Though he’s appeared in a wide variety of films over the past decade, serious critical acclaim for Tom Hardy hit when he took on the lead role in Bronson, packing on 42 pounds of muscle to play the part of the violent prison inmate. Now, Hardy joins the all-star cast of Christopher Nolan’s Inception as Eames, one of the highly-trained expert members of Cobbs’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) team of extractors.
Hardy spoke with a small group of journalists at the Inception press junket, sharing his thoughts on working with Nolan and his impressive list of co-stars as well his his plans for the future which include starring as the lead in Mad Max: Fury Road.
CS: Yesterday in the press conference, you were talking about how the costumes helped you keep everything pretty straight. For us, we’ve been watching very ambiguous advertising for a year. We were assuming that this movie was going to be the most complicated thing of all time.
Tom Hardy: And it wasn’t?
CS: No. I mean it’s relatively straightforward.
CS: At any point, was that something that you had to sort out or was it always pretty clear what you had to play and what you had to do?
Hardy: Yes. Let me be completely straight with you. When you receive a script like “Inception,” it’s always pretty complicated on the page because it’s a lot of narrative. It’s a lot of interaction with characters. It’s a lot that you have to get right and you basically sink into it. That’s complicated work. Especially when it belongs to somebody like Chris Nolan who is so prolifically brilliant in our world. He’s someone we all want to work with. He’s probably the best director we’ve got in the West. And I’m not just saying the hottest director. When you work with anybody you look up to, you don’t want to question them. Seeing as he created it and it’s his brainchild, it’s all his concept. He did the script and we all saw what he did with “The Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins” and “Memento.” This is someone who has the proof in the pudding. He’s not someone you need to second-guess. I’m a very small cog in the wheel. When the script came, the complexities were in the shadow of being invented by someone who has clearly done a lot more of this than I have. It’s not my place to say, “Chris, I want to change your script” or “Maybe if we tweak this line or change this line” or “The third act doesn’t really work. It falls down” or “This is a big complicated [mess].” All of that goes out the window. What was very clear about this blueprint (and from speaking to Chris), was that the read was quite complex because it’s hard to get inside the mind of the writer. And in another way, I knew that all of the characters were, in some way, him, articulated through relationships in his own life. Because it’s fiction as opposed to, you know, playing a real person. It’s intrinsically connected in many levels to the writer who is also the director of these big movies we’ve seen. He’s the linchpin of all this. The complexities were finding a relationship with Chris Nolan by which we could apply practically what needed to be done without trying to outshine anyone. That’s why there was no ego on the set amongst all these very famous and brilliant actors. Because everyone just defaults to Chris. We’re all very grateful to be here. It’s a film with a lot of substance as well as a great action movie. It’s an anomaly. You don’t get that. It’s like theater. Theater is a place where new ideas are constant. The idea within the theater is like this 24/7. You have anomalies and you work them out. It’s problem solving. But not in a big movie. It’s backed by Warner Bros. There’s 200 million dollars at stake. DiCaprio’s there. Nolan is there. It’s big. We’re under the pressure. It’s not necessarily that it’s hugely complicated to understand. The film, I find, is actually very simple. And it really works. It’s about, “How do you need us to fulfill your vision?” That’s the truest form of any artist serving a writer.
CS: Does he tell you then about the character? Because he seems kind of like–and I know it’s contradictory–a no-nonsense dandy.
CS: No, no. The character that you play.
