“I’m good,” smiles Tom Hardy. “I’m just in a sort of discombobulated waiting period. I’m waiting to go away to do the next thing. So…” he sighs “…I’m a bit lost!” At 33, the London-born actor is at a loose end. For one thing, his breakfast is overdue, an insanely dainty affair that finally arrives in tiny portions on an exquisitely fancy bone china cake stand. But in the more longterm future there is a more pressing uncertainty. For a star who crashed and burned after his Hollywood debut in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, Hardy now seems to be getting an almost unheard-of second chance at cracking the A-list. After winning the Bafta Orange Rising Star Award – not bad for an actor with 20-odd movie credits to his name – he recently fought off intense competition to win the lead role in Fury Road, George Miller’s return to the world of Mad Max and the most sought-after role in town.
When we meet, the film has no start date and no script, and, even now, several months later, the cameras seem unlikely to roll before January 2012. But Hardy can hardly contain himself. He’s a wiry, nervous, intense but strangely sensitive guy who takes a while to warm up, but when he does, he almost vibrates with energy. He’s the guy that bulked up to play the vicious lifetime con Charles Bronson in the surreal biopic Bronson, and just recently took his physicality to the outer limits with Gavin O’Connor’s cage-fighting drama Warrior. Before the interview, I was shown a few short clips from this brutal saga, and the transformation is breathtaking. Sitting in front of me, there is still some muscle definition, especially around the neck, but, aside from that, there’s little evidence that this is the same man.
“I had to lose the weight slowly,” he laughs. “On film!” We can only take his word for it, but he claims you can actually see this in Inception, which he shot shortly afterwards. “It’s like Alice In Wonderland,” he marvels.
Though it sounds lurid on paper, being set in the world of MMA (aka Mixed Martial Arts), Warrior could well be the movie to bring Hardy back to the mainstream. “It’s a hybrid, really,” he explains. “Although there’s a very strong martial arts element, it’s the backdrop to a family story, a character-driven plot about two brothers. It’s kind of The Deer Hunter meets Rocky.” Hardy plays Tommy, Joel Edgerton is his brother Brendan, and the legendary Nick Nolte (“He’s like a building, isn’t he? You know he’s there”) plays their father. Both are cage fighters.
“When the boys were very young, the family split up,” explains Hardy, “and Tommy went with their mother. Brendan stayed with their father. Tommy subsequently he lost his mum, joined the army and then went off to the Gulf. And where the story picks up, he’s returned now and hasn’t spoken to the other side of his family for ten or 15 years, so there’s a lot unfinished, complicated sadness and mess that he’s carrying round with him. And fighting is a means to not only comfort that, or soothe that, but is a way of making money as well. But his attitude towards the fight game is holistically and spiritually much further from Brendan’s. They’re very different brothers. Cut from the same cloth, but very different. It’s a classic brothers story.” He laughs. “The Jedi and The Dark Knight, as it were!”
Suffice to say, the brothers fight in more ways than one, and the differences must be settled in the ring, in full view of a paying crow. “It’s really interesting,” Hardy notes. “You’ve got the two worlds there – what the public see in a sport and what’s going on underneath it.” The fight scenes, though brief, look pretty hardcore. As well they might after a strict diet of chicken and broccoli, eight hours in the gym and two hours of weightlifting – every day. In the five-month shoot, Hardy cracked his ribs, broke his little toe and tore a ligament in his right hand. Was safety a big concern? “It was all a concern!” he says flatly. “I’m not a fighter, not at all. And I knew that. So for me it was a challenge. Could I achieve that kind of physicality and convince anybody in any way that I might possibly be able to be a fighter? That was the challenge. And I’m happy with the result.”
Happy that he did it without feeling a fraud? “Entirely that. And without being exposed as a fraud. That’s part of the game. As an actor, you always think, ‘Oh, I’m rubbish.’ But also I’m terrified of big men!” He laughs. “Make no bones about it, there’s nothing pleasurable about getting your head kicked in by a really big guy. As a young man, I’d hide from boxing clubs and gyms, but I didn’t want to feel… small. Vulnerable. So I thought, I need to do something like this. And After Bronson I was like, OK, I can do something like this.”
Like most actors, Hardy needs a lot of reassurance, as he reveals when he talks about getting the part of ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky. “I got quite grumpy when I first looked at it,” he recalls, “because I thought, ‘I’m never gonna do this, this is never gonna happen, no one will ever choose me to play a part like this so why am I even reading it?’ How jaded and cynical is that!?” Now, though, the role is waiting for him, dangling appetisingly on the horizon. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to say,” he says. “It’s called Fury Road, we can take that as a given, and it is a Mad Max story. But whether it’s a prequel, sequel, any of that, I’ve yet to find out. It looks incredible what I’ve seen of it; it’s a very big, epic, exciting, human and massively constructed visit to a character that George has very close to his heart. And I know he wouldn’t go back to it unless there was something to be reinvented or rediscovered. He’s a very diligent and sensitive man.”
Hardy notes that, after Inception and Warrior, Fury Road will be his third big movie in a row, his most auspicious run since the one-two of Nemesis and Black Hawk Down in the early 2000s. He’s cautious about branding this a comeback, however. “It’s almost like being on a conveyor belt,” he muses. “It was my time to be picked off. I’m just waiting to be put back in a box and forgotten at some point very shortly. But it’s not so much that my career is really going anywhere; it’s just a series of steps – steps forward and steps sideways. There’s all kinds of movement that needs to be made for you to grow, just as a human being.” So how does he feel today? “As a performer, today is a very good day,” he grins. “Because I’m doing good work – and I’m getting paid.”