On 20 July, The Dark Knight Rises will hit cinema screens, already hyped beyond recognition and with a sense of feral anticipation beyond the wildest dreams of any executive or marketing firm. At the forefront of the action is one Edward Thomas Hardy, AKA Tom Hardy, who’s star will rise to it’s highest ever point as the potentially unforgettable cinema juggernaut Bane, a villain inspiring fear and adulation among fans before a single reel of film has been shown.
Rewind ten years, to 9 December 2002. Again, a blockbuster Hollywood effort was showing to the viewing public, the final chapter in a franchised saga. And, again, Hardy was at the fore, a young British actor off the back of some small roles, with the chance of a lifetime to play a scene stealing, career making role as the ultimate villain to the film’s iconic hero. That film was Star Trek: Nemesis, the villain to Jean Luc Picard was Shinzon, and Tom Hardy’s expected ascent to stardom came crashing down to earth in a ball of flames. The fire did not rise, it merely burned.
Nemesis, as we all know, was a flop and a complete disaster, the worst grossing film to bear the name Star Trek, and its failure resulted in many victims; the fans, who were denied the satisfying send off they craved after thirteen years of unwavering devotion to the adventures of the new enterprise; trivial nuts, for whom the theorem of every even Trek film delivering was shattered; and Hardy, a relative unknown who could only boast minor roles in Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down as a springboard. While he was hardly underwhelming as the film’s inconsistently written bad guy, it mattered not. When a ship that size sinks, the sharks come a calling. And critics were not kind to Hardy.
The hardest of hard times followed, a self admitted period of depression awash with heavy drinking and crack cocaine over the belief that a promising acting career had floundered before it had blossomed, sent back to the doldrums with little hope of a fix. He was the casualty of a badly scripted, badly edited and badly conducted exercise in botching a series of films, a debacle that caused an early death for the brand name only resurrected by the recent reboot.
There’s fat chance of something similar happening this time around. A decade on, Hardy’s stock is as high as anyone’s in Hollywood and beyond, and Rises, a behemoth about to grow legs, will not be sinking anything. Redemption has already been reached, so for the actor portraying the film’s main antagonist, this is merely a perfectly timed icing on the cake in marking a ferocious, inspiring come back.
Relighting the Flames
Following Hardy’s fall back to Earth, a slow rise back to the same heights beckoned, one which was undertaken despite the previously mentioned troubles. A series of small supporting roles in lower grade roles were added to the extrovert actor’s CV, working with the likes of Paul Bettany and Brian Cox in The Reckoning, Gael Garcia Bernal in Dot The I and Daniel Craig in Layer Cake.
Similar roles would follow, and experience gained, as the slippery slope was managed. Hardly a household name, Hardy was forced to embark on the journey that most film goers can appreciate. For every big star we see, there are thousands of hopeful scribes, many of whom possess more talent, who earn their stars and paychecks wherever they can be found. To be a superstar actor, you have to fight to the tip at knifepoint, and nobody walks in unruffled.
It really is a battle, a professional battle, and one that Hardy began unknowingly winning in 2008, a year which would, in retrospect bring him to a point of no return.
This year saw two crucial releases, two excellent roles which would prove massive in the way he was seen in the future. The first was Guy Ritchie’s return to crime thriller form, in RocknRolla, a small but eye catching role as a grafter criminal part of protagonist Gerard Butler’s crew. The second was a more low key event, an independent film directed by Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn about Britain’s most notorious criminal, Michael Peterson, better known by his ‘fighting’ name, Charles Bronson.
In a rare leading role, Hardy stormed to the front of the queue with a mesmeric, funny, terrifying and ultimately unforgettable performance as the titular Bronson, beefing up (more than 35kls worth) to unrecognizable levels of muscular bulk and serving a masterclass in chameleonic acting excellence. Bronson, as well as pushing Hardy into focus among casting directors across the country, also proved to be the making of Pusher Trilogy helmer Refn, who would go on to direct the superb and critically acclaimed Drive, and is currently bringing the hotly anticipated Only God Forgives to the table
Another dabble into psychotic mode, in the next year’s British mini-series The Take, based on the popular Martina Cole novel of the same name, refined the talent before the next gig, an absolutely massive one.
This is when he first crossed paths with Christopher Nolan, at the time the world’s hottest director off the back of The Dark Knight. His next project, mind twisting existential action thriller Inception, was one of the most coveted prospects on the market. Nolan saw enough in Hardy to cast him in the key role of Eames, the ‘forger’ of the group, a flamboyant and witty master of disguise capable of manipulating the dreams of others from within. It was Hardy’s first role in a truly massive project since that indelible sea mine that was Nemesis. He took the opportunity with both hands.
The result is one of the most entertaining characters and performances in the film, provider of the majority of its humor and a great portion of its charm. He shines as Eames, looking like a big time performer with every second he spends on screen, and emerged in many a fan’s fervent conversation about the sensational show they had just seen put on. Considering that he was rubbing shoulders with DiCaprio and the like, this is no mean feat.
And it did indeed prove to be star making, and the evidence of this exists and is clear to read on his portfolio. From TV work, indy flicks and supporting roles, now there were big parts aced in the likes of Warrior (a heavily underrated flick in which he absolutely shines), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (in which he captivates as Ricki Tarr and never looks bowed by the other quality on show), This Means War (in an ironic twist leading alongside Chris Pine, the new Kirk and the leading light of the new Star Trek) and the newly arrived and lauded Lawless from John Hillocoat.
Anyone who is observing acting talent in the continental pool by this point was rubbing their hands at the progress Hardy was making, looking at a total shoe in for known name status and future Oscar list clogging. After all, we weren’t just watching an actor getting bigger in stature and roles, we were observing an increasingly multi-faceted and charismatic screen presence who was no longer able to be denied. Inception may have shown us the presence, but Bronson and The Take before then had shown us the chops. Here’s a guy who can light up a film and yet be an absolute workhorse at the same time, with an enviable skillset to draw from.
Igniting the Spark
And yet this doesn’t even allow for The Dark Knight Rises, in which Hardy will play the film’s Big Bad, terrorist and mercenary Bane, a man “born on hell on earth”. After the unforgettable work by Heath Ledger on the film’s predecessor, all eyes will be on Hardy as Nolan’s overwhelmingly successful Batman saga reaches its end. It speaks volumes that the man cast to play the man who could break the Bat is under no doubt or scrutiny, and that confidence is high that he will give another mesmerizing display, and perhaps provide his greatest legacy.
On evidence of the trailers released, and the stunning prologue, Hardy’s work can be expected as sensational, another powerhouse performance from an actor on the top of his game, a memorable and iconic character given weight by an actor committed to his art and living every moment that the puppets he controls move. Bane looks like the ultimate threat to Batman and Gotham, a foe beyond fearsome, and he also looks like the final seal of approval on Hardly, a marketable face and name who will surely dominate in cinema for years to come.
The Fire Rises
All this, and he is only 34. That he has packed so much into ten years is incredible. That he will thrive for twenty more is a miracle much earned. This is a man on the rise, surely destined for superstardom.
Ten years on from Nemesis and the apparent sinking of a career, Hardy will appear to audiences as an unshakeable and almost indestructible force, the one who finally pushed Batman to despair and beyond, and this act will signal the next big name to add to Smith, Hanks, Cruise, Pitt and Damon.
Hyperbole, perhaps, but his is an inspiring story. From early fortune and potential immortality too young, to the bitter ladder of success and up to the top again, a second chance earned and surely to be taken, beyond redemption and true art, a genuine talent undeniable.
On 20 July, the fire will rise. And with it, surely Tom Hardy too.
– Scott Patterson