Tom Hardy’s love of dogs is no secret. We here at Vulture have been following this story closely — very closely. In his new film, The Drop, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and opens in theaters this Friday, Hardy plays Bob, a Brooklyn loner who works as a bartender for his cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) and as a money runner for the Chechen gangsters who’ve overtaken Marv’s bar. Bob is a sweet guy — perhaps a little slow, too — whose world gets turned around when he finds an abused pit bull terrier in the trashcan of another loner in his neighborhood, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). I spoke with Hardy and the movie’s director Michaël Roskam (Bullhead) about the actor’s love of dogs, how he went home with a co-star (one of the five dogs that played Rocco, the dog in the film), and how he has a dog tattoo. (He’s so into dogs that he used the word “dog” or “dogs” 62 times during our chat.) Bonus: He took off his shirt so I could see his tattoo. Tom Hardy, you are a gift among actors. Behold.
You had your premiere last night.
Hardy: I apologize if we look a little rough. We all stayed up late and partied here.
How do you think the screening went?
Hardy: I don’t know. It’s hard to tell.
But you got drunk anyway?
Hardy: I don’t drink. Just the e-cigarette. It’s hardly fucking rock 'n' roll. But yeah, we went out. I drank loads of sparkling water and sat out till four in the morning watching everybody else get drunk. That’s what I do.
Who’s the most entertaining drunk in the cast?
Hardy: I don’t find drunks entertaining. I find them a liability. I normally have to help them get to cars, like I’m a designated driver. But everyone behaved themselves last night. No one needed helping out [and] there were no fights. Everybody stayed with their clothes on. It was cool.
Roskam: I’m suddenly picturing Matthias [Schoenarts, Roskam’s Bullhead star, who plays a lowlife who claims Rocco is his dog] naked and stumbling around.
Hardy: Like, lap-dancing Bill Murray. “No, no, no! That’s Bill Murray, Matthias!”
Roskam: "Take your balls out of Bill Murray’s face, dude!"
Hardy: Yeah, stop twerking! We crashed Bill Murray’s party last night. Big Bill.
Ah, yes, you were at the premiere party for St. Vincent. Are you and Bill Murray buddies?
Hardy: No [Laughs.] It was an event. He was just there. [Both The Drop and St. Vincent are Fox Searchlight films,] so we represented, you know.
Roskam: I met Bill in Cannes. I was walking to my hotel and he was walking to his hotel, and we kind of just crossed, and he was like, “Hey.” We were never introduced to each other. We just started talking. “What are you up to?” “I’m waiting for a buddy.” “Where’s your hotel?” “Here.” “Oh, mine too. Wanna have a drink?” “Yeah, sure.”
Hardy: Sounds like Lost in Translation.
Roskham: We just had drinks, and then here was his buddy on the piano. They closed down, and then they opened up a little just for him, and we had some Champagne and the guy was playing the piano, and then Bill and I were on the piano talking about things, and then we left. And we never saw each other again. I just saw him yesterday and I told him the story, and he remembered it.
Did you ever mention what you do for a living?
Hardy: I woulda said I was a bus driver.
Roskam: No, it never came up. If he’d known, he probably would not have invited me.
Hardy: He’d probably never talk to you. It would be like, “Oh, he wants me in a movie.”
Roskam: Funny guy. He’s sweet.
Hardy: What a legend.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but Vulture has done a few instructional articles based on photographs of you with dogs. There was the dog from this movie and a bigger golden dog.
Hardy: That’s my dog! Woody! I have two dogs. Wherever I go, I get a dog, pretty much.
You get a new dog?
Hardy: I’m the finder of dogs, you know what I mean. My missus, she’s like, “You’re not allowed to bring another dog back from a job.” But I’ll always find one. On every job we go on, I’ll either find someone’s dog and look after it, or I’ll take my own dog, or I find a dog and we home it. I do find dogs. I brought one back from Brooklyn, actually, from this job. I found a dog there. But that’s it. We have two now at home. Can’t have any more for the moment. And actually, they’re a handful, two. But I love dogs. Like, A LOT. They’re my favorite animal. Ever.
So when you were in Brooklyn, you found a dog that was not the dog in the movie. You were working with like five different pit bulls playing Rocco, the dog your character adopts.
