Tom Hardy: Even Celebrities Have a Right to Privacy
The British actor discusses his long journey to embodying twin gangsters in Legend, playing Elton John and Al Capone, and going to school with Michael Fassbender.
There doesn’t seem to be much that Tom Hardy, whom Esquire proclaimed as “the greatest actor of his generation,” can’t do. His madcap antics as “Britain’s most notorious prisoner” in Bronson; the deliciously dapper identity forger in Inception; a tortured pugilist in the underrated Cain and Abel saga Warrior; that campy, unforgettable turn as anarchic supervillain Bane. In Locke, he spent the entire film trapped in a car on a three-way conference call, and is nothing short of riveting. The claim that he’s this generation’s greatest actor is, well, up for debate. The claim that he’s this generation’s most daring actor is not.
In his latest film, Brian Helgeland’s Legend, Hardy says he “tested a new muscle” by portraying a pair of twin brothers, bisexual British gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who, with their gang The Firm, terrorized East London during the ’50s and ’60s, committing a laundry list of crimes ranging from armed robberies and drug trafficking to rape and murder. At the same time, the psychotic brothers moonlighted as nightclub owners and fast became fixtures amongst the celebrity set, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and prominent politicians. And Hardy completely transforms into these two disparate lunatics, delivering not one, but two of the most compelling performances of the year.
This week, the actor made headlines for being sabotaged at a press conference for Legend at the Toronto Film Festival, where it premiered, when a reporter for an LGBT publication took it upon himself to probe Hardy on his sexuality. We spoke about that and much, much more.
Were you familiar with the Kray twins growing up? Were they notorious boogeymen in the Hardy household?
Not in the Hardy household, but I think in everyone’s households. It’s a sweeping generalization, but I think everyone in London and the U.K. knows who the Krays are because they’re a part of the national folklore. They’ve cornered the market of well-known celebrity gangsters, much in the way Jack the Ripper is a well-known figure in the U.K.
How did you pull off acting against yourself? And did you consult Dead Ringers’ Jeremy Irons before taking on a pair of twin brothers?
No, I watched Sam Rockwell in Moon and thought, “He’s so fucking good. I’d love to do something like that one day if it came up.” As an acting challenge, it was something that I’d never done before, and it was something I wanted to do to test the muscle and see if I could pull it off. I don’t think Brian [Helgeland] saw me playing both characters, and wanted to cast two different actors. But he really wanted me to play Reggie and I really wanted to play Ronnie, so we had a dinner and it culminated in, “If you give me Reggie, I’ll give you Ronnie.” Then we had to figure out how it was going to work out. It boils down to split screens, a bit of face replacement.
So what was the most difficult part of testing this new muscle?
I think it was the ensemble thing—making sure everyone else on the team knows what’s going on when the cameras are rolling, so that they feel that they’re not left out or subject to something that’s a gimmick. You don’t want to let the team down, and you want to create drama. We don’t want it to be all about trying to hide a gimmick—“Oh, there’s Tom there… there’s Tom there”— but for the audience to get immersed in the story. The hardest thing was creating that alchemy so that it didn’t affect anyone else’s work.
I saw the recent press conference back and forth online, so I wanted to ask you about privacy. I think it’s the understanding of some entertainment journalists that celebrities are not entitled to the right to privacy, which I don’t agree with.
I think everybody is entitled to the right to privacy. There should be elegant ways to approach any topic, and there’s a time and place to approach anything and have a good, common sense conversation about anything. I do think that there’s a responsibility for people to own the way that they speak publicly. This doesn’t stop us from being human beings; some things are private. I’m under no obligation to share anything to do with my family, my children, my sexuality—that’s nobody’s business but my own. And I don’t see how that can have anything to do with what I do as an actor, and it’s my own business. If you knew me as a friend, then sure, we’d talk about anything. But that was a public forum, and for someone to inelegantly ask a question that seemed designed entirely to provoke a reaction, and start a topic of debate… It’s important destigmatizing sexuality and gender inequality in the workplace, but to put a man on the spot in a room full of people designed purely for a salacious reaction? To be quite frank, it’s rude. If he’d have said that to me in the street, I’d have said the same thing back: “I’m sorry, who the fuck are you?”
