Tom Hardy (‘dashing and luscious-lipped’) was suggested for Stuart. Before, he had played the swaggering peacock Lord Dudley in The Virgin Queen, the leader of the Romulan Senate in Star Trek, and Twombly in the military-besotted Black Hawk Down. How was he going to do a Cambridge smackhead? At our first meeting, Tom announced he didn’t drink: he’d been an alcoholic. On a drive to meet Stuart’s family, he blabbed away about his life as a boozer, the grubby squats and dossholes he’d skippered in, how he’d done detox and fought his addiction to crawl out of the gutter – he was perfect for Stuart. But something essential was missing. I couldn’t fix what it was – until I asked a question: ‘Goodness, you have had a tough life, haven’t you? Where did you do this detox?’
‘Oh – the Priory.’
When we arrived at Stuart’s mother’s house, Tom was suddenly silent; he peered at his toes and fiddled with the dog. Somewhere about Stansted, on the way back to London, Tom’s babble started to return, its direction lightly adjusted, a bit less boastful, a little more frightened. He was gradually pulling Stuart through his skin. Sam Mendes, another of the film’s executive producers, thinks this is the performance that will make Tom’s name. ‘I could hardly tell Tom and Stuart apart,’ Stuart’s mother said when she saw it.