Hardy: You’re absolutely right. The thing about Chris is that he’s British and I’m British. We’re from a very similar neighborhood. I was quite fortunate to be able to tap into my one on one relationship with Chris Nolan. That was my port of call. So the process of dispatching information and recording a response was very simple. What do you need? Who is this guy? What do you want? He wanted a little bit of John Hurt. A little bit of Bond-ness. A little bit of the Royal Shakespeare company. A bit of Farley Granger. He gave me a book to read about forgery about the fake masterpieces by the Dutch artist. He used to forge. Colin Firth played him… He gave me very images and ideas to collect to put into this character. He liked what I did in “RocknRolla” and wanted to keep it as close to me as possible in many ways. And he didn’t want to try too hard. He wanted to really create something. But this is who he is. This is what he portrays in the film and how he does. He’s very simple and there wasn’t a great amount of back and forth over it. There didn’t need to be. He was very clear about who it was I was to play. And there’s something very old school, MI-5 about this guy as well. He’s got the Graham Greene “Our Man in Havana” type. Old and faded, slightly shabby, down and out diplomats. A bit unscrupulous and off-the-radar. He’s got the gambling and he’s into the dream stuff. Parts of him you find questionable, but you’ve also got the fighting and the scenes within the dreamscape, which shows a potential military background. He’s a very can-do person with weaponry as well. He a good blend of the British kind of espionage take on what a James Bond type would be. Educated. Also minimal effort, maximum force when it comes to the speedy delivery of violence and death. That’s something we pride ourselves on in the military in Britain. That was very clear. He’s an archetype. Everyone up there has their own private relationship with Chris. What I realized personally, on a very minor scale, was that the more I did impressions of Chris, the easier it was. I thought, I have to stop because I’m still talking like Chris. Using his cadence or whatever and then slightly changing it with maybe a little of a slight edge and that Roman Catholic softness. That was feedback I was getting from him. I think Eames is Chris. To be honest, I think they all are Chris. But the more I tried to be Chris, the more I ended up projected on him. That was really what went into it rather than any massive research prior to the planning. Plus, I came straight from “Thick as Thieves” shooting in Pittsburgh. I was straight on and off set. Lost anyway and trying to catch up. There’s Leo and there’s Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe. Tom Berenger. I’m fans of everybody and I have to come to that, coming from obscurity all of a sudden being on set with these very prolific actors. In my world, these are very, very prolific people to do a good job with. I was concerned about not letting the team down. And that fed the work, really. Because not letting the team down was very much what it was all about. Being dispatched and working with new people was the mission of the heist. It’s all reflective.
CS: You’re coming into this off a such an acclaimed role in “Bronson.” How has that film changed your career?
Hardy: Well, “Bronson” has been like a calling card here in the States. I’ve been working for about 12 years as an actor. I’m not new to it. “Bronson” was sort of the last desperate stand in many ways. I’ve always wanted to get onto the American stage. It’s a bigger stage. You get more exposure. It’s great. You want to play as big as you can in your field. It’s like football. Acting is a contact sport for me. The American field is the place that I want to play on. The long-term effect is that smaller, independent films can be funded by greater exposure so I can go back to theater or independent film and then go back to theater or smaller passion projects. The effect of exposure and public image in America is that, obviously, it’s the ocean. I’m a very small fish in a big, big, big sea. So “Bronson” is really me when I’m at home in England. I’m known there. I’ve got a name in London and I can really get things done from a writing point of view and a producing point of view and an acting point of view. My writing partner Kelly Marcel and myself wrote “Bronson,” despite what Nicolas Winding Refn says. Because he’s Danish. He doesn’t actually speak English so he can’t write English. We both wrote that and we shot it in a very short space of time while we were shooting it. The transformation was as it was. I visited him and did sort of investigative journalism. We started to film just as we were getting the script produced. It was a multi-layered opportunity for something like “Bronson” as opposed to like when I was working for HBO and BBC and I was punching the clock as an actor. “Bronson” is really where I’m at in London now. It happened to be a calling card because CAA and the agents there took notice and said, “I think we can now start dealing in the industry”. The commodity from London has come out. I suppose the product being me. They can maybe put me around a lot easier with a card like “Bronson.” But to me that’s just the work. The MO and the character transformation is the stuff I’m interested in.
CS: Can you talk about how you got involved with “Mad Max: Fury Road”? Is that shooting? Is it ready to go?
