X-Men: Apocalypse is a breakthrough opportunity for 25-year-old Ben Hardy. A recent graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Hardy immediately landed roles on the stage in 2012 before starring in the popular British soap opera EastEnders for two years. Upon leaving the show, he was soon cast in the latest X-Men installment, marking his first starring turn in a Hollywood summer blockbuster.
From his shirtless, washboard-ab-baring magazine covers to appearing naked onstage in a West End production of David Hare's The Judas Kiss, you'd expect Hardy to be like the character he plays in X-Men — Warren Worthington III, the billionaire playboy who becomes the mutant known as Angel. And he pretty much is; Hardy's British accent and the way he talks about theater and the craft of acting are maybe the most soothing things in the universe. Granted, Hardy plays a much darker version of Angel in this X-Men film (the version known as Archangel in the comics), as one of evil mutant Apocalypse's Four Horsemen, but his charming personality manages to shine through even his character's villainy. Hardy talked to MTV News by phone from his London flat earlier this week about his work on the film, his admiration for costar Michael Fassbender, and his stint as a British gay magazine cover star.
What was the process like getting cast in an X-Men movie?
Ben Hardy: I was in the U.K. and I had a self-taped audition. I'm supposed to put myself on tape doing the lines and I was like, "Why should I bother auditioning for X-Men? I'm not going to get it. They get tapes from hundreds of people." But I did it, thought nothing of it, and didn't hear anything for a few months. I forgot all about it. Then I was in L.A. to take some meetings, and my agents were like, "We didn't tell you, but you have a screen test tomorrow." So I did the screen test and then I got the job. It all happened kinda fast, really.
Where were you filming most of your scenes for Apocalypse?
Hardy: We filmed in Montreal. It's lovely; so many great restaurants and such a chill atmosphere. Everyone's kind of laid-back. It's a really cool place to be and film.
Angel has some pretty huge wings. Were they completely CGI? Or did you have to wear some type of apparatus on your back while filming?
Hardy: No, it was all CGI. They just put little bits of tape on my back where the wings needed to be. That was tricky, actually; one of my biggest challenges. It's hard to imagine you've got these massive wings in your back. You have to think about how it's going to affect your posture, affect the way you move, just, like, the sheer weight of them. But I did have some help from [visual effects designer] John Dykstra — he gave me this massive 10-to-15-foot pole to hold on my shoulders, to put my arms around, just to get a sense of that space and that weight. So that really helped.
In your recent interview with Attitude, you talked a lot about how you admire Michael Fassbender (Magneto). What do you like about him specifically?
Hardy: I hadn't met him before, but I first became a big admirer of his work after watching Shame. There's this great sequence of him on the subway and he's just kind of eyeing up various passengers; he's got this way of expressing his emotions with his eyes very subtly. If you express yourself too much you're overacting; if you underplay it too much it can come across as wooden. That's the fine line to tread, and that's what I admire in his work.
A lot of your acting education has come from the theater, right?
Hardy: It did, yeah. I didn't actually grow up in London. I came here when I was 18 to attend drama school for three years. After drama school, I did a play at the Donmar Warehouse (Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists). Then I did The Judas Kiss. I love theater. I really want to go back to it. But it's not as lucrative. Creatively, yes, but not financially.
After The Judas Kiss, you went straight to television and starred in the long-running soap opera EastEnders. What was that transition to TV like?
Hardy: Before that, I hadn't done any TV at all. I learned a lot doing it, actually, because, as a soap, that was 12 scenes a day, constantly on camera. It was definitely a learning curve. EastEnders has a pretty big profile in the U.K. So a few months after being on EastEnders, people would start to recognize me in the streets and ask for photos. That's subsided a lot since I've left the show. Even though I'm in X-Men, I got recognized a lot more when I was on the show, because people would see me on TV every day.
Do you want to do more TV?
Hardy: Film has always been my ultimate goal. I'm a cinephile. I love film. I always go to the cinema, or I try to watch one film a day. To be a film actor is always what I wanted to do.
Switching gears a bit, being on EastEnders landed you on the cover of Attitude, a British gay lifestyle magazine, in 2014. You were recently on the cover again promoting X-Men. Has Attitude run out of gay people in the U.K. to be on their covers? Did you get any flak for being a straight, white male who's been on two gay magazine covers?
Hardy: On the last cover, I didn't realize what was contained in that Attitude issue. It was the race issue, so I feel there were some complaints I saw just by my Twitter feed — "Why do we have a straight, Caucasian male on the cover of the race issue?" Which I totally get. I hadn't really thought about it, whether it should only be gay or straight people on the cover of Attitude. There's quite a few straight guys who've been on the cover. For me, it was [that] they asked me to be on the cover again. And the last time I did it, it had been a big help for my career, so I was open to do one more. That was my thinking. But what do you think? Only gay men should be on the cover of gay magazines?
I don't know what it's like in the U.K., but in the U.S., we have a dearth of gay actors and non-white ones on those covers. We sort of have James Franco and Nick Jonas on every cover.
Hardy: Isn't James Franco 100 percent gay? I don't know, is that official now? [Laughs.] I think there's still a stigma in the U.K. I know some gay actors who won't come out because they think it will affect their casting. I don't know if that's happened as much in the U.S. That being said, if I were buying a straight magazine and there was a gay man on the cover or a lesbian woman, I wouldn't be bothered by that.
You have another movie coming out this year, A Storm in the Stars. Tell me about that.
Hardy: I play [the writer] John Polidori and he's in love with Mary Shelley [Wollstonecraft at the time], whom Elle Fanning plays. He's in love with her, but becomes a close friend, because she's in love with Percy Shelley. It's set at the moment where Mary, Percy, [the poet] Lord Byron, and myself sit down at Lord Byron's lake house in Geneva and decide to come up with ghost stories. And it's supposedly how Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein. My character actually comes up with a story called "The Vampyre," which is the first literary work to feature a vampire.
It's a kind of romance, but it's more about Mary, a young woman growing up in a man's world trying to be a novelist where she wasn't even allowed to publish it as her own, originally. It's more about feminism, what Mary had to go through to get people to accept and recognize her talent.
Jumping back to X-Men, what's it like being in a big Marvel Comics film, but not a part of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, since this series is produced by Fox?
Hardy: I think it's quite nice for an actor to be a part of that universe but not be linked to it forever. The DC Universe, at the moment, I've seen it's like a lineup of 10 different films. If you play one of those central characters, are you ever gonna do anything besides those DC Universe films? And they take such a long time to film. But it's different with X-Men. It's not a part of that whole [Marvel] superhero thing. It feels a bit more real, more humane. It's about real people and relationships.