An actor of astonishing range, just as comfortable inhabiting guttural types like Charles Bronson and Tinker Tailor’s Ricki Tarr as he is playing more manicured gentlemen like Inception’s Eames, Tom Hardy is in demand and on the rise. His latest film, Steven Knight’s motorway-set drama Locke, is a persuasive showcase for his gifts. In it he plays a construction worker faced with a potentially life-changing dilemma. With the world at his feet, the 36 year-old actor seemingly has only the nicer sorts of choices to make these days. We’ve looked back on his ascent to prominence with a swift cruise through the highs and lows of his career to date.
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: INCEPTION (2010)
Truly talented actors can do a lot with not too much, and Tom Hardy proves that maxim by all but stealing Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi heist movie from beneath his gilded co-stars. As Eames, he’s the suavely gone-to-seed, old-worldy trickster in Mombasa – A Good Conman In Africa? – who Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb comes to rely on as a dream impersonator convincing enough to dupe his mark. Hardy describes his character as “an old, Graham Greene-type diplomat” with a “sort of faded, shabby grandeur”, and sure enough, he delivers all those facets in just a handful of scenes. It’s a performance so finely tuned, it had some immediately touting him for 007 duties. With a single line – “Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling” – he proves himself capable of playing effete and badass at exactly the same time.
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: BRONSON (2008)
Hardy’s pec-cellence in Nicolas Winding Refn’s unflinching prison drama marked him out as a talent to watch. The combination of Refn’s balls-out direction and Hardy’s unrestrained commitment to playing the solitary confinement regular (he gained three stone of muscle for the role by doing 2500 press-ups a day... 2498 more than Empire's PB) impressed even the notorious hardnut who lent his name to this prison drama. In fact, Michael Peterson – aka Charles Bronson – an initially skeptical subject, wrote that “no actor on the planet could have portrayed me any better than Tom Hardy” when he saw the film, declaring the actor “a genius”. And we’re not about to argue with him. For a variety of reasons.
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: WARRIOR (2011)
Note perfect as US Marine-turned-MMA superstar Tommy Riordan, Hardy was so fretful about messing up his Warrior audition he turned up at director Gavin O’Connor’s house in the dead of night and camped down for with the filmmaker for five days, presumably eating him out of red meat in the process. Even then, his first script read was a haphazard affair. O’Connor, however, was persuaded. “I don't know what the fuck it was”, he remembers, “I just knew he was the guy. He was Tommy. Tom Hardy has this quality where there could be this very hard exterior, but there's also a very fragile little boy in there.” Sure enough, Hardy’s knack for projecting a rare mix of external strength and internal pain – think Brando in On The Waterfront – complements the ballast of Joel Edgerton’s wiser brother and a firecracker Nick Nolte turn as their father.
RECOMMENDED: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2011)
If your favourite Bane line is the bit where he says “Mffhsjsfffphhm!”, you were probably watching an earlier cut of The Dark Knight Rises. Once those audio hiccups had been smoothed over, Hardy’s hulking take on the DC supervillain offered a fittingly brooding yin to Batman’s jaded yang. When he breaks the Bat-spine, you really feel it. For the first time, Christian Bale’s Dark Knight meets his physical match in this machine-tooled ‘roid fiend with a taste for detonating things. It’s no easy task conveying the streak of humanity that’s doggedly clinging on within Bane with the mask on – and a seriously perfunctionary death scene doesn’t help – but his eyes blaze with an intelligence that makes him a worthy heir to the Joker.
RECOMMENDED: TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011)
Again, Hardy does plenty with a bare handful of scenes and some old-school wardrobe choices in Tomas Alfredson’s spy thriller. His take on jaundiced MI6 scalp-hunter Ricki Tarr is a very different creation to Hywel Bennett’s spiv spy in the great BBC miniseries, and he’s moved locations from Lisbon to Istanbul, but it’s an equally full-blooded interpretation of the character. His Tarr is world-weary, sure, but also determined “not to end up like all of you”, as he pointedly puts it to George Smiley. Like his spymaster boss (Gary Oldman), Hardy’s hardcase has been robbed of his lover by KGB megabrain Karla; like Smiley, he’s thirsting for payback. Unlike Smiley, he manages to look good in a John Motson sheepskin coat. MI-sex, more like.
FOR THE FAN: STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002)
Bred from a test tube as part of a dastardly Romulan plan to clone Jean-Luc Picard and cause maximum Picard-y havoc, Tom Hardy shaves his head, rolls up his cloak sleeves and gets genuinely sinister as Praetor Shinzon in this underrated entry in the Trek canon. After a brief career as a model, an obligatory appearance in Band Of Brothers and a role in Black Hawk Down, Hardy's nasty Pickardgänger offered notice of his charisma, his ability to hold the camera and an elan in bringing the villainy that would later serve Gotham so badly in The Dark Knight Rises. Despite being famously audition-shy, his screen test opposite Patrick Stewart shows off his natural flair for dialogue.
ONE TO AVOID: THE MEANS WAR (2012)
A 26-per-cent-rating stinky salsa on Rotten Tomatoes, this clunky, clumsy espionage rom-com was a mirthless affair that even the combined charms of Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon couldn’t salvage. Spy capers can be an erratic business: a sprinkle too much knowingness and you get Mr. & Mrs. Smith; a dollop too much cheese and you’re left with Knight And Day; too much of everything and it’s The Tourist o’clock. McG’s thunker earns its place in that rogues’ gallery with a central premise that has Star Trek alumni Hardy and Pine vying for the affections of a product tester (Witherspoon) and misappropriating vast amounts of CIA resources to woo her. Anyone who went along expecting this Nora-Ephron-does-24 plot to translate into fizzing chemistry and amusing repartee would have been disappointed. And – spoiler! – she picks Pine. As if.