Once in a while there is an actor so versatile that they can move between several completely dissimilar characters and not only do each one justice, but totally morph into and embody those characters with absolute believability. This might seem like the very definition of acting, but not everyone is so flexible, perhaps adhering to believable behavior within a range of character types (think the Brad Pitts of the world who merely play themselves but still manage to conjure impressive feats of acting within that limitation). Tom Hardy is a recent arrival to this league of versatile actors, often seeming to disappear into one character – taking on a new voice, physicality, mannerisms, facial expressions, or general tone – only to submerge once again, just as convincingly, into another new and unique being. Hardy’s newest movie, The Drop, arrives in theaters at the end of the week and has the actor playing a lowly Brooklyn tough guy – certainly a departure from say the suave and sassy Eames from Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) or very probably his upcoming turn as the title character in George Miller’s new installment of the Mad Max series, Fury Road (2015). Here’s a look at some of Tom Hardy’s most unbelievable transformations.
6. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
I am going to say right off that this movie is terrible, and was very justifiably the last big screen outing of the Next Generation Star Trek cast. I remember seeing it in theaters when it first came out and rather enjoying it for the spectacle it was and taking delight in just one more adventure for the legendary crew. None of that diminishes just how bad of a movie it really is. I was interested, however, in the storyline involving Picard and his evil clone Shinzon. I have absolutely no recollection as to why someone had created a clone of Picard (other than, well, why wouldn’t you?) or what his involvement in the unfolding of events was, but the arrogance and malice that he feels toward his doppelganger is not only palpable, but in such complete contrast to the gentle, disappointed, and wizened manner of Patrick Stewart that it is heartbreaking to watch.
5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
While Tom Hardy had a large supporting role in Inception before this, it was The Dark Knight Rises that shot him to Hollywood fame as the unintelligible and impossibly muscular Bane. It is always a daring move for any actor to accept a role that requires part or all of the face to be masked – it is, after all, a large part of the actor’s instrument – forcing them to rely on physicality and vocal quality alone to convey meaning and emotion. Hardy, while incomprehensible vocally, displays an impressive physicality – greatly enhanced by his mountainous musculature – and conveys a powerful self-righteousness and confidence. Whatever he’s saying, people tend to be affected by it – which is part of what makes Bane such a convincing decoy.
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Ricky Tarr stands out a bit from most of the other characters in this 70s British spy thriller. He’s a little coarser around the edges, street smart over book smart, but just as capable of playing the game as anyone with a fancy public school education (in case you didn’t know, England’s “public school” is our “private school”). It is a product of the film and its style that the acting generally has a slightly understated tone and the language very precise and to the point. Tarr may be the muscle in the field, but you can tell from his businesslike manner and the professional way in which he tells an emotional story that he knows his job better than any of them. He knows what’s important and that time is of the essence. At the same time, there is a self-awareness of his involvement in his somewhat detached story and clearly feels responsible for the lives of the people he manipulated.
3. Locke (2014)
It isn’t often you see a film where there’s a single actor with screen time. In this case, Tom Hardy shares the film with a collection of voices over the phone while he drives to meet the woman who is having his baby at a London hospital. Ivan Locke’s life unravels one thread at a time while he tries to keep the whole mess together via phone. Hardy’s Locke is a cool customer, keeping calm and reasonable in even the worst situations, problem solving until the bitter end. The thing is, that this enforced calm is so smooth and gentle that it rings completely false. Underneath it all, the measured tones and the endless patience, Ivan Locke is crumbling and you can see it happening. On one hand it happens by degrees that you can see escalating, but on the other the breakdowns come so suddenly and so strikingly compared to that eerie calm that you are taken aback by their sudden violence.
2. Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)
In this television movie, about a middleclass writer who befriends a homeless man and determines to write the story of his life, Tom Hardy plays Stuart, the erratic, alcoholic, heroin addicted, homeless man of the title. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the man who befriends him, who really and truly finds him interesting and funny and intelligent and very good company, despite or even because of all his troubles. Hardy is a striking contrast to the straight-laced Cumberbatch, with all his shambling and mumbling and squinting awkwardness. Despite a toned and lithe physique that Hardy can’t quite hide, Stuart seems to be collapsing into himself, nearly shriveling away, increasingly powerless. It is revealed later that Stuart has, among other issues, muscular dystrophy, a condition that explains much about his odd mannerisms. While the physicality is impressive enough, Hardy also acts the hell out of the character. We are used to a certain pained expression on Stuart’s face, a seemingly permanent cringed furrow – until he finds an unexpected moment of happiness among his new friends in the country. His eyes open, his face clears, and a smile dawns as a look of serenity comes into his face – and it kills us all the more to know that he is capable of such happiness in a life that guarantees its brevity.
1. Bronson (2008)
This is by far the most impressive and unique of Tom Hardy’s performances that I’ve ever seen. Bronson is Nicolas Winding Refn’s film about Britain’s most violent prisoner, Michael Peterson, but who chose to go by the name of Charles Bronson. He had a certain pathology for violence, a goal to make a name for himself by doing what he did best – fight. The film is structured in such a way as to allow Bronson to commentate on his life between vignettes as if presenting to a vaudeville audience. These asides are abstract and flamboyant, showcasing a certain campy and disturbing showmanship – a twisted frivolity and joy taken in the acts of violence which Bronson commits. Once again, one of the most impressive things about Hardy’s performance is his distinct physicality. Hardy doesn’t just put on hard muscle for this role, he also puts on bulk, making his strength feel less refined and more animalistic. One gets the feeling that Bronson comes by his mass incidentally – that his strength and physique are not something that he intentionally cultivated but are just a fact of his life. And no matter what Bronson is doing, there’s always a sense of menace in it, a potent possibility of violence just bubbling under the surface. Hardy’s complex performance might be difficult to pin down in words, but once you see it you’ll never forget it.