What he had to talk about was actually interesting, but how he did it was so inelegant. And I appreciate that I could probably have more grace as a human being, but I’m just a bloke. I’m just a man. And I’m just a man doing a job. I’m not a role model for anyone, and you’re asking me something about my private life in a room full of people. I don’t want to discuss my private life with you. I don’t know you! Why would I share that with a billion people? Also, if you felt it was so important for people to feel confident to talk about their sexuality, why would you put somebody on the spot in a room full of people and decide that was the time for them to open up about their sexual ambiguity? There’s also nothing ambiguous about my sexuality, anyway. I know who I am. But what does that have to do with you? And why am I a part of something now that, however legitimate, I haven’t offered my services for? It’s not about what he and his publication stands for, none of that is offensive, and on the contrary, it’s very admirable, and an important issue. But how I was asked was incredibly inelegant, and I just thought it was disrespectful and counterproductive to what he stands for.
OK, back to Legend. We’re all knuckleheads when we’re younger. Did you have a gang of people you rolled around with causing mischief?
In the early years, yeah, there’s always groups of boys who hang out together to get with girls, but not like a proper gang. Just a group of friends, really. I still have a little group of friends now, as it were. I tend to hang out more with military now—the Royal Marines. That’s my group now.
You went to drama school with Michael Fassbender at Drama Centre. What was that like?
Yeah, Michael Fassbender was two years above me at drama school and he was the guy. Everybody wanted to be like him—not me, because that’s just the way I am and when people tell me they’re going to do something, I’m like, “Nah, I’ll do the other.” But secretly I was like, “Ah, I wish I was as good as him!” He was really, really good. He was a special student in the third year, and then he left and I didn’t see him again until we did Band of Brothers. I remember when we were there, he was doing the play The Silver Tassie, a character who lost his legs in World War I, and he was spending a lot of time in a wheelchair. We only had half an hour for lunch and Michael would spend forever getting through the line in his wheelchair, so we’d all be like, “Come on, Michael! Just order your food, man!” And he’d spin around in his wheelchair and yell, “FUCK OFF!”
Is it just surreal, then, that you two are where you are right now, considered by many as two of the greatest actors of your generation?
It was always in the cards for Michael. It was always in the cards for him. I’m not surprised about him at all, because he was awesome. Me, I don’t know how I got here! I feel like I just came from delivering pizza and I got lucky.
Are you surprised you’ve become this hulking, hard man actor? I remember seeing you early on in roles like Black Hawk Down, Layer Cake, and Marie Antoinette and physically, you look like a totally different person.
It’s funny in that because it is acting, and playing pretend, but I didn’t see myself being synonymous with these tough-guy roles. That’s not really me. I love acting. There was Bane, Warrior, Bronson, and now the Krays. I’m just surprised to be working, mate. Whatever gets me through the door.
We’ve seen you act alone in Locke and now play a pair of brothers in Legend. What’s the next big Tom Hardy acting challenge?
What’s the next big acting challenge… Oh, I do know what the challenge is! I’m going to play a dog. A real dog. Really. It’s going to be done in a very specific way, so it’s not animation. That’s all I can tell you.
The Internet is very fascinated by your dog obsession, I must say.
It’s not an obsession! I love dogs. I really love them. They’re always going to be around, doggies. They’re special creatures. I love all animals, but I think dogs are just fantastic. Just fantastic.
I read an interview where you said, “Dog spelled backwards is God.”
[Laughs] Oh, did I say that? Well, that is true. But I do think there’s a lot about a dog that we can learn from, and I do put the dog into a lot of my characters because a dog, if you watch them, they’re so funny to watch. They speak with their eyes and their body, and I find that fascinating to observe. And another thing about the dog is you can never fool the dog into thinking that you’re somebody else, so they’re great bullshit monitors—especially for actors. So if you think you can transform, just try and pull off your transformation in front of your dog and I guarantee he’ll see right through your greatest transformation, which is quite humbling.
So do you test out new characters in front of your dogs?
I do. I rehearse in front of them, yeah. But it’s very soul-destroying. They’re very harsh critics, dogs. And they’re very rarely impressed. [Laughs]
Speaking of animals, you’ve done quite a bit of anti-poaching work. And poaching finally became a worldwide topic of conversation with the killing of Cecil the Lion.
