I was virtually out of the frying pan and into the fire, really. I’d not had previous experience with working in front of the camera, so there was dealing with that.
Also, I had the research material – not that I’d need it. I mean, I was in two episodes and had twelve lines. That was the sum total of work had to do. But nonetheless, I would work just as hard trying to portray someone whose relatives are still around. Obviously, nobody wants to go out there and say, “This is my big moment.” and I’m playing John Janovec, who is dead. He died for freedom. So, yes, you have to approach that.
And then to Lance Twombly, who is still alive, he still lives with the demons. He actually lives in Montana now, and I didn’t get to meet him until afterwards. We tried to track everyone down at Fort Benning, as a whole anyway, to meet the human being who fought in the Army, and who would fight, and who would die.
There are these people who have fought and will fight and will die. It’s a responsibility if you’re going to go in there and play a character like that, and the pressure is enormous. But, you cannot think, “This is my big moment” at all. And those were very much the key elements for both of those projects that struck me as an actor, and as a guy who desperately wanted to do the right work, at least attempted to do the right work. And to see what doesn’t work and what does so eventually I can progress.
Q: In working closely with Patrick Stewart on your interpretation of Picard, did he offer you any assistance, or in any way critique your performance to help it?
TH: Oh, yes! (Laughing, he shifts to into an impression of Patrick Stewart.) “I’m not convinced! I would never do anything like as a Starfleet Captain! I should take you and slap ya! Get out of my film! I’ll be in my trailer!” (He laughs.) No… He was wonderful! He was. It was a good time. We would sit and talk. He’d tell me what he thought worked and what he thought didn’t. It was a joy to work with him. He’s a scholar in many ways, and a beacon of Theater, and of storytelling. It was an honor to be there. It’s just like how I was working with Ridley Scott – you don’t ask questions, you just watch, you know, and get on with it, do your job.
Q: The Drama Centre, the school where you trained, is described as being infamous.
TH: Oh, yes.
Q: And the reason is?
TH: Myths, usually asinine and circulated by other schools, normally started by those who failed to get in.
Q: So, comparatively, there were different philosophies of training at the Centre compared to other schools?
TH: I think it sort of compares to the fact that: if in doubt, get your clothes off, cover yourself in blood and start walking and dribbling – that’s sort of what method acting is supposed to be about, which is nonsense.
[The Centre] is probably written as notorious and infamous because it’s about terror. And the terror is actually about honesty – terror, that is, in the term not to do with terrorism, but in the term to do with: why do you want to be an actor? There are millions of people out there who want to be an actor. And even if you are any good at what you do, what makes you think you should be doing that? How hard are you prepared to work?
Q: In terms of that, and the commitment, what kind of examples?
TH: When other schools would be doing, sort of, thirty hours we were doing sixty. And we’d be doing stuff that would prepare you in a very different way. It was a school that catered very differently to each independent, individual need. And, um, Anthony Hopkins plays a character called Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Hopkins was trained by Christopher Fettes. Christopher Fettes trained me. [Hopkins] loosely based his mannerisms and his speech patterns and his look of Hannibal Lecter on this teacher. So, that was my mentor (he laughs).
Q: So, by dealing with these fears, this terror, you’re working on your character from the ground up.
TH: I think it’s a grittiness. It’s just about honesty. And if you get off the ego thing – but you know that can work, you can use that – you have to use every part of yourself. And that means you have to face up to things in yourself which are incredibly ugly. But then, the stage is not somewhere where we come to eat. It is where we come to be eaten. And as soon as you realize that you’re already dead, and then any bit of life breathed into you is a bonus.