The James Clayton Column: in praise of Tom Hardy

In this week’s column, the release of Warrior inspires James to look back over the work of one of the UK’s finest actors, Tom Hardy…

The arrival of Warrior in cinemas gives audiences a fresh chance to appreciate the awe-inspiring Tom Hardy. In my humble opinion, he deserves to be hailed as one of the most exciting actors currently working. He’s not really a household name yet, but soon will be, no doubt, which is fitting for someone who’s something of a modern day equivalent to Robert De Niro.

Warrior is intriguing for several reasons, not least because it comes highly acclaimed and promises to be a gritty drama about family issues, conflict, personal demons and fighting for a future in spite of the past. It also, in spite of a 12A certificate, offers some adrenaline pumping mixed martial arts action and cage fighting sequences. At the very least, it’s going to be a bit like The Fighter, except instead of Christian Bale playing a goofy punch-drunk junkie, we’ll have Hardy and Aussie actor Joel Edgerton thrashing it out in a cage.

I’ve hopes that Warrior is going to rise above the standard, and become more than just another “I could’a been a contender” sport story matter. I believe in the leading trio of Hardy, Edgerton and Nick Nolte (playing the fighting brothers’ alcoholic father) and expect them to provide impact and character, and the plot synopsis resonates more strongly than an archetypal narrative that simply regurgitates the Rocky formula.

What’s more, Hardy as an actor never fails to impress, both in his performance and in his physicality, and this flick gives him a big stage (or rather, a big open ring enclosed in a cage) to showcase his ability as a main attraction to wider audiences. This will only be the case if Warrior gets seen, though, and that may require Hardy himself showing up at multiplexes to crack his knuckles at cinemagoers who were veering towards a rerelease screening of The Lion King in 3D instead.

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It’s his commitment to roles, and the way that he really gets under the skin of his characters that makes me admire Tom Hardy. Every performance is intense, yet he always manages to retain a certain charm and sense of guile that draws you in no matter how big his part is.

Even in a star-studded ensemble he’s a compelling presence, as was the case in Inception where he played Eames, one member of Leo DiCaprio’s subconscious cracking team. The same is true of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in which he appears as Ricki Tarr, one of the most human elements in a movie that’s all about the Cold War and cold, detached style.

Hardy’s protagonists are always relatable no matter how ugly or unappealing they are, and he never fails to make an impression, even in pictures dominated by screen icons, special effects or ultra-complex plots. When he gets to actually lead a film, as he did in Bronson, he’s an all-out acting tour-de-force.

As “Britain’s Most Dangerous Criminal” he alternated between cheeky comedian and violent psychopath, and recalling his portrayal of Charles Bronson (the British prisoner, not the Death Wish actor), I’m eager to see how he handles the Mad Max reboot, and what he’s bringing to Bane for The Dark Knight Rises.

His deft ability to switch between touching humanity and horrific brutality makes him the perfect successor to Mel Gibson for Max, and might make Bane a more interesting figure than the goon in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. This is the character that, in comics lore, “broke the Bat”, and I think it’s fair to say that the world deserves better than the juiced-up gimp the 1997 film served up. I demand that Batman’s spine be broken by a convincing villain, not by a cartoon vision who looks and acts like a silly amateur wrestler.

Just as Christopher Nolan’s retakes swept away the stench of the 90s Bat-flicks, I expect Hardy’s Bane will bash away all the bad memories of the Batman & Robin henchman-thing. Warrior will provide an indication of the guy’s fighting form and, visually, give audiences a chance to check out his physical condition. It’s undeniably impressive, and aside from the acting skills, Hardy’s dedication to honing his body for whatever project he’s taking on is another feature that marks him as an outstanding performer.

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I admire actors who fully throw themselves into becoming a character, but those that go beyond prosthetics and mo-cap, and physically transform themselves, get extra credit as dramatic craftsmen. Not only does it give the finished film an edge of authenticity, but you feel like the actor in question has worked hard, and really cares about the product they are pushing out to cinemagoers.

In a way, I appreciate the effort that the individual has gone to in order to make the experience more entertaining and immersive. In an ideal world, lazy thesps would be relegated to daytime TV, and Hollywood’s casting agents would only hire those who put their heart, soul and entire body into absolutely everything.

Tom Hardy is one of those guys, like Robert De Niro of the old days (Raging Bull Bobby), Viggo Mortensen and Christian Bale, to name a few. Actors that go method amaze me, most of all when they have get into shape for a role in order to truly deliver the goods. I personally find it fascinating to read about the ordeals and extreme training that actors do to achieve the right physique, if only so I have a fleeting moment of thinking “Hey! I could follow in Chris Hemsworth’s footsteps and look like Thor!”

There’s still hope for me, and every other weakling movie nerd, that I could muscle up and look like a Thunder God or beefcake boxer. The results are there to see on screen, and if cushy Hollywood types can do it then so, potentially, can you. Stick a photo of Hemsworth as Thor, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or the cast of 300 next to your workout space and believe.

Through a regimen of cardio, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, boxing and probably a whole lot of other hard exercise and focused dietary work, Tom Hardy gained 30lbs of muscle for Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises. This is the sort of remarkable commitment that characterises the actor, should be commended, and make other actors take note. Natalie Portman deservedly got an Oscar for her dedicated emotional and physical preparation for Black Swan. If there’s any justice, Hardy will one day have another role like Bronson and taste similar glory.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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You can reach James on his Twitter feed here, see his film cartoons here and more sketches here.