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Legend: Tom Hardy reveals how he fought himself playing twins in gangster movie

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There is a key scene in the new, based-on-real-events British gangster movie Legend (out Nov. 20) which sees ’60s mobster Reggie Kray get into a fierce physical confrontation with his twin brother, and fellow gangland overlord, Ronnie. The problem which faced writer-director Brian Helgeland and cinematographer Dick Pope when they came to shoot the fight sequence? Both twins are played in the film by Mad Max: Fury Road star Tom Hardy, whose undeniable thespian talents do not stretch to being in two places at once.

Below, Hardy, Helgeland, and Pope recall how they succeeded in getting around that problem.

BRIAN HELGELAND: I had done 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic, and they had seen that at (London-based production company) Working Title. Tim Bevan (Working Title co-founder) said they were thinking of doing a Krays film and would I be interested. I’d always wanted to do a gangster film. Then, there’s that reality of, “How are we going to do this?” Obviously, there’s a tradition of an actor playing twins. I just wasn’t sure about that because I didn’t want it to be a gimmick. If the audience doesn’t get past that, you’re kind of dead from the start. But, by the same token, if you have two guys playing the brothers then they’ve got to look alike, so the casting is limited.

Reggie was the lead of the two brothers, by far. I thought that I should just start by getting Reggie and see where that goes. I didn’t know Tom, but I had seen him in the film Warrior, and I thought there was quite a Reggie quality [to his character]. First time I met him was over dinner to talk about the script. From the time he sat down, all he was talking about was Ron. He already had a version of Ron’s voice. He was already doing it at dinner — “Pass the potatoes!” — to be funny. But it was very clear that he wanted to play Ron. Basically, at the end of the dinner, he said, “I’ll give you Reggie, if you give me Ron.”

TOM HARDY: The two characters, they were pretty easy to slip between. The complicated part was to make an audience believe it wasn’t one performer doing both parts. 

HELGELAND: There’s different tricks you can use, 70 percent of which are not anything really different than Hayley Mills did in the Parent Trap [in] 1960-whatever.

DICK POPE: We started out [with] more split screens and more motion control technology. But we found a lot of that technology got in the way of what we wanted to do. The crunch of it all was not to do tricky shots all the time where we were really flagging up the fact that it was one actor playing both brothers: “Look how clever we are!” So, we do quite a lot of reverses: we’d look towards one brother, and then we’d look towards the other brother, when they were talking to each other. That’s my shooting style, anyway. That’s what I do. I get in there and explore the face. 

HELGELAND: Tom and I would rehearse in the morning. I would read Ron and he would do Reggie. At which point, once we had the scene down, he would record Ron’s end of the dialog. He’d always play Reggie first, and we’d play Ron in an ear-piece, so he could at least act off his own performance, or a kind of 70 percent performance of Ron, since we hadn’t filmed him yet. Then he’d go and change into Ron mode. Ron wore glasses, he was heavier, he was taller, he had a different hairline. That took a lot of the pressure off. You’re not ping-ponging between two identical twins. 

The thing that really helped us is, we had a great body double, this kid Jacob Tomuri. He was Tom’s stunt double in Mad Max. They’re not identical but they look similar.

HARDY: Jacob played both the brothers, every time the brothers were together. It wasn’t like me playing both brothers, it was actually Jacob and me both playing both the brothers.

HELGELAND: Jacob could mimic one brother or the other. And if Ron was going to leave a cigar around, or turn his head or look, Tom had to decide all that before he played Ron, so that Jacob could do it, so that [when we shot] over Jacob, on the back of his head, onto Reggie, all the movements would match.

HARDY: I put poor old Jacob in the s–t, actually. I threw him under the bus at the beginning. He got thrown under a bus literally on Fury Road and then he got thrown under a bus again on the Krays. The question was, “How do you feel, Jacob, about acting like both of the brothers when I think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done?” Because the Krays is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, technically. He went from not just learning those lines to [being] better than me at it! [Laughs] His Ronnie was so much better than mine and his Reggie was so much better than mine. He got dropped in the s–t and he came up not just smelling of roses but pushing the boundaries. Some of the lines Ronnie says, when we do a bit of ad lib, Jacob made them up. I’m really proud of him. 

POPE: That [fight] scene is largely on steadicam. Now, that’s tricky! [Laughs] Because it’s not a motion-controlled steadicam. Sometimes we just went for it and filmed it in such a way that it looks very spontaneous and flexible, free-floating. And that’s not at all usually — one actor playing two parts — how it’s done. It’s usually done very static. We didn’t want it to be static.

HELGELAND: When we were going to shoot the twins fighting each other in the club, Tom came up and said to me, “How many takes are you going to do?” It was probably three-quarters of the way through the shoot and he had never asked me how many takes I was going to do, ever. So I said, “Why do you want to know?” And he said, “Because me and Jacob are really going to hit each other. So, I want to know, so I can pace myself.” 

HARDY: I said, “We’re going to proper go for it.” 

HELGELAND: I said, “Okay, we’ll have three takes.” And he said, “Okay, we can really go for it.” And I said, “Of course, then we’ve got to do three takes with you as Ron, too.”

HARDY: Whatever I laid down in the morning, I had to literally follow in the afternoon with the other character. The brother-fight is a perfect example of where we had to really be aware that, whenever I interfered with my brother’s face [in the morning, in] the afternoon I had to return that interference, and interfere back into his face. You realize that, if I’m playing Reggie at the top of the day, and I’m slapping Ron, Reggie’s got rings on, I’m going to have to go back in, and shoot the Ron side of it. If I’ve thrown a hard slap as Reggie, then I’m going to receive as Ron, a hard slap from Reggie. I’m getting twice the beating — and so is Jacob.

HELGELAND: He thought about it for, you know, just a second, and nodded his head, and said, “Okay, we can do it.”

POPE: Hit each other? They certainly did. They slapped each other terrible, yeah. They really did. They really hurt each other’s faces. They really did attack each other. It was extraordinary, really. 

HELGELAND: Not all of the punching, but all the slapping, the first half of that fight, they’re really hitting each other.”

HARDY: As we got closer to the end of each other’s coverage we’d throw in some harder punches and slaps. We had a good old slap-fest! It made sense to do slaps instead of punches because you could really connect, and enjoy that, and it’s not actually going to hurt — it’s going to sting — but you’ve got more options to do it often. It was a situation in which I thought, well, either we shy away from it, or we go for it, and we went for it. So, we beat each other up quite badly — for fun. [Laughs] It was fun! 

You can see the trailer for Legend below.

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