Tom Hardy has been an "Oh yeah, it's that guy" actor for years: You recognize him, you just don't know from where. After making a big splash in Hollywood earlier in the decade with parts in the HBO World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers" and the urban warfare flick "Black Hawk Down," Hardy was poised to break into the A-list. But a starring role in "Star Trek: Nemesis" — a film so bad it effectively killed the franchise for years — and an alcohol- and drug-fueled breakdown contributed to a professional downfall from which Hardy slowly emerged by getting sober and returning to theater work.
Now he's back with a critically acclaimed turn as an iconic British prisoner in "Bronson" and he's finally getting the full Hollywood embrace. Christopher Nolan cast him in "Inception," and he's taking over Mel Gibson's freaky role for "Mad Max: Fury Road." This has been a fantastic year for the British actor, as he explained to MTV News in an exclusive interview, and the future is looking even better. We couldn't be more thankful about it all.
MTV News: This performance in "Bronson" sort of came out of nowhere for people in the States. Were you surprised at how critics just loved it?
Tom Hardy: Yeah, it was really lovely to see how everyone responded over in the States. In England [criminal Charles Bronson is] a very well known character in the press. It was more expected that the audiences in England were going to see the film and know who he was. But I didn't know there was going to be such exposure in America. It was a small independent film. It went to Sundance, but it was a gamble. It was nice to get such a big response from it in the industry.
MTV: And you certainly know both ends of the spectrum, being in high-profile films that sometimes don't resonate. You would maybe expect something like this, a labor of love, when it hits, that's got to be the ultimate reward.
Hardy: Yeah, it's great for everybody involved that it made such a noise, and I've certainly reaped wonderful benefits from being in that film.
MTV: It seems like you've known your fair share of "actors to watch" lists over the years. Has this performance really changed the way you're perceived in Hollywood?
Hardy: It hasn't changed the way I work at all. 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.
MTV: When you look back, can you pinpoint a best or most surreal moment?
Hardy: I didn't expect to get "Mad Max." I really didn't. I didn't ever expect to get the lead in a Hollywood movie, for Chris Nolan off the bat to offer me ["Inception"] without an audition and then to go sit with [director] George Miller [on "Mad Max"] and work with him and not really audition in the orthodox way of auditioning — this year's been crazy. I've been working as an actor for a long time now, and I've been waiting for an independent film to come along because it was very hard to get cast as a character actor, as a lead — being credible but bankable. It's very hard to break in when there are plenty of people who can be cast, who can green-light, who can put bums in the seats. So this whole year has been staggering.
MTV: You first had a taste of stardom with "Star Trek: Nemesis" in 2002. Back then did you feel like you had it made and it's all going to come easy now? And when that didn't happen, how did that influence the next few years of your life?
Hardy: That was a very important moment. I left drama school early — I caught a lucky one — and a casting agent put me forward for "Band of Brothers." But I was very young, very naive and very eager. I started to work back to back. I went from "Band of Brothers" to "The Reckoning" with Willem Dafoe to "Black Hawk Down" to "Star Trek." It was all in, like, 16 months. I thought, "This is it!" And I wasn't prepared at all for any of the pressure.
The worst pressure was within my own head, the fear of success and the fear of failure. And not concentrating on my craft. I was just concentrating on getting another job. It manifested in panic and fear and lots and lots of drinking to bolster my courage. After "Star Trek," I had a fallow year. I was waiting for "Star Trek" to come out and push me onto a bigger stage. I ended up in the hospital just after it came out. I broke down physically, spiritually, mentally. And I had to realize that this chasing dreams, this panic, this constant nervous energy wasn't healthy for me. A lot of people drink for pleasure, they party hard, but for me it didn't help. The best thing was to cut it out altogether. So I went back to the theater and slowly worked back to where I am now. But I'm aware now that this could all stop, and that's OK too.
MTV: With all the success you're having and are about to have with the upcoming films, are you worried about the demons resurfacing?
Hardy: I'm conscious of it. It's healthy to have a certain amount of trepidation and respect for isolating myself in a way where I could frighten myself again. I have a son now as well — he's 18 months old — and he's a very strong focus in my life. I need to be a father and a strong male figure in his life. 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. 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.
Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock, expressing gratitude and, most importantly, overeating. We at MTV News have been gorging all year at movie theaters, so it's about time we looked back and gave thanks to our favorite actors and filmmakers of 2009. So in this special week, we celebrate
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