You know what? It’s really important. And poor Cecil paid the price, ultimately. It’s fascinating that it takes something like that to illuminate the subject. With ongoing anti-poaching and animal trafficking as well, it’s so rife. There is so much going on in that world. And it’s difficult to practice what one preaches, because I struggle with the concept of vegetarianism and veganism being the right step forward as well. The killing of animals is symptomatic of something else. There are millions of chickens killed a day, so what’s the difference between a wild, exotic, beautiful animal, and an animal we’ve been made to eat? I’m struggling in my head about sentient beings and the merciless killing of animals when we don’t really need to at all. How do you effect change and understanding in people in the killing of animals full stop? I’m struggling with that in my head because I eat meat.
I’ve got to ask about Mad Max: Fury Road, because it’s one of my favorite films of the year. When are we getting a sequel?
I don’t know! I can’t wait. I keep calling up Warner Bros. and saying, “Are we green-lit? Are we good? I want to get me leathers back on!” And I want a dog. Mad Max has got to have a dog! Now that I know what we’re doing, I’m anxious to go out there and do some more. I’m waiting with bated breath, because Mad Max is awesome.
The trailer for The Revenant looked very impressive. But I read that Hollywood Reporter story about how the shoot became “a living hell.” How bad did it get?
Yes, it was. We shot in minus-27 degrees in natural light—well, it wasn’t always minus-27—but we had a real problem conjuring up the elements. No man can decide what the weather’s going to be like, that’s up to the gods themselves. When we wanted snow, we got no snow, and when we wanted no snow, we got heavy snow. What was a 5-month shoot turned into an 8-month shoot, so it was a very testing shoot due to a lot of practical elements. It was taxing at times, but fundamentally, that was part of the tapestry of what we were doing. It was a very ambitious shoot, and you will see it on screen—it looks fucking formidable. So the question is, “Was the juice worth the squeeze?” I believe, fundamentally, yes. And the crew was just unbelievable, for one of the toughest shoots you could possibly be on. The proof is in the pudding. Alejandro [Inarritu] will be judged on this movie, and so he should!
There are two other intriguing projects you’re attached to that I wanted to ask you about: Splinter Cell, the film based on the video game, and the Elton John biopic Rocket Man, with you playing the legend himself. Are these happening?
Yeah, they are. The nature of these things are that you don’t want to pull the trigger on something that’s not ready to go, but I’m eager for both of those projects. Both of those stories require proper hard work for very different reasons. I need a good run of time to play Elton properly; I need to be able to play him very specifically. With Splinter Cell, it’s being written now by Frank John Hughes, who has a really awesome angle on it. I think next year we’ll begin shooting that. These aren’t just things on the IMDB to-do list. I really want to do these films. And playing Al Capone in Cicero. I really want to play Al Capone, so it’s a question of, as soon as the iron’s hot, grab it.
I wanted to ask you about The Long Red Road, because I had the pleasure of seeing you in that play early on in your career. You were really excellent as a South Dakotan struggling with alcoholism. What was it like being directed by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman?
He was my friend. And he became my friend, but at first I was a massive fan. And my friend wrote that play, Brett C. Leonard. I was a young actor and had just gotten out of rehab, funnily enough, and I didn’t think I would act again. I was in a really shit state. The long and short of it is, after rehab, I did a play called In Arabia We’d All be Kings, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis for the LAByrinth Theatre Company, in London. Doing that play, I met Brett C. Leonard, who introduced me to Phil, and I went in and met him for The Long Red Road, and we workshopped that for three years, and I got to know him well. He’s my friend. This sounds silly, but I wanted to impress him, because he was just brilliant. And he fought for me to work in the theater because he got me my equity card on Broadway, and in Chicago. It was just beautiful to see him in his element directing. I remember one moment where I broke down onstage with him and said, “I can’t do this,” because it’s so difficult and soul-destroying to be with Phil in a room and try and do something in front of a man who can clearly do everything that I want to do better than me no matter how hard I try. So, frankly, it was like being judged by someone who had the right to judge you, being a part of the team he’s on, and not wanting to let him down.