Hardy: It’s very, very rare that this will happen. But, like, it’s not like Chris Nolan would let me take the Batmobile home for an evening. You know what I mean? But I was a bit lonely in New York, and Kim, who was our dog handler with the three dogs we had in Animal Rescue, and I worked closely with the Roccos: T and J and Pups, and then Ice turned up as well. There were four dogs. Five, actually. And another called Indigo. I said, “Can I take J home tonight and just cuddle?” And Kim was like, “Sure!” You know what I mean? No dog handler on a film is going to let you take the star of the film home, just in case anything could happen to it. It’s like, “I’m sorry, I dropped it into the subway,” you know what I mean? “I lost the dog.”
Roskam: “I put it in the microwave.”
Hardy: But yeah, he came home with me. He used to come home with me from work, which is such a privilege — to be able to take home a co-star. And he would stare at me, and I would eat pizza, and he would sit at the bottom of my feet and watch me, like, What are you doing? Because it smells great. I’d turn up at the apartment and I’d have him over my shoulder, in my puffy jacket and my hood. [To Roskam] Do you remember I came down to the bar and I had Rocco in my hood?
Roskam: It’s true. I remember. Noomi and I, we were having a drink, it’s this little favorite bar of mine that was in the neighborhood, and we were talking, and then you came along, and you had this big, big jacket …
Hardy: Canada Goose.
Roskam: It was winter, it was cold, and the dog was lying in the hood, around his neck.
Hardy: He’d come out with me.
Roskam: Keeping him warm, as well. It was really cold.
Hardy: He was a buddy. They all were. And T was the first one we had, then he started to grow, then he started to get bigger, so J came in, and they had two different personalities — all dogs have different personalities. But it was hard. I was getting favorites. T was my favorite, and then T started getting boisterous, he didn’t really care so much, so I found J. J was really cute and he wanted to just kiss all the time, and like, lick. He was the one that came back with me, and then T got upset because I was taking J back, so I had to take T back, and I was like, I’ve gotten really on with these dogs. And then, you know, I brought one home. I found one at Sean Casey’s animal-rescue center, and then she was on set for a while, and she ended up coming home. Carol is her name. Terrible name, [laughs] but that’s her name. We found her a home, which is the main thing. I always find dogs wherever I go, and if people say they’re looking for a dog, I’ll find them one. In fact, I’ve got two on my mobile phone right now, which I’m going to find — an English bulldog and some kind of Weimaraner. I’ve got friends who work in places — ex-police handlers and people who’ve got quarantines or kennels, and they say, “We’ve got two dogs that came in. Can [you] find a home for them?”
Did you know about his affinity for dogs?
Roskam: Well, our first Skype meeting that we had prior to the pre-production, it came up right away.
Hardy: I’ve got a pit bull on my back! [Hardy lifts up his shirt to show me his bare back, then proceeds to check his phone, with his back exposed, inches from me, so I can continue to study the tattoo as long as I wanted.]
Roskam: If you look at everything on it, like the angel. “C’est suffisant,” it’s like, “That’s enough, that’s it.” Angel, the pit bull, and that was like … because I was asking Tom, in the Skype, “Do you feel Bob?” And he’s like, “You want to know if I feel Bob?” And he turned around and showed the tattoo. And I’m like, “Fine, I see. Yeah. You know Bob.”
Did you have an affinity for pit bulls before? How did the tattoo come about?
Hardy: That was because — I mean, I love dogs, and I see myself as a dog inside in many ways — that’s the way I am. It’s like, I bark a lot, and I can bite, but I don’t really. You know, they’ve got an energy. I just have an affinity with a dog. I’m very, very loyal, but, you know, I will piss on the carpet. [Laughs.] I will chew your sneakers! And sometimes I look like I’m going to bite, but actually, if you know me, I’m not like that. But I will say, unequivocally, dogs are the most amazingly loyal creatures who will sit and watch the wall with you all day if that’s what you’re doing, and that’s cool, as long as they feel part of the team, and that they’re useful, and I feel that way as well.
Is being a part of a team making a movie interesting to you? The loyalty?
Hardy: A dog wants to belong. A dog wants to belong to a pack, and it’ll do what it has to do in order to eat and survive and stay warm, and they don’t leave your side. They do what they do. Each dog has a job. Some, you know, have different jobs [than] others. I have a job. You know, I see myself very similar to a dog. That sounds so weird? [Laughs.] I fucking love dogs, okay? I love dogs. You know what I mean?
Since you were a kid?
Hardy: Yeah, since I was a kid. My son, and my dogs, and my wife, and that’s the way it is. And my work — like a dog.
