Tom Hardy flexes his tattooed biceps and talks intently about the acting craft, describing how he gained two stone for his latest role as boxer Tom Conlon in the movie Warrior. Professing an appetite for playing ‘psychologically damaged characters’, he points to his stark and brutal 2008 performance in Bronson as the role that ‘helped me to say “I can achieve, I can transform”.’
Conscious of how ‘actory’ this might be sounding, Hardy diverts the conversation to more homely concerns. ‘My dog and son [three-year-old Louis from a previous relationship] recognise me no matter what,’ he smiles, before injecting a dose of bizarrely dark humour, ‘Actually my dog’s dead now, so he won’t. We had him cremated. There’s a cardboard of his ashes on our sofa that we’re working out what to do with. I might put him in a pillow.’
We’re sat in a suite at London’s Soho Hotel and while Hardy is quite willing to play the film junket game - ‘I always wanted to do a Rocky film,’ he says of Warrior - what makes the 33-years-old to captivating is not only his beefed-up talent, but his refusal to censure his personality. Hardy is too intelligent and inquisitive … and unpredictable.
It’s easy to see why his name is often associated with ‘method’ acting. For his big break in 2007, as the homeless, alcoholic title role in the BBC2 adaptation of Stuart: A Life Backwards, Hardy lost weight on a diet of vegetables and long runs. He put weight back on for Bronson - almost three stone on that occasion. Today, he’s even bulkier, this time for filming of The Dark Knight Rises, playing Batman’s nemesis, Bane, opposite Christian Bale.
‘I don’t know what method acting is all about’, he shrugs, before answering his own question. ‘I’m an addict, so I guess I have an addictive personality.’
Hardy’s career very nearly finished before it even started. ‘There was a point when I could have been dead,’ he recalls. ‘Rock bottom’ was collapsing in Soho’s Old Compton Street after a crack binge in 2003. Having shown his potential in the likes of Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down, Hardy wound up in rehab, aged 26. ‘It was the end of a childhood which had gone on too long, that didn’t grow into adulthood and wasn’t going to work alongside my profession,’ he says.
Born in the middle class London suburb of East Sheen, an only child to his artist mother and Cambridge educated writer father, his was a youth spent being thrown out of school, arrested and, after a stint as a model (he won The Big Breakfast’s Find Me A Supermodel competition at 19), being expelled from Drama Centre London.
‘I had a distinct lack of male role models, apart from the ones I chose. Boys are not qualified to pick healthy ones. I held onto my immaturity.’
This much candour makes you wonder whether Hardy ever regrets being, well, quite frank. ‘I don’t regret anything I’ve ever said. It’s just a shame things are misconstrued and I don’t get the opportunity to explain.’ Not even the time he said he’d enjoyed relationships with men in his twenties?
‘I have never put my penis in a man,’ is Hardy’s characteristically direct response. ‘I’ve never had a cock in my arse, and I have no fucking desire for it. If that’s what you like, cool. But it doesn’t do it for me.’ He’s irritated his words were taken out of context, but conceded, ‘one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’.
Right now, the industry is chattering about Hardy quite a bit - for all the right reasons. This years’s ‘Rising Star’ Bafta was a welcome, if somewhat tardy, reward for an actor who boasts ten years in the business. Warrior is closely followed by John Le Carré’s classic spy tale Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with close friend Benedict Cumberbatch, and 2012 will see him take on his biggest role to date - the lead in Mad Max 4.
Engaged to actress Charlotte Riley - he played Heathcliff to her Cathy in ITV’s 2009 version of Wuthering Heights - he’s quick to credit a settled home life for his career trajectory.
‘There are two things that are great in my life,’ he adds in a quiet tone that underlines his sincerity. ‘One is my family and the other is my work, and I will protect them both to the death.’