Tom Hardy will play the villainous Bane in ’The Dark Knight Rises,’ the finale of Christopher Nolan’s ’Batman’ trilogy.
Rising star Tom Hardy more than lives up to his last name. The British actor, who garnered the attention of Hollywood with his ferocious performance in “Bronson,” prides himself on the brutal punishment he took in preparation for his latest movie, “Warrior,” a bare-knuckled look at the world of cage fighting.
“I got off the plane in Pittsburgh, and we started (training) at 6 a.m.,” he says. “We immediately hit the pads. After two hours I said, ‘OK, is the day done?’ They said, ‘No, no. That’s just the warm-up.’ Then came two hours of boxing, two hours of Muay Thai, two hours of jujitsu. And then two hours of weightlifting.
“There was no end of pulled-pork jokes on the set because all we would do is go get our pulled pork. We’d have a couple of group protein shakes together. Then we’d do it all over again. We did that for seven weeks, seven days a week, just eating and doing (jujitsu) to the music that you hear at the end of the movie. We’d do that sometimes for eight hours straight.”
After finishing the movie, which opens Friday in area theaters, Hardy muscled his way into two more physically demanding projects. He’ll pop up as the villainous Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the finale of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. Then Hardy goes off to Australia to play the title role in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a revamp of Mel Gibson’s apocalyptic actioners.
“I’m into theater,” Hardy, 33, says. “I trained to do Chekhov and Shakespeare. I was trained for the stage and ended up in the cage.”
Not that Hardy is complaining, mind you. He’s called acting “a contact sport” and routinely transforms himself physically for roles. For his breakthrough turn in “Bronson,” he added nearly 40 pounds of muscle to his frame.
“Tom is a great actor,” “Bronson” helmer Nicholas Winding Refn notes. “He’s the chameleon of chameleons.”
Despite his love of physical roles, Hardy was initially wary of “Warrior.” The movie, which the actor describes as a cross between “Rocky” and “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” begins with Tommy (Hardy) taking up mixed martial arts under the tutelage of his boozy former boxer dad (Nick Nolte). In the final round, Tommy’s opponent is estranged brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton).
“When I first read the script it was altogether different,” Hardy says. “Tommy had long hair, and he went swimming every morning with rocks in a rucksack. … I thought, ‘You need Chuck Norris for this. There’s no way that I’m going to be able to transform into this guy.’ ”
Then Hardy met director Gavin O’Conner, the filmmaker best known for helming the character-driven dramas “Miracle” with Kurt Russell and “Pride and Glory” with Edward Norton and Colin Farrell.
“It was Gavin, actually, who sold me because when I read it I was like, ‘I’ve never played this. I’ve never played this much above my weight. I’m miscast. It’s a challenge.’ It was physically a challenge, and the accent was tough. Everything was impossible.
“But it started to add up that this wasn’t a kung-fu, martial-arts kind of movie at all; it wasn’t a kind of Chuck Norris thing whatsoever. This was actually a family drama with a backdrop of the world of mixed martial arts. And Gavin was very passionate about it.”
After seven weeks of training, Hardy knew Tommy inside and out. With more than a smidge of admiration, Hardy describes his “Warrior” alter ego as a bracing mix of opposites.
“Tommy is a very willful, feral, instinctive guy,” Hardy says. “He’s a gorilla type. He’s an animal, a beast of nature, a whirling dervish, a Tasmanian devil of rage. As long as he’s in violent motion, there’s a stillness within him. But as soon as he’s still, he’s dangerous because that violence is within his head.”
Hardy’s own backstory is nearly as colorful as Tommy’s. The only child of a painter mother and a comedy-writer father, Hardy had a troubled childhood in which he was kicked out of several schools. At 15, he was arrested for joyriding in a stolen Mercedes.
After he was expelled from the London acting school Drama Centre, Hardy set his sights on a professional career. Very quickly, he landed a pair of meaty roles on HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and in Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.”
But just as his career was taking off, his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine pulled him off course. After collapsing on the street in 2003, he enrolled in rehab and has been sober since.
Hardy bounced back professionally with a string of well-reviewed stage and TV roles, including “The Take” and “Wuthering Heights,” both of which starred his fiancée, Charlotte Riley. (Hardy has a 3-year-old son, Louis, with his former girlfriend, director Rachael Speed).
Nabbing the title role in “Bronson” was a turning point. The film, which received limited distribution in the United States, delved deep into the story of Charles Bronson, a real-life criminal so dangerous he’s spent most of his adult life in solitary confinement.
“I’ve been working for about 12 years as an actor,” Hardy told Collider.com last year. “I’m not new to it. ‘Bronson’ was sort of the last desperate stand in many ways. I’ve always wanted to get onto the American stage. It’s a bigger stage. You get more exposure. It’s great. You want to play as big as you can in your field. It’s like football. Acting is a contact sport for me. The American field is the place that I want to play on.”