Hardy: I’m obviously limited as to what I can say. These things are always bound to secrecy and I think that’s a good thing for the film anyway. I’m not allowed to give away anything. Without incriminating myself in any way, it’s a very big film. To step into the shoes of Mel Gibson… George [Miller] and Mel created the franchise “Mad Max” which started off as an independent which then blew up. It took off. It became the “Mad Max” as you know it with t-shirts and DVDs. No computer game yet, but you know, it was early days. This was back before internet. Before all that sort of stuff. I was born the year it came out, so now it’s very funny that I’ve now been asked to play Mad Max. I spent four hours. It was kind of an anomaly. There were many, many actors that would probably be right for Mad Max and there’s many out there who could probably do an exceptional job to portray him. It’s especially a challenge to step in the shoes of such an iconic character. I’m aware that I’m going to take a certain number of casualties when I go in and play him. If I concentrate on that, it’s obviously not going to be the best thing for the project. We have to take it differently, as George is taking it. It’s a relaunch and revisit to the world. An entire restructuring. That’s not to say that it’s not picking up or leaving off from the Mad Max you know already, but it’s a nice re-take on the entire world using the same character, depositing him in the same world, but bringing him up to date by 30 years. Mel would be perfect for it but, for some reason, he’s not doing it and I am. You can expect the same amount of grit and rawness and authenticity and performance, I hope to deliver. But that’s really the crux of me and George to deliver and all the other actors as the other characters. But also we have the new world afforded to filmmakers today with all the opportunities. I think the boys that did “Lord of the Rings” are involved. That kind of stuff as well. CGI is not going to be – I think it’s going to be much more about how you deal with action. These things are going to be really there. Big rigs, big explosions, big car crashes. Big violence, you know. It’s going to actually happen as opposed to doing a 2D turned to 3D screen. It’s going to be an adventure, let’s put it that way. We’re shooting for a year.
CS: Can you at least say when you’re going to be in front of the cameras?
Hardy: I can’t say when I’m going to be in front of the cameras. I’m actually headed tonight to Australia to start some stunt-training. I’m training now. Even though I’m smoking. I’m meant to drop 30 pounds so smoking and one meal a day is my training at the moment. I’m going to start fighting soon. The harder stuff, as we get close to the line. I’ll probably get three or four months of fight training out there. Seven days a week. All that kind of horrible s**t.
CS: So you’re going to train for three months and then shoot for a year?
Hardy: Shooting is probably nine months. Training is allocated as two months. We don’t know if that’s going to push a little bit or come up a little bit. It’s a gray area. There’s very anomalies and shifting papers. All kinds of people’s shifting schedules, from what I’m aware, need to be tied down. The movie is absolutely healthy. It is going, it’s just a question of, not if, when precisely.
CS: You mention shooting in Australia? Have they decided to displace the geographic non-specificity of the original?
Hardy: It’s absolutely the same spot. The same spot.
CS: So you’re going to have an Australian accent?
Hardy: This is a new area to me. It’s up to people like George. I don’t know. I don’t know. Whatever suits the revisit. It would be bold for me to give you an honest answer now. I don’t know and a lot has to be left to the process. It depends on what feeds the project for the best of the project, always.
CS: You’re dropping 30 pounds?
Hardy: I’ve already dropped it.
CS: Are you aiming for a muscular cut, being very thin? What the look you’ve envisioned?
Hardy: Imagine a hungry wolf. Or like when you put a cat in the bath. You grab a cat by the throat and stuff it under the f**king water. You know what it looks like? That’s what I’m going to look like. But like a puma. Very hungry at very dangerous. It’s imperative. This is the kind of guy who’s not well. So I have to create that reality.
CS: Personally, do you find yourself gravitating towards science fiction in any way?
Hardy: No, I go anywhere I can. I’ll do anything anytime anywhere. It’s like a fight. I like acting. I love it. It’s my passion. If I don’t work in movies or in film, I’ll work in a stage. If I don’t work on a stage, if I get locked up in prison, I’ll be telling stories to myself. You know, I’ve got plenty of friends in prison so I’ll be okay. I’d tell them stories and I’d be fine. This is something I do because I love it. If I wasn’t doing it in the entertainment business, I’d probably be in some other country pretending to be in some other religion taking notes on SCUD missiles somewhere in the desert shooting people.
CS: Did you get to work alongside Tom Berenger at all in advance of shooting to find the character relationship?
Hardy: A little bit. See, I watched everybody. I like to be the security, so I’m always watching for anything and everything that can possibly go wrong. So with Tom, I’m a massive fan of Sergeant Barnes from “Platoon.” As a kid, I watched that movie over and over and over again. I was watching Vietnam movies because they’re like my western. I’m 32 years of age and that was the genre that was around when I grew up in England and the south of France. All the way from “Apocalypse Now” all the way through to “Tour of Duty,” the television show that was on to “Platoon” or “Full Metal Jacket.” In “Platoon,” all the American characters are there. None of them are from the UK. So I’m looking at a cross-section of society. Every man from every race. That, at the time, was very unique. And that war, too, had the conscripts and the translated section of society. There were those who could obviously pay their way out of the way but there were also officers in there with Lieutenant Wolfe and you could see the Harvard Yale group. Right through to the brothers in the black fraternity and the Hispanic and Latino fraternity. Your rednecks. You had a mixture. Those who were into drugs and those who weren’t. Sergeant Barnes was, to me, very much like my father. I keyed in very much on him and that was somebody I wanted to be as a young man. So when I met Tom, it’s f**king Sgt. Barnes, you know? And I got to work with Willem Dafoe on another film called “The Reckoning” I’ve got to say, I’ve got a bit of a man crush on Tom Berenger. I just love him. And, of course, I was watching him a little bit harder than I would have if I was just studying something. I just would, by osmosis do little things with the glasses. I tried to make it simple and clear that I was doing an impersonation of him at times. It’s just observation. And listening to his stories. I’d ask him for as many stories as possible. I was a bit shy at first. Whenever I meet somebody who is that much of an icon for me, I get a little nervous. He’s f**king Tom Berenger. Despite what anyone else says about him, I think he’s awesome. You know what I mean?
CS: I’m curious about Nolan as a director. Does he do a lot of takes? Are you an actor who does his best performance in those first three takes or are you fine going to 20 or 30?
Hardy: I could give a f**k. As long as you get it. Any method necessary. Fake it till you make it. Kick, bollock, scramble. I like to train and I like all kinds of methods and I’m never going to be as good as I want to be. If you need to take as many takes, I’m good. Even if I think I’ve got it. I don’t know better than you. I default to my director. Whatever. If the wheels fall off and you push me into the ground and I can’t go any further, I can’t go any further. But in terms of 40 or 50 takes, sometimes an actor can just give up on life and say the f**king lines. What happens then is something quite magical. You can an actor just trying to get through it. Sometimes the first take is the one or the 59th, 68th or 83rd take has a very specific nature to it. A quality. That performance is something that you come to realize in film. Kubrick would do that to people. He’d push to a level where it’s very similar to having flu. Sometimes when you’re on stage, it works to only do what is absolutely necessary to go home and get back to bed and recover so you can do a matinee and another evening performance. The performance is very clean in that way. The actor doesn’t interfere with himself. They’re just doing what they have to do to get out. In character work, what you find in a scene in just basic one on one action planning is you ask yourself, who, what, when, where, why and all that. You ask what you need and what you need to do to get there as expediently as possible. So take 83 will probably be that. What the f**k do you want from me, man? You get the “what the f**k do you want?” performance. And then you give up on life. I don’t care either way.
CS: Well how was Nolan on set? Did he ever make you go to take 83?
Hardy: No, never. He sometimes does it in one take. He goes, “All right then. Moving on. We’ve got it. No, I think we’ve got it.” It’s different with every director. You go with them and you default to what they say. And you can tell if someone knows what they’re talking about. Sad is the day that you find out that they don’t know what they’re talking about, You kick them off and go find another jockey because if you start running around the paddock, you’ll wind up with the worst performance. Because sometimes a director just can’t hold his s**t. But he’ll find out and you’ll find out on the floor and that’s it. You move on and do another project. It’s part of the process.
CS: When you’re doing theater, you’re very much in control of the performance…
Hardy: Ha! You’d like to think.
CS: Well, with a film medium, the director might have, say, ten takes and he chooses your performance so you don’t know what your performance is until you’ve seen the movie. So what was your reaction to seeing “Inception” in its final form?
Hardy: I thought it was brilliant. Because it’s moving so quickly, there’s very little of the performance I gave that wasn’t in the film. It’s so expediently delivered and dispatched. What we shot is on the screen. We just had lots of coverage of it. He’s a very, very masterful filmmaker and he puts a great team together. He’s capturing things from every angle. He’s performance heavy. He’s got an amazing eye for picking up moments and finding things. You don’t even realize sometimes that it’s something you’re giving off. Honestly, on a personal level and a mercenary level, when you’re working with anybody and you sign the line, you kind of know that’s what happens when you go in. If you’re continuity heavy and if you’re good enough, to be able to replicate by repetition naturally and organically the same moves, you could be a continuity junkie as an actor. You can hit the same mark on every single take down to what side is your best side. There’s rocket science if you want to get into it. There’s nerds involved in this game who interact, too. There’s was to define and manipulate our performances as well. There’s all kinds of tricks going. But the bottom line is that what I saw in the film was what I gave on the floor. The angles and the different type of shot. I’m so proud of Chris just to see his brainchild and creation. Which is risky in this climate, too. Saying, “I need $200 million to make a movie about people stealing dreams from people” and “I need this and that” and “I need to turn Paris upside down.” Stuff like that. Who would give that kind of money to anybody these days? And to see it up on the screen is just — I hope you gentlemen agree with me, but I think this is one of the most exciting movies not just of the summer but to appear in theaters for a very very long time. It’s a blockbuster, but it’s also a fulfilling movie, too. Which is not too complex and is simple. And delivers on many levels.
CS: Your character has an antagonistic relationship with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s. Do you guys sort of discuss in advance how you’re going to pull that off in your performances?
Hardy: A lot of stuff is just instinctive. You take the floor and that’s just the way it is. Chris says, “You two have a running banter” and we go with it. If it doesn’t work, it’s not in the can. If it does work, it’s in the film. And Joe’s such a terrific kid. Everybody on that set were such great people to work with. Very articulate and very intelligent and very inventive. All of them love their work. And they love Chris. There was a compete void of ego. And there was plenty of opportunity for there not to be one. I’ve been on sets where you mix actors together and it’s the most atrocious outcome. Interacting with actors, the more generous you are and the more open – The mind is like a parachute. It only works if it’s open. It’s the same thing with interaction with another actor. If someone is open, if I make you look as good as possible by giving you everything I possibly can, I should look good in return, theoretically. Then everyone is on the same wavelength and the possibility is endless, depending on the structure of the piece and the outcome of the team. You never know what you can get. You can get something quite magical from what you first see on the page. The problem with this one is that what was on the page was so f**king magical, how could we take what was on the page off and make it even better? The complexity of it was to be simple. Not to over think it. Chris directs in such a way that the landscape, no matter how massive – and I speak like I’ve done millions of these films. I haven’t. This is just what I picked up from my first big movie – but you have this huge landscape of massive movie drama in the background. You have this orchestration of technical support and stunts and people on the clock looking as money is being spent. Everything was so specific. It’s all in the right place at the right time and orchestrated and organized enough so that Chris, if he had his head on, could turn his back and turn all that into a very intimate environment not dissimilar to how we’re sitting around this table talking. Meanwhile, the background is being moved all around. It’s like being in the middle of a big military operation. And Chris never raised his voice. He was so calm to the point that he was so relaxed as a human being and in such a confident zone that it was infectious. You felt safe to do whatever he asked you to do. He had Joseph on that wire for three weeks. That’s painful for anyone to do. A day is painful. Three weeks… It’ s just painful. You think about military training. I’m not a superman. I’m not a hard guy. I’m not a tough guy. I’ve had military training for the very physical stuff. You start to question your limits very quickly when you’re in pain. You overcome the adrenaline and the excitement and go, “I don’t know if I want this.” There was no moaning from anybody on this film. Joe especially was asked to do things that cost. I mean a little bit. We’re acting. It’s entertainment. It’s not the army. But that’s a very specific human being that can not only orchestrate this kind of movie but get trust from people like that.
CS: Was there anything in particular that you saw in the script or even while shooting that you were excited to see how it might play out in the final onscreen version?
Hardy: All of it, to be honest. All it was, “How is he going to do that? How is he going to do this scene? How he’s going to revolve the set?” We went to these big airplane hangars outside of London and there was a big revolving hotel reception. There’s this whole quadrant right here. As soon as you saw that, it’s like, “Okay. How does this work?” Then you just get involved, really. There were scenes with zero gravity. There were beds that we were rigged into through our suits. Things that late got painted out and wires. We were almost levitating, technically. We were all suspended off wires and stuff. We were turned around and the building was turned around. There was all kinds of stuff on wires which we were all there to see. It was liking walking into a Dali painting. It was very clinical as opposed to, say, walking into a Gilliam. Dali, future-esque. Clean. It was very structured in reality. It was mind-blowing to be honest. But also very simple. But some of the shots that appear very big in the film were done in a little corner of the room. There’s what looks like a huge set piece and it’s just, “take that guy and shoot over there by that bush.” It’s in the film and it ties into the dynamics of a big movie. Shooting set pieces is not always as secondary as one might imagine.
Inception opens in theaters and IMAX on July 16.