Edward Thomas “Tom” Hardy (born 15 September, 1977) is the only child of Cambridge-educated writer Edward “Chips” Hardy and artist mother Anne, and grew up in East Sheen, London. His formative years were anything but boring. He was expelled from Reeds public school (for stealing), arrested for joyriding in a stolen Mercedes while in possession of a gun when he was 15, and soon after became an alcoholic and drug addict.
Having always wanted to be an actor, he got his first break when he was in drama school and was cast in Tom Hanks’ and Steven Spielberg’s HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.” From there, he landed in the urban warfare flick “Black Hawk Down.” Hardy was poised to break onto the A-list, landing the role of the central villain in “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002). But the film turned out to be critical failure and box-office dud that effectively ended that sci-fi franchise’s big-screen run for seven years.
By that point, after a string of whirlwind successes, Hardy found himself utterly unprepared for the pressures of Hollywood life and falling back into addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Eventually Hardy got sober and retreated to theater work in the U.K. He’d pop up in films here and there, but in nothing close to the high-profile roles he enjoyed at the start of the decade. His American comeback began at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2009 with “Bronson,” a biopic about England’s most notorious prisoner. It was a buzzworthy performance, and while it hardly made a ripple at the box office, the film served as notice that Hardy was back.
Finally, it seems, Hardy is getting his due. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 2015 film, “The Revenant”. It could not have happened to a more talented and humble person.
Hardy is best known for his intense performances and devotion to preparation and immersion in his roles (having briefly joined the Parachute Regiment in preparing for “Black Hawk Down”, and learning to cage fight for “Warrior”). Whether he is playing a comic book henchman (“The Dark Knight Rises”), a suave, debonair, creepy dream forger (“Inception”), or Max Rockatansky himself (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), the actor has consistently demonstrated a meticulous dedication to his craft and a near-perfect ability to inhabit his characters.
Below is a list of the top ten film roles played by Hardy, followed by some honorable mentions. No heed is paid in this list to box office success of the films, but, rather, to Hardy’s performances.
10. Max Rockatansky in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Nearly thirty years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released, George Miller returned in May of 2015 with the long-anticipated and long-in-the-making “Mad Max: Fury Road”. With Tom Hardy taking on the role that made Mel Gibson a star and Charlize Theron stealing the epic in many respects as the fearless War Rig driver Imperator Furiosa, the fourth Mad Max has become one of the most-lauded big-screen efforts of 2015, taking several Oscars.
Hardy fans, who struggled so intently to understand him when he played Bane, in “The Dark Knight Rises,” may have been less than thrilled to learn that their hero’s speech was yet again impeded. Indeed, the entirety of Hardy’s dialogue could have been tattooed onto one of his biceps. What sets Hardy’s performance apart from that of Gibson is that, in this latest installment, Max was actually mad. Gibson played Max being “mad” in the angry sense.
In Fury Road, Max was shown as someone who couldn’t trust his senses, and Hardy answered that calling superbly. While his flashbacks and hallucinations sometimes veered on the silly, it was an interesting angle to carry over into The Wasteland.
9. Eames in “Inception” (2010)
Inception is a science fiction heist thriller film written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan cast Hardy alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It would not be the last time Nolan would be working with Hardy.
In the film Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a master extractor, who is for what initially are vague reasons on the run and cannot return home to his children in the States. Then along comes a powerful businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who offers Dom his life back — if he’ll perform a special job.
Saito wants Dom to do the impossible: Instead of stealing an idea, he wants Dom to plant one, an idea that will cause the mark, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), to break up his father’s multibillion-dollar corporation for “emotional” reasons. Hardy plays Eames, a forger who can impersonate other people’s projections within their subconscious.
With his performance as Eames, Hardy combines John Hurt, a little bit of Bond-ness, a little bit of the Royal Shakespeare company and a dose of of Farley Granger. Nolan liked what Hardy did as Handsome Bob in “RocknRolla” (2008) and wanted to keep it as close to that character as possible in many ways. Nolan says he cast Hardy because he’s a true chameleon. Indeed, it could be argued that Hardy upstaged DiCaprio in this film (and it would not be the last time).
Eames certainly got all the best lines in “Inception”. In one particular scene, Eames one-ups fellow inceptor Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) during a shoot-out when he pulls out a much more impressive gun and finally hits the target Arthur had been aiming for. “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling”, Eames says just before pulling up the gun. Hardy delivers the line with such effortless coolness, it’s impossible not to smile.
8. Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the most straightforward Batman movie to love. Lacking the Joker from “The Dark Knight” and the streamlined plot of “Batman Begins”, the film is an easy target for the criticism that largely avoided its two immediate predecessors.
