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A Candid Tom Hardy at Cannes on Beards, Beer, Batman, and Brando

In the Cannes Film Festival entry Lawless, Tom Hardy plays a bootlegging brother of Shia LaBeouf who manages to convey the import of an entire monologue with a single, hesitant "um" or "uh." In real life, though, the talkative Hardy is the exact opposite of his character, and in a free-wheeling conversation with Vulture on the Croisette, the British up-and-comer (best known for his roles in Inception, Bronson, and Warrior) was game to discuss just about anything. Read on for Hardy's thoughts on fame, fuck-ups, and future projects like The Dark Knight Rises — where he plays the masked villain Bane — and George Miller's long-in-the-works remake of Mad Max, which will have him taking over the lead role from Mel Gibson.

You always go to great lengths to modify your look and your body shape for a role. What did you want to do for Lawless?
Well, I wanted to be skinny. Skinny, like I am now — maybe a little skinnier. But Batman came in, and then I needed to be bigger. I had six months to train, but there was a three-month period where Lawless was being filmed at that time, so I had to train during Lawless, so that’s why I was physically the size that I was. Luckily, Shia was physically big as well so it kind of worked, but I would have preferred to be more Billy Bob Thornton–sized.

Does that ever take a toll on you, to go from big to small for each movie?
Shifting your weight fucks up your liver! You've got to be careful. It's the end of that for me.

Speaking of changing your look, have you grown out this beard for a role?
Yeah, that’s for Mad Max; that’s in preparation for that.

So Mad Max is actually going to happen now?
I mean, anything could happen.

Well, I don’t want to jinx it.
Neither do I.

You've been compared to Marlon Brando quite a bit, but in the press conference for Lawless earlier, you confessed that you haven't even seen The Godfather, On the Waterfront, or Streetcar Named Desire.
I hadn’t! No, I haven’t seen any of these. I’ve seen Apocalypse Now. I’ve seen Shanghai Teahouse of the Rising Sun, or whatever it’s called, where he plays the Chinaman? [Editor's note: The film is 1956's The Teahouse of the August Moon.]

Which is certainly a questionable casting choice, in retrospect.
But the thing is that it's great, because you go, "Okay, everybody fucks up."

Like Mickey Rooney playing Asian in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Great, though! I mean to say: These are legends, and even legends are fallible. Reach for the stars and catch the moon! If I am duly compared to Marlon Brando at all, well, I can only think of The Teahouse of the Shanghai Noon, that they're comparing me to that! [Laughs.]

So, no plans to Netflix On the Waterfront?
I’m just gonna watch Teahouse again. [Laughs.] No, I've just got to have a sense of humor about it and not take it too seriously, because that’s a big fish to be compared to. It's a very kind and lovely thing to hear, isn't it? That’s the type of thing that my mum would go, “Do you know what they said [about you]?” And I would go, "Can we talk about something else, please?"

When Harvey Weinstein pushed Lawless to the fall, he said that you weren't well-known now, but that you would be a big star by August.
He's riding The Dark Knight Rises! He's not sloppy. He's not a stupid man.

But isn’t any fame you get from that going to be mitigated by the fact that you’re so disguised in that film?
To me, it’s about the characters, it’s about the film, it’s about the process of making stunning visuals and a huge, epic movie. It doesn’t matter if my head was covered in a black plastic bag and I was bouncing around in a space hopper: That's the villain of Chris Nolan's Batman!

What I meant is, with very little exaggeration, almost everyone on earth will see this movie. Does it put you at ease at all that you're unrecognizable in it?
If I fuck it up, you mean?

No, because it's such a big movie, and it carries with it a whole other level of potential fame.
And people won't recognize me because I have a mask on in it? Is that what you mean?

Yeah.
I haven’t thought about it. Because I’m not famous in my head. Like, you aren’t.

No, I’m not.
So I suppose I think very similarly to you. If people start treating me differently, then maybe I’ll start to treat them differently! I hope that every engagement is just as amicable as it normally is. Maybe it's a little ambitious of me to presume that no matter how big the film is, that I can always go down to the shop to buy a pint of milk. I don’t think that anything should really be allowed to interfere with that, and it would be silly of me not to make the effort to go down to the shop to buy a pint of milk because I thought I was too big or too famous to do that. And it's certainly not a lesson that I want to give to my son! Fame and stuff like that is all very cool, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. Although what I do is incredibly surreal and fun and amazing and I’m really grateful for it, I don’t believe my own press release, do you know what I mean?

