In the midst of all the visual complexity and storytelling wizardry in [movie id="419756"]"Inception,"[/movie] the weekend's big box-office winner with a $60.4 million opening, one performance in particular shines through. Tom Hardy plays Eames, a forger on Leonardo DiCaprio's team of fantastical bandits who is capable of impersonating other people within a shared dream state.
From the very first time we meet him in a dusty Kenyan cafe, Eames comes across as an erudite ass-kicker, if such a thing is possible — a guy who can discuss intricate psychological issues at a PhD-level and then turn around and bust a few skulls. Hardy slips into Eames' sweaty skin for an effortless performance in which... well, it just never seems like he's acting.
Before last weekend, American audiences might not have remembered who Hardy is, but they certainly know now after his breakout "Inception" performance. He actually sports an impressive Hollywood résumé, and with the lead role in a rebooted "Mad Max" franchise in the works, Hardy's moment in the spotlight has finally arrived.
The 32-year-old Brit 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." 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 into addictions to drugs and alcohol. "It was all in, like, 16 months. I thought, 'This is it!' and I wasn't prepared at all for any of the pressure. It manifested in panic and fear and lots and lots of drinking to bolster my courage," he told MTV News late last year. "I ended up in the hospital just after it came out. I broke down physically, spiritually, mentally."
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.
"It hasn't changed the way I work at all," he explained. "But it's sort of a fishing thing — right place, right time — and offers have started to come in which weren't offered before. There are two sides to that story. I don't know how the industry works, how somebody becomes a hot property or not. But ['Bronson'] was definitely a good business card in that sense."
One of the directors who came calling was Christopher Nolan, who cast Hardy alongside DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Inception." Then in October, word surfaced that Hardy was circling the lead role in "Mad Max," taking over a franchise that launched Mel Gibson's career. Finally, it seems, Hardy is getting his due. It couldn't happen to a more talented and humble person. And this time around, Hardy is approaching his resurrected career with an entirely different attitude.
"If I feel anything is encroaching on my ability to stay stable and have a purpose in my life, then I'll bow out respectfully," he said. "I came very close to losing everything before, and it scarred me. I'm very proud of the mark, but I don't ever want to go there again."
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