What it did have, though, was Tom Hardy, and a performance as Bane that arguably trod the same steps towards legend as Heath Ledger’s in “The Dark Knight”. With a blend of raw physicality, a knack for scene-stealing and an incredible vocal performance, Hardy’s Bane was arguably the film’s standout star.
Hardy gained 30 pounds for the role, increasing his weight to 198 pounds (Hardy is also known for gaining and shedding massive amounts of weight for his roles). Hardy based Bane’s voice on a man called Bartley Gorman, who was a bare-knuckle fighter, Romani Gypsy.
Hardy was cast along with Gary Oldman who Hardy had once described as his hero after watching Oldman perform in 1990 (Hardy was then 13) as gangster Jackie Flannery in “State of Grace”. Hardy had been case with Oldman the year before in “Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy” (2011) (a film that could also have made this list).
While the mask obscures much of Hardy’s face, his expressive eyes are enough to evoke fear even in the Batman. According to Hardy, “Any time you put something over your face, you’re going to adopt a personality and a physicality that has nothing to do with acting. It allows a performance to be free”.
7. John Fitzgerald in “The Revenant” (2015)
Hardy certainly does enjoy playing the “bad guy”. Indeed, his filmography reads like a checklist of every variety antihero or reprobate, with the most recent example coming in the form of his character John Fitzgerald in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s epic early-American Western, “The Revenant”. Despite belonging to Hardy’s ever-growing list of primarily reluctant antagonists, the character is another example of the actor’s ability to manifest believable characteristics rather than simply mimicking traits.
Indeed, despite Hardy’s apparent predilection toward the antagonist, he makes as much of an effort as possible to distinguish characters, and the differences which may be millimeters for some are, for Hardy, thousands of different character traits and an ethical range of what makes someone like Bob Saginowski (“The Take”) different from Ivan Locke (“Locke”) or what makes Forrest Bondurant (“Lawless”) different from someone like Bronson or Bane.
They are light years apart from one another, but they are from a world whereby the ethical structures surrounding them are like DNA strands. No two are the same. They have similarities, yes, but they are a study on a certain type of arena.
It is this moral ambiguity that Hardy brilliantly portrays in characters like John Fitzgerald, who can easily be condemned for killing the son of Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio) and the burying of Glass alive. Yes, Fitzgerald didn’t like Glass, but to be fair Glass was going to get everybody killed.
One looks at John Fitzgerald’s scalp, and there’s a past history of mistrust from the scars he has inflicted and the scars inflicted upon him. He sees certain people as extremely hostile toward him – with that level of duress and that kind of history and those kinds of ghosts in his mind, one can see why one was a mercy killing of a man he had no particular liking for in a time that was very different from ours, and the second was an alarm he just turned off.
Hardy portrays Fitzgerald as a desperate opportunist who had a lot of ghosts and trauma and was thinking in the moment. He is wretched and a coward and reckless, but he is also fearless and brave. It is easy to appreciate why Hardy was nominated for this role as Best Supporting Actor. Indeed, one could argue that he (once again) upstaged DiCaprio.
6. Forrest Bondurant in “Lawless” (2012)
In “Lawless” Hardy plays Forrest Bondurant, leader of the most powerful moonshining family in Franklin County, Virginia. Hardy’s Bondurant is a thinking man’s tough guy. He combines a raw, muscular screen presence with a fierce intelligence that simmers beneath the surface and occasionally bubbles over. He is especially imposing as the reticent bootlegger and borderline saint; an extralegal standard-bearer of justice in a corrupt town, he’s less Bane here than a rural Bruce Wayne.
“It is not the violence that sets a man apart,” Forrest observes. “It’s the distance he’s prepared to go.” Forrest and his enforcer brother Howard (Jason Clarke) go the distance: brewing the hooch, paying off the cops, maintaining their primacy through Howard’s brute strength, Forrest’s brass knuckles and the sense of dread they instill in the competition.
As Forrest says, “We control the fear. And without the fear we are good as dead.” By his lights, though, he’s a decent soul, never striking a man except in retaliation, and quietly revering Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a burlesque dancer from Chicago who becomes the Bondurants’ business manager.
As Bronson, Hardy was all talk, running verbal rings around wardens, psychologists and fellow prisoners and delivering unhinged soliloquies – when he wasn’t laying waste to his surroundings.
In “Lawless”, by contrast, as the family’s seemingly indestructible middle brother Forrest, he speaks only when he has to. His default utterance is a grunt – that’s how he responds when Maggie swans into town and takes a shine to him – but in spite of his taciturn nature, you can feel the heat of Forrest’s intelligence.
Younger brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) may have greater ambition, but Forrest understands the limits of family power. Hardy saw Forrest as the matriarch and the patriarch of the family, in the wake of their parents’ deaths. He explored Forrest’s softer side and played him in a quiet, contained way.