Two days in London with the odd mix of ego and low self-esteem that has become Hollywood’s new hope.
Tom Hardy is not a movie star. This is not a judgment. Right now, at least, it is simply an observation, a statement of fact.
Tom Hardy is an English actor, London-born, thirty-six years old. He has been the star of—the lead and titular character in—two movies made in England, Bronson and the upcoming Locke. He has costarred in three American movies, Warrior, This Means War, and Lawless, alongside actors like Joel Edgerton, Chris Pine, and Shia LaBeouf. He also has been directed by Christopher Nolan in two movies of global prominence,Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. In Inception, he is a member of Leonardo DiCaprio’s supporting cast, part of an ensemble, billed beneath Joseph Gordon-Levitt and called upon to lend the proceedings a kind of amoral integrity. In The Dark Knight Rises, he plays Bane, the supervillain set in opposition to Christian Bale’s Batman, with a shaved head, thirty pounds of added muscle, a mask of rubber and steel fitted over his nose and mouth, and an accent—a voice—intense in its artificiality, its almost Elizabethan resonance, and its menace.
To the extent that American audiences know Tom Hardy, they know him as Bane.
Next year, they will know him—or not—as the new Mad Max, in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, with Charlize Theron.
Is Tom Hardy a movie star? The only conclusive answer is that we won’t know until the summer of 2015, when Warner Bros. finally releases Mad Max and the first weekend’s returns are in.
But that does not stop the question from being asked. Indeed, the question of whether a particular actor is a movie star is, in Hollywood, a philosophical one, almost an epistemological one, a matter of chemistry devoid of science. As much as it is in the business of making movies, Hollywood is in the business of finding movie stars, and as bad as Hollywood is—as low as its percentages are—at predicting what movies might be hits, it is even worse at determining which actors are destined for stardom. In truth, the number of actors who can, in industry parlance, “open a movie” is not just small; it’s unchanging. There are about a dozen of them in all, and an entire industry is built around their care and cultivation.
Tom Hardy is not one of them. He is not even like them.
He says things movie stars would never say and does things movie stars would never do. He admits to saying things they would never say and doing things they would never do. There are stories about him saying things they would never say and doing things they would never do.
And so, there is not only the usual element of uncertainty about the question of whether Tom Hardy will become what Warner Bros., among many others, is betting on him to become. There is also an element of something Hollywood hasn’t seen in a long time—danger. Which is the reason people think he’s going to be a movie star in the first place. And which is the reason they also think he can still fuck it up.
Over the past year, Esquire has put a bunch of movie stars on its cover, among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and George Clooney. They have all been smart, funny, charming, and personable. In some ways, they have been nothing but smart, funny, charming, and personable, because they all represent the same ideal—or, as Tom Hardy puts it as we’re driving around London,
"They’re all stand-up guys, but they’re all ambassadors, Tom. I am definitely not an ambassador.” There are many things he means by this. He means that they do not possess the graphic novel of a body he does, inscribed as it is with tattoos everywhere but on his neck, because “when you see a tattoo on my neck, that means I’m checking out.” He means that they do not have the history he has, which includes bouts with addiction and alcoholism. He means that they do not display the same lack of circumspection he does, and that they employ the services of publicists.
Or he might simply mean that they don’t, as a matter of habit and a matter of course, call people “cunts.”