As MMA-fighting brothers who end up in the ring with each other in Warrior, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are well matched in ways that go beyond the obvious. Like his Warrior character Tommy, Hardy is a flashy slab of moldable leading-man muscle, and his breakout roles in Bronson and Inception have given him a heavily hyped career boost and a gig as the villainous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. The Australian Edgerton is more patient and low-key (which is fitting, since his Warrior brother is a wear-’em-out endurance fighter), but no less promising; since he booked Warrior, he’s scored leads in several upcoming movies and been on the short list for countless more, even before his American box-office appeal has gotten its first major test. Vulture rang up Edgerton to discuss his sudden rise, his recent casting in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and the talk-show-host resemblance that has the Internet buzzing.
While you were filming Warrior, you and Tom both had to work out like crazy, and now he has to get even more built for The Dark Knight Rises, while I presume you’re allowed to settle down a bit for The Great Gatsby. Do you like to rub it in his face?
[Laughs. ] Yes! Well, when you get Tom and I together, we just play-fight all the time — we’re punching each other, hitting each other. The trouble is that right now he’s playing Bane and I’m playing Tom Buchanan! Although Tom is described as having a cruel body, so I’m just now getting back into the gym myself to kind of get that ex-quarterback’s frame going.
You really only have two scenes with Tom in Warrior, and the first one comes very late in the movie. How do you think that affected your performances?
That’s one of the cool things about the movie, I think: I always believe that if the audience has an expectation, then give them the opposite. It creates this incredible tension for the audience, but as a performance thing for me, you don’t want to put too much pressure on those two scenes. It’s like Pacino and De Niro in Heat – not that I’m comparing us to those actors, but it’s this movie where the two main actors get one scene together, and it shows you that you don’t want to overdo it. I love Tom as an actor so much that I’m sick about it, I wish there was more that we could do together, but the film is structured in such a way that you really don’t need any more.
When you’ve got a big showy starring role like this one in Warrior that can really introduce you to an America audience, is it frustrating that the movie got delayed for so long to avoid The Fighter?
Not really. I mean, I’ve always been a little scared of my life changing if my profile is raised: On the one hand, I want all the opportunities and I want to be given the challenges and I want my stock to rise so that I can have those challenges, but at the same time it freaks the shit out of me, so delaying the movie for a year felt like a nice way that I could continue my anonymous existence in L.A. Strangely enough, because of the way the business works now, the Internet becomes such a pushing force as far as putting momentum into a person’s career. The little bit of buzz around Warrior led to a lot of opportunities anyway, before the movie even came out.
When it hits the Internet that you came close to landing the new Bourne role, or that you’re going to play the lead in Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie, does it bother you that those things become public so fast?
Yeah, it does. It was very shocking to me. There were things going on in my private life — or that I thought were relatively private — that took less than 24 hours to surface on the Internet. It just made me think how much of a knitting circle Hollywood is, that someone’s always willing to talk to someone who spills the beans on the Internet, and before you know it, it’s there forever. There’s a large element of truth to a lot of that stuff and a little bit of beef-up to some of it — I mean, I’ve read some things on the Internet that were complete news to me, like that I was playing Evil Knievel or whatever. It’s funny how sometimes you learn things off the Internet before they’re actually told to you.
When it comes to The Great Gatsby, is it a big deal as an Australian actor to finally be working for Baz Luhrmann?
Oh, fuck yeah. Baz is like P.T. Barnum to me, the ultimate ringleader. He’s an artist on a locomotive train steaming down a tunnel and willing to stick his neck out the window, which is even more remarkable if you’ve grown up in Australia, because Australia is the land of the tall poppy. You know what I mean by that, right?
Where the “tall poppy” is someone who succeeds and gets cut down for it?
Australians and the British are very similar: If you try and stand out in any way and you try to reach for success, someone is gonna be there to cut you down. That makes Baz