That’s wise. And at least you know you can always grow that beard again if you need to go down to the corner shop undetected.
And I fucking will as well!

How long did it take to grow that out?
Five months. And I’ve already trimmed it a lot, because people are saying it's grizzly.

Which people?
Oh, I'm a terrible reader of the Internet and stuff like that.

And you read what people say about you?
Yeah, 'cause in my head, I’m still not famous. It's like, "Hey, I'm on this site!" Or [to my fiancée], "Look at what we were wearing last night! And everyone says you look great." And then someone will say, "Tom Hardy is a cunt because … " What? WHAT?

And then do you reply anonymously?
Yes, sometimes! Wouldn't you? Sometimes no one’s defending my corner! And then what you find — I've done it before — is that it’s a forest fire that you can’t put out. It's like [when commenters say], "Is he gay? Isn’t he gay?" Does it matter? Does it actually?

I think people just admire honesty in a star, because they’re not used to getting it in an age where everything is so PR-managed.
Mmm, well it won’t be [like this] when China rolls on us in fifteen years and we’ll all have to speak Cantonese. Then people will have to grow the fuck up, won’t they? Up to a trillion dollars in debt, then we actually realize that we really are in debt and that China’s a major creditor, Brazil's got the fastest-growing economy and so does Russia … things is a-changin'!

Don’t go out and say that in front of the Chinese Pavilion on the Croisette.
There’s nothing wrong with that! There’s more people in China than there are here. Who are we to stand in the way of what God wants, or whatever your concept of that is? No man can stop a tidal wave. "Thou shalt not pass"? Of course not! "I’m a tidal wave! Fuck you!" [Laughs.] It’s not personal, buddy, do you know what I mean? It’s just the rise and collapse of civilizations! History has had several thousand of them. Whatever, you face the fucking fear and you face it head on. Because it's going to happen anyway, and it’s not a bad thing! It’s called evolution. How's your Cantonese?

Terrible. I can say "Nei hao," and that's about it.
Jeez, you're doing better than I am.

Your Dark Knight Rises co-star Christian Bale recently made a movie in China.
Oh yeah. Awful. I'm not commenting. I love Christian.

You recently attached yourself to Cicero, where you'll play Al Capone for director David Yates.
I’m really excited about it. The thing about me is, I have a job to do right now and I always focus on my next one. The thing I have to do right now is Mad Max, but I'm looking over the top going, "And Al Capone is over there!" And they say, "Tom, you've got to do Mad Max first."

Like how you saw Dark Knight Rises coming over the hill while filming Lawless.
Absolutely. When I used to drink — I don’t drink anymore — I used to buy a beer for myself and I’d put another one in the tap for afterwards. I could drink this beer knowing full well that I have the next one waiting for me in the tap — I’d never want to be without a spare, you know what I'm saying? I'd always have five bills in my back pocket, I always had a pistol secreted somewhere, and a beer in the tap!

And now in your career, you have that security.
Psychologically, yeah. I’ve got this one here, and that job there, and if that one falls through, then I’ve got this one here. But I can always teach, or just be a dad, you know? Because you know what? My son would really like to see me.

Is he here at Cannes?
No, he’s at home with his mum and his new sister. But if this all falls apart today, which it can, then I had a good crack at it. I’ve been very fortunate and lucky, and I did what I said I was going to do. I could go home and teach.

Well, I don’t think all this is going to fall through for you.
It doesn’t matter if it does, though, and that’s the difference between really wanting something to be, and just, like, trying to be part of something. Before, I was drinking this one to get to that one. Now I know I’ve got that one, and I don't need to drink it. When you ask me about Al Capone, I've gotta concentrate on this one. [Laughs.] Although actually, apart from the beard, I’m still a long ways away from getting on the floor with Mad Max.

I'm crossing my fingers that it'll finally happen.
I am as well. I'm terrified. I think I might have bitten off much more than I can chew.

I think you'll be fine.
I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see.

Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images