Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy’s Inner Warrior

After his scene-stealing role in ‘Inception,’ brooding Brit actor Tom Hardy was unleashed on Hollywood. With his critically hailed turn as an MMA fighter in ‘Warrior,’ and his upcoming role as Bane, the villain in ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ the in-demand actor opens up to Marlow Stern about growing up raising his mum, his battle with drug abuse, and those pesky gay sex rumors.

09.17.11 2:47 AM ET

Tom Hardy, the hulking star of the critically acclaimed mixed-martial-arts film Warrior with the monstrous traps, just got his ass kicked.

“We have this great four-foot-tall Thai masseuse out here, and she does a lot of Thai fighters,” Hardy told The Daily Beast. “She just cracked my neck and back and kicked the s--t out of me.”

The British actor has taken time out of his busy schedule shooting the role of the chemically enhanced villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, to call from Budapest, where he’s visiting his fiancée, actress Charlotte Riley, who’s there shooting World Without End—a sequel to the TV series The Pillars of the Earth.

After his mesmerizing performance as Charles Bronson, London’s most notorious prisoner, in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 film Bronson, as well as his scene-stealing turn in last year’s Inception, Hardy has emerged as one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood. In addition to Bane, he’ll appear as a spy opposite Gary Oldman and Colin Firth in the espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in December; just wrapped filming on This Means War, an action-comedy opposite Reese Witherspoon; and also recently wrapped a starring role alongside Shia LaBeouf in the Nick Cave–scripted drama The Wettest County in the World. Oh, and he’s set to step into Mel Gibson’s sand-filled boots as the lead in Mad Max: Fury Road, opposite Charlize Theron. According to Hardy, training for that film starts in March, and it will be shot in Namibia.

Before Hollywood came calling, Hardy grew up an only child in a London suburb to Elizabeth Anne, an artist, and Edward, a writer for commercials and sketch comedy. He attended the prestigious Drama Centre London, where he looked up to fellow student Michael Fassbender, who was two years older than he was.

“He was a really serious method actor and we used to watch him and think, ‘F--k, man! He’s the s--t!’” said Hardy. “He was in an Irish play about this guy who came back from the First World War who was a great athlete but ended up in a wheelchair, but at lunchtime he wouldn’t come out of character and was always in his wheelchair and we’d be like, ‘Dude! Just order your lunch and come along! We’ve got an hour before we have to go back to class!’” Hardy laughs and adds, “But he was the best actor in the school.”

Both Hardy and Fassbender got their start in the World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. The riveting war drama, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, served as a springboard for many future British stars, including James McAvoy and Simon Pegg. After a series of supporting roles in acclaimed films like Black Hawk Down, Layer Cake, and Marie Antoinette, it took four years for Hardy to make what he calls his “labor of love” project—2009’s Bronson. Appearing in every scene of Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive) impressionistic film, Hardy delivers what the Los Angeles Times called an “extraordinary” performance in a “once-in-a-career role” as the charismatic sociopath Charles Bronson, the most notorious London prisoner ever. Director Christopher Nolan was so impressed by his role as the closeted gangster “Handsome Bob” in Guy Ritchie’s 2008 crime film RocknRolla that he cast him as Eames, a witty identity forger, in Inception, which became one of last year’s surprise smashes.

While promoting Inception, Hardy gave a much-ballyhooed interview where, when asked if he had ever had sexual relations with another man, he replied, “I've played with everything and everyone. I love the form and the physicality, but now that I'm in my 30s, it doesn't do it for me.” He also said he was “intrinsically feminine.”

“I’m not gay, I’m very hetero,” Hardy told The Daily Beast. “I’m not into men in a sexual way, but I’m a f--king artist and I was asked once, ‘Have you ever had relations with men,’ and I said, ‘I’m an artist—I’ve done everything and everyone,’ but like everything salacious, people run amok with that information.”

He added, “I said ‘intrinsically feminine,’ meaning I’m an only child brought up by my mum, so after further analysis, I meant that I’m very sensitive. Because my mum was my primary emotional caregiver growing up, I found myself being pinned into dresses, darting her dresses, choosing her high heels for the evening or what to wear.” Hardy chuckles. “I’m very much a mommy’s boy.”

His relationship with his parents provided some of the motivation for him to take on the role of Tommy Reardon in filmmaker Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle) underdog mixed-martial-arts drama Warrior. Reardon, an ex-Marine whose abusive, alcoholic father (played by Nick Nolte) abandoned him and his mother, returns to his blue-collar hometown of Pittsburgh years after her death and enters into a winner-take-all mixed-martial-arts tournament with a grand prize of $5 million. In the final, he matches up against his estranged brother, played by Aussie Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom). Hardy, whose gripping performance as the troubled brawler has shades of Brando in On the Waterfront, says he’s “terrified of men” and “hates” fighting, but he’s gotten into “silly fights that you see when somebody yells at a bar, and then another person yells at a bar, and then people start windmilling.” The 5-foot-10-inch star bulked up to 179 pounds—he’s now at 187 for his Bane role—by a resistance-training technique called signaling, whereby he arm-wrestles or does sit-ups against his trainer, who varies the resistance against him. Also, he lifted weights with his teeth to bulk up his neck and trapezius muscles.

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The role of Tommy hit close to home for Hardy, however, because it resembled the relationship he had early on with his father.

“The distance that I had from my father was very comparable,” said Hardy. “He wasn’t a drunk, but there was just a distance there that I felt. And being an only child, I didn’t have any other family but my mom and dad really, since the rest of my family lived quite far away from London, so I went searching for father figures.”

And similar to Tommy, who pops pills and drinks to mask the pain of his traumatic Iraq War experience, Hardy had his own battle with alcohol and cocaine addiction in his 20s.

“I’m at home in that territory, so that was cathartic,” said Hardy. “Just like anything, you’re largely unaware of it until it crashes in on you and then you go into recovery or you die. It’s not rock and roll or very exciting, it’s actually mundane and boring. To be honest, I’ve tried everything just out of curiosity, and there’s nothing at the end of that tunnel but f--king despair, man. I’m 10 years sober, so I don’t want to go back there.” He added, “I’m in a very different place now.”

And indeed he is. Hardy’s starred in three films recently—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Wettest County in the World—with his longtime idol Gary Oldman, who he says is “hands down the greatest actor that’s ever lived.” He even replaced the other actor he looked up to, Michael Fassbender, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

“It’s the year of hero worship!” exclaimed Hardy. “I look up to [Fassbender], I look up to Ryan Gosling. Those two, totally man-crushing at the moment. It would be really cool if the three of us could do something together, because I’d be well up for that.” Hardy pauses, and says, “And if Gary Oldman can get in on that as well, I’d want some of that, too.”

Your move, Hollywood.