Martina Cole's The Take - Tom Hardy interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
TOM Hardy came out of drama school and straight into HBO’s Band of Brothers, followed by Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. He’s been working ever since – always pushing himself as is evident in his most recent role: Bronson.
He talks to us about his character in Sky1’s The Take, which could be the nastiest piece of work he’s ever played.
Q. How do you view Freddie, your character in The Take? Is he an irredeemable villain?
Tom Hardy: Freddie is like an old school gangster in a new school body – he’s on the fringe of two generations and so he’s discarded during the crossover between the two regimes because of his inability to blend in and to co-operate. Although those same characteristics make him quite a powerful tool as well, he’s capable of acts of great violence delivered with great clarity, which sends out a message in that world. But he’s definitely a carthorse used by the others. And his is the story of ambition and “could have been a contender”. One of desperate need, loss and longing to be accepted, but never being achieved.
Q. It must be hard part to play him because he doesn’t exactly get many sympathetic lines or actions…
Tom Hardy: No [laughs]. No, he’s a bastard. A lot of the scary characters and scary moments I’ve played have come from what’s scared me. I visualise these people doing it to me. So when I’m playing Freddie doing something – killing… that’s some cold shit and that would hurt me. I try to play that to the letter. I met lots of Freddies – I’ve visited lots of Freddies in prison and I met Freddies who’ve come out and hung up their gloves. So it’s not such a steep drop for me, because I’ve just come from playing back-to-back characters on the violent outside of society.
Q. I guess having played the psychopath in Stuart: A Life Lived Backwards, a thug in RocknRolla and the infamous lifer Charles Bronson – is there an attraction to these sort of roles?
Tom Hardy: Well, they are quite different characters and I wouldn’t really put Stuart in there because he’s quite a different kettle of fish – although he did have psychopathic tendencies and violent outbursts but always with very different centres. I actually think Stuart is very similar to Charles Bronson – although Charlie is like Stuart trapped in a polar bear’s body with a caveman’s tools. With Freddie, he gives of the veneer of being quite scary – and with good reason – but if you scratch the surface there’s more there.
Freddie is an amalgamation of a few naughty characters that I met. If you spend an hour and a half with a prison guard then you’re going to hear stories. Especially if you’re standing in Wakefield maximum security and there’s only seven lifers on the wing and one of them’s a cannibal. You get stories…
Q. Do you have to sympathise with a character to play him?
Tom Hardy: Everyone has a point of view. So what I’m trying to say is when approaching these characters – if they’re soldier, terrorist, cop or criminal – you’re going to find human traits in every walk of life, in every hole, under every rock. There’s going to be a tale of hope or competition or love or rivalry – a human story. But then it’s not my job to judge, it’s to understand their point of view and then play it. All that worthy stuff…
Q. What about the story of The Take?
Tom Hardy: It’s very tightly packed. We’ve got Molière, we’ve got the Odyssey, we’ve got bits that could be a Western and, at the same time, it is a genre piece as well. It’s not a cliché genre piece, but then a cliché is only a cliché because there should be substance to it in its rawest form. But this here is optimum prime beef. The problem with prime beef is that there are so many people out there selling offal. So you don’t know when you’re going eat a shitty gangster movie. Because everybody knows there’s good stuff to be involved in.
If everything is all lined up – good writing, good directing, good DOP, all of that – then there’s a profound story to tell and an opportunity for performers to come up with something good. And I do think The Take is that. It’s a solid piece of work. It’s really refreshing because there are so many shitty gangster movies out there riddled with stereotypes.
Q. Do those stereotypes sit on your shoulder while you’re doing the work? Do you always try to avoid the cliché?
Tom Hardy: Yes, of course they do and that comes down to survival of the fittest. If I turn in a shoddy performance I’m never going to work again, plus I look like a wanker. I’ve got a huge ego and very low self esteem so if someone thinks I’m shit at something it hurts [laughing]. I’ve read the IMDB board – Tom Hardy has wonky teeth and he’s shit. I try and keep tongue in cheek about it but it hurts. And there’s always a certain pride in getting the job done properly.
You said: “What sits on my shoulders?” Well, what sits on my shoulders is me. It comes down to personal tastes and preference and I’m the quality control on it. Because I’m a jobbing actor, I have no control over where it’s going to go. The only thing I can do is wipe my arse, brush my teeth, turn up and do the best work I can. And I’m going to fail. That’s a given.
Q. Why do you say that?
Tom Hardy: Because I’m human. I’m going to fail to hit the mark I’ve put up before me because it’s not possible to hit it. I want to be the best at what I do so I’ve got to get over myself already because that’s never going to happen. I ain’t ever going to be God. I don’t know anything about god except that it’s not me. So, somewhere between that acceptance and doing my homework and being competitive and having ambition and loving my job and observing and reflecting my society, that’s where I find the purpose. Because man needs purpose, you know what I mean? I need purpose.
My job is to show and tell. If I get better at showing and telling then presumably I get hired more. I get hired more then I get seen more. I get seen more then maybe celebrity and fame happens but at the end of the day there’s no difference between my five dollar performance and my fifty million dollar performance. It’s not going to make me a better father is it? [Pause] Although I guess if I had fifty million dollars I could spend more time at home…
Q. What was the attraction of acting in the first place?
Tom Hardy: I had nothing left that I could do [laughing]. I didn’t want to leave home. I wanted to stay at home with my mum, d’you know what I mean? I’m a nice middle class public schoolboy who underachieved and wasn’t going anywhere fast. I didn’t get any GCSEs or A-levels. But everyone was like: “Please, will you do something?” And I was thinking: “Well, I kind of like the idea of joining the French Foreign Legion.” But my mum said that’s never going to happen because you can’t even wash your own socks. I had a huge imagination. My granddad says I was a bit of a Walter Mitty character. I’d learned how to lie and manipulate from an early age so a combination of that, desperation, having to have my own fridge and my umbilical cord back… I had to go out into the world. Then some angel somewhere said: “Have you considered going to drama school?” And this sounded like the solution to all of my problems.