What’s your golden dog like, the one who’s your pet?
Hardy: Woody. Woody’s awesome — he’s another angel. Dogs are like angels. They find you, you know?
Woody is what kind of dog?
Hardy: We don’t know. He’s some cattle dog, cross Labrador thing. I found him with Jessica Chastain. We were in Atlanta, Georgia, doing Lawless, and he was in the motorway. We almost ran him over with a Prius. Imagine running him over with a Prius, of all things. [Laughs.] What would be worse: to be run over, or to be run over by a Prius? You know what I mean? [Laughs.] And he ran off into the motorway, and Jess was like, “No, no, no! You’ve got to go after him!” He was only 11 weeks old, and so we got hold of him and he became the on-set dog, and Jessica’s mom looked after him for me for about six months while he cleared quarantine, and then we brought him back to London, so he’s my dog now. He goes on all my film sets now. He’s a great on-set dog.
Was Woody on the set of The Drop?
Roskam: At that point, no. Honestly, there wasn’t enough room for him.
Hardy: No, we had Rocco. We had the other dogs on set. So I got another dog from Sean Casey’s animal rescue [in Brooklyn]. So we adopted another dog.
I know you said you find dogs, but I wonder if maybe they find you.
Hardy: I think that’s the case. That’s what I think, too, but other people say, “Tom, just get over it. It’s just a dog.” And I’ll say, “It’s not just a dog!”
Roskam: It’s like a long-lost relative.
Hardy: Yeah, that turns up out of the blue. [Laughs.] That was a big draw of The Drop for me, was the love of the dog. That is so important to me. So I totally understood that, and that was the first pull, a movie about a guy who’s never had interaction with another human being since a period his life, and a dog opens up his entire world and his heart. Because to me, a dog actually is the heart of a family in many ways, in life. A dog is important because its unconditional love is there, and it’s the hearth of the home. If a dog is there, and a dog is happy, and it’s safe, and it’s lying on the floor, then you know it’s a happy home. Do you know what I mean? And a dog doesn’t ask for anything but food and love, and it’ll do anything for you. So if you’ve got one, if people have a dog like that, you kind of know that you’re in a safe place, I feel.
What do you think is the role the dog plays in this movie?
Hardy: It’s a love that’s just given to Bob out of nowhere, that he feels he doesn’t deserve and doesn’t know how to deal with it, let alone deal with other people, because he’s then forced to have a relationship with something. You know, with Marv, it’s his primary relationship in the world. Or God, or his priest, you know what I mean? But there’s a relationship with Marv that is already cut because of something that’s happened. So his relationship — he seems to be Marv’s dog, in many ways, or butler, or a sort of strange, slightly autistic or whatever you might consider on the scale, sort of relation. But what you realize is that, in many ways, the relationship is other with Marv and the power in the relationship between Marv and Bob is opposite, in many ways. Bob is Marv’s dog, but actually he guards him and looks after him, protects him. But Bob doesn’t have anyone looking after him at all, so when Rocco turns up, it’s the first time he actually has something to care for, and in doing so, finds a way of finding what’s important to him, and expressing that, and actually finding a voice — albeit a very tiny voice, and I think an apologetic voice and a deeply pained voice, and a lonely voice. He has, finally, a heart that he can see externally. You can pour love into that, then he must, too, also, have a heart and be allowed to live and be part of life. It’s a very strange etiquette and code, ethical code, that he lives by, but I think, too, finding Rocco, he finds Nadia, he finds complications that are other to the ones with the Chechens and with Marv, but his little voice comes through. He makes a stand for himself and for all dogs that have been thrown in the trash and that have been abused.
So he identifies with the dog.
Hardy: Oh, totally. And the pit bull is a much-maligned breed. Like he says, “That’s a dangerous dog.” Well, anyone would say that somebody who chopped somebody up and put them in the basement is a dangerous person, but you know, Bob is, as well, somebody who really loves and cares. He’s just done something, whether it’s nature or nurture or circumstantial, which he wants to put in his past. Can a person change? He doesn’t think he can because, as he says, he thinks he’s going to Hell, so it’s a gift in many ways from the gods, that dog, to someone like Bob.
