Nic Refn’s ‘Bronson’: Marcel’s Uncredited Rewrite, Statham & Pearce Paved Way for Tom Hardy

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Bronson back-story
Tom Hardy in Bronson
Photo: Magnet Releasing

If you’re only now getting acquainted with Tom Hardy after Mad Max: Fury Road that’s a shame, though I do welcome you to the adoring fold. And if you’re only familiarity with Nicolas Winding Refn is Drive, then you’re missing out. In fact, Drive isn’t even my favorite Refn film, and Fury Road, well, it may be my favorite Hardy film, but it’s definitely a close call along with Refn’s wonderful 2009 release, Bronson, of which some intriguing back-story has come to light as of late concerning casting the lead and the film’s script.

To begin, during a Q&A at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles promoting the release of the Bronson soundtrack on vinyl (via The Playlist), Refn revealed Hardy wasn’t his first choice. In fact, Jason Statham was his initial target, but the script caused The Stath to balk.

“I’m a big fan of Jason, and have seen a lot of his movies,” Refn said. “I really tried to get Jason, but he loved our meeting and then got the script and was like ‘yeah man, I don’t know what to tell you.’ And it was a shame because at that time, getting Jason Statham in a movie like this was gonna make you a millionaire, but it didn’t turn out that way which was probably the right thing to do. And when it got to Guy Pearce, who also turned me down, I knew I was never gonna get anyone with value.”

I feel “value” in this case should be placed in quotes considering what he ended up with, but considering Refn had only about $900,000 it wasn’t as if he could pay anyone a substantial fee so I get his point. Refn eventually cast Tom Hardy, a moment we should all be thankful for, but even that seems to have been a difficult choice until it wasn’t.

Bronson back-story
Tom Hardy in Bronson
Photo: Magnet Releasing

“I had met Tom Hardy earlier that year because he was like an up-and-coming actor. I don’t drink alcohol and he was an ex-alcoholic, and we met at a wine bar in London which is the worst place you could meet in. And I don’t think we very much liked each other, so that was that,” Refn said only to realize he still had no one for the role. “I looked around and then at the end when I couldn’t find anyone, the casting director said, ‘You should really meet with Tom again, I’m telling you he is it.’ I was very stupid and arrogant and reluctant, but in the end, there were no real choices that I had that I was happy with. So we met again in a much more just ‘me and him’ situation, and right away I saw my guy. So he got the part, and I must say I think he’s absolutely amazing in the movie.”

What’s interesting about this goes back to the Statham turning the film down after reading the script. A quote from Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast.

Bronson, they went into production on a script that wasn’t ready,” she said, “just simple as that.”

Marcel, who wrote the screenplay for Saving Mr. Banks and Fifty Shades of Grey (of which she tells Ellis she still hasn’t seen and doesn’t intend to), started off talking about Bronson saying this idea of starting a film without a complete script is more common than you might think. “This is happening more and more actually in this industry, it’s completely bizarre,” she said. “People are going into production with scripts that aren’t ready, that literally aren’t finished and don’t have a third act. It’s just completely crazy.”

As for the entire tale of her work on the film, here’s how she tells it:

I think Nic and Tom were shooting in the first week and suddenly realized [it didn’t have a third act] and Tom’s character didn’t have an arc and the whole of that theatre sequence throughout Bronson was not in the script at that point.

There was a different storyline that was about Bronson meeting the Krays. So Bronson wasn’t Bronson, it was Bronson and the Krays and I think, belatedly, they realized that’s not the movie they wanted to make. So, they shut down shooting and I went up to Nottingham and I moved into an apartment right next door to Nic and I would write through the night because they had to carry on shooting as we rewrote.

So all of those theatre scenes were going in and being written through the night and then being handed to Tom five minutes before he shot them on the set. So, if you’ve seen Bronson, that’s quite extraordinary.

There’s one particular scene in that where he plays both a woman and a man [clip included below] and Nic was like, ‘He’s never going to be be able to do it. There’s no way he’s going to be able to do this and by the way, you’ve gone mad. What the hell is this?” and I was like, ‘He can do it, he can do it. Just give him two takes and if he doesn’t do it I’ll step in and play the woman, which was the most horrendous idea in the world. And he did it.

Tom was extraordinary and I think there are very few actors that could have coped with the stress and strain of writing Bronson while shooting Bronson and he did and I think it’s an extraordinary performance.

Extraordinary indeed, but between both this and the Refn Q&A, there’s also a nugget of information in there that could easily be overlooked. When Marcel mentions the “Krays” she’s referring to Reggie and Ron Kray, identical twin gangsters and the lead characters in Brian Helgeland‘s upcoming film Legend in which Hardy takes on a dual role, playing both brothers. So it would seem he was perhaps destined to play the Kray twins as much as he was destined to play Bronson, a man Refn says Hardy was obsessed with.

Tom Hardy in Legend
Tom Hardy in Legend
Photo: Universal Pictures

“He had oddly been obsessive about Charlie Bronson and knew him and was studying him because they were trying to make the movie earlier on with someone else and he was gonna play Bronson back then,” Refn said. Hardy’s obsession landed him a role delivering what may be the best performance of his career and perhaps helped him land the role playing the Krays in Legend, a movie I’m even more excited to see now than I was before as there seems to be an attachment there I wasn’t previously aware of.

As for the revelation Marcel brought to the table the theatre scenes in Bronson and the fact Hardy was only getting them a few minutes before having to perform is astonishing. They are the backbone of the film and some of the best moments in the entire feature. The fact she remained an uncredited screenwriter (she was given a script editor credit) is beyond me, but hey, that’s the movies.

I could probably scour the Internet and put together a massive essay on this film at this point as Hardy definitely has a lot to say about the film’s title character, but for now I will just leave you with the scene Marcel described above, but if you haven’t seen Bronson yet, maybe just watch that instead. If you’re any fan of Refn and/or Hardy you owe yourself that much.