For someone with his immense range and talent, Tom Hardy has been a “one to watch” far too long. Years before he went toe-to-toe with Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, he made his debut in HBO’s Band of Brothers in 2001, quickly graduated to Star Trek villain in 2002, and won the BAFTA Rising Star Award for Inception in 2011. Earlier this year, he carried an entire film, Locke, in which he just drove a car and talked on the phone.
Next year, all of that oozing charisma and alluring sense of danger that practically vibrates through his characters will be unleashed with the starring role in George Miller’s Mad Max reboot. Those same qualities are on display in The Drop, his gritty Brooklyn crime thriller with James Gandolfini that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 5 and opens in theaters on Sept. 12. In some ways, his bartender Bob Saginowsky plays a similar type of loner as the iconic futuristic road warrior. Like Max Rockatansky, Bob just wants to be left alone, but his world is full of dangerous characters who prey on the weak and simply take what they want.
Hardy sat down with EW to discuss The Drop, working with the late Gandolfini, and the diverse pair of tough guys he’s up to play next.
EW: I remember for your character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, part of the inspiration for his very distinct voice was a Romanian brawler, right?
TOM HARDY: Bartley Gorman, who was a Romani gypsy. He’s of Irish descent, but he was a Traveller in the British Isles.
So I’m curious where you started looking for Bob’s voice, because not only is it a certain flavor of Brooklyn, but the delivery itself is very distinct.
Sean Penn in We’re No Angels. There’s one line that he said, “Sometimes you’re a stranger too.” There’s a line when he’s in the pulpit giving a speech as a priest. I remember that sound. That was a sound that was key to Bob for me, to a certain level. And I suppose [I incorporated] traces of old ’70s American east-coast movies, and then also trying too find a voice that was coming out of the darkness, and trying to find itself. So there’s an element of mumbling and apology. There’s an apologetic tone to it that was key.
You’ve played a collection of tough guys in the past, most notably, perhaps Bronson, but in The Drop, you’re sharing the screen with Tony Soprano. And James Gandolfini has such presence associated with that character in particular. When two actors like yourself collaborate, is there a certain amount of circling each other first? Or is it a handshake and you just got to work?
It starts with a hug. I’m a huggie kind of guy. Jimmy had a big heart, and also, he knew some friends of mine, like Brett C. Leonard, who writes for the LAByrinth Theater company a lot, and Phil (Seymour Hoffman) was a good friend of mine as well. It’s that world. I’m from London, a million miles away, but I’ve found a lot of kindred spirits in New York City—people from the LAByrinth, like [The Drop‘s] John Ortiz and Elizabeth Rodriguez. And Jimmy was of that world. So it wasn’t Tony Soprano; it was about an artist. And meeting Jimmy came through friends, who said, “You’re going to love him, because he’s got a massive heart.” And he’s very very sensitive, he’s very intelligent, he’s very funny, and he’s very kind.” So I didn’t have any of that [Tony Soprano aura] in my head. The key magnetism came from a kindred spirit of, “I really give a f–k about the work,” and I know he does too, and I love him. I just wanted to please him with the work.
The more tense the scene gets, the quieter Bob seems to become. Was that always how you read the character or was that a specific decision on your part, that he slows things down when things are speeding up?
Well, there’s always quiet before something really serious happens. It’s just dramatic effect, isn’t it? A great act of violence normally happens with [snaps fingers] completely and just disappears before anyone even knows that it’s happened. So that’s kind of the terrain we’re playing with with a character like Bob. He has to listen a lot and read the terrain, and all of that [quiet] is in tune with the symptom of somebody who wants to be invisible. He has to gauge and read what the threat is—the symptom of that is in language or listening or reacting, ascertaining and gauging just how serious somebody else is. And when that point is that you have to do something about it and how.
You have Mad Max coming out next year, adding another dark and dangerous character to your resume. But there’s also Elton John on the horizon. Is he a tough guy too?
Yeah, he is, actually. Somewhere between Bronson and Billy Elliot? [Laughs] And Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And The Pianist. He’s a very very interesting and unique individual. And that’s a case file that is open and taking it’s time to grow and ruminate and meditate on.
You’ve worked on huge blockbuster productions before, like Batman and Inception, but Mad Max will be your baby. Can you ever prepare yourself for something like that?
What do you mean?
Well, just the extra attention and responsibilities that go with a huge franchise that has decided you are its face.
Just go with it. See what happens. With anything, you’re part of an ensemble. And it’s George Miller’s character. Mad Max belongs to George Miller. The whole world belongs to George Miller, he created it. And its 30 some years in the making, the latest Mad Max. And it’s not like some other director who’s taken up the mantle undecided that he’s going to deliver his version of events. It’s a continuation of George Miller’s meditations on where he’s at now with the assets that he has available to him. So very much I get on the ride, as part of being a small cog in a much grander tapestry of a man’s life work, actually. So it’s an honor to be part of that and circumstance would have it that I’ve been chosen to play Max, so I’m very grateful for that. It’s a resurgence of that, a continuation of the work that is already there, by the guy who created it in the first place. I don’t really now what the output is. What the fallout… I don’t really dwell on that. Just play my part. Get on with it. Move on. And hopefully they’ll be more [Mad Max films].