Roskam: It is, but Bob told himself, “I’m not going to be emotional because with emotion comes vulnerability, with vulnerability comes fear.” And that’s why he says, “Let’s cut the food chain and at the moment, emotion, I’m not having it.” It’s done, it’s closed up, it’s hibernating. It’s like a heartbeat, it goes very slow, but then he finds the dog. The dog starts to open him up. The emotion comes, with the emotion comes vulnerability, with vulnerability comes fear. And responsibility, and action. And let’s imagine he didn’t find the dog, then at the end, he would have maybe reacted differently.
Hardy: He would be invisible.
Roskam: He would be invisible, and the whole hold-up would’ve, probably might’ve turned differently. Or he has just to handle it, and that’s it, life goes on. And he would probably find out that Marv … but it’s the cosmos, you know. At that point, he had to find the dog, because if we would say we believe in the destiny of the world, I mean, not spiritually, but just as the metaphor itself — things were going to happen, and for Bob to react accordingly, they gave him the dog.
Hardy: The dog wouldn’t judge Bob. Bob judges Bob daily, but the dog loves Bob regardless, so if there is any chance of redemption at all for Bob, in the world, it comes from an organic, living being. And dog backwards is god, and his inverted relationship with religion and faith and belonging is connected entirely, from a human point of view, as soon as he has something that cares about him regardless. It’s non-judgemental, and it’s a love that is unconditional.
Roskam: Also, the fact that Bob, in whoever’s eyes he looks, he sees his guilt, but when he looks in the eyes of the dog, he sees innocence. And that reflection for him is that warmth that he needs, is to have a non-judgmental look, but also the look of innocence.
Hardy: Because if he can’t save himself, at least he can look after this creature that’s been abused, too, because he understands what’s it like to be abused. He doesn’t abuse that dog.
Besides the dog, most of your scenes were either with Noomi Rapace or James Gandolfini.
Hardy: He loved dogs, too. Big time. A lot of dog lovers here.
What’s your favorite memory of shooting with him, and what’s it like seeing the movie now?
Hardy: They’re two separate things. Working with Jimmy Gandolfini is awesome, because there are very few people that you meet who have a full gamut, a full range, the full package — they’re funny, they’re smart, they’re sensitive, they’re strong, they’re capable of making huge decisions, they’re capable of taking risks and making mistakes, and they break ground, break bread, and also people enjoy their company and they’re fully functional, and they’re alive and just full of life, as a performer and an artist. And I don’t know him in a social environment, but I’m sure I would love him as a friend. I met him just in this movie, but he was the full, real deal. He had everything, and he was the funniest guy to work with. He’d work on levels that were deep and metaphoric. He can laugh, he can joke. He had a huge range of intelligence, and he was a very instinctive performer, and I just loved him. To connect, you knew that you could go into a scene with Jimmy and it could go anywhere. We both cared about the work, and I cared entirely about him and supporting him in any way, shape or form, and I knew that he felt the same way about me, too. That’s how I felt.
So, him passing away, in the same way that [happened] with Phil, also last year, I deeply love Phil Seymour Hoffman, just awful. Just such a tragic loss. I won’t even … it’s not my place to say, because they have families who miss them and I can’t speak … I’m just somebody who met them and worked with them. So to watch the movie now, in that light, of course there’s a sadness there, but also I’m grateful that I got to work with these people. I’ve had that privilege and that honor, and it was a true honor and a true privilege. I hope that answers, as best as possible.
You shared a love of dogs …
Hardy: And he made me laugh, in the work. I’m quite serious when I work, not offscreen. I take the piss all the time, but when the camera rolls, I work hard. Between “action” and “cut,” it’s all business. So laughter and dicking around is not acceptable in scenes and stuff, but James would make me laugh during the scene, because I’d be watching him, because he was good, I couldn’t ...
Roskam: He was saying something about the long-lost relative, about the dog, and I remember we were shooting first on Jim, then on him …
Hardy: I couldn’t keep my shit together!
Roskam: He couldn’t keep his shit [laughs]. And me, too! I understand thoroughly because I was doing the take, I had to like, bite my lip, because I thought it was so funny and I didn’t want to ruin the take by laughing in the background.
Hardy: Yeah, because it was Jimmy’s work, you’re ruining Jimmy’s work. The camera’s on Jimmy, it’s his performance, but he’s so funny that I couldn’t actually behave like a professional and not laugh.
Roskam: He started improvising … and then he starts ad-libbing. Remember that one where he was like, “It’s a dog. They eat, they shit, they fuck, if you let them.”
Hardy: I couldn’t keep a straight face! It’s hard to keep a straight face with him. And he loved dogs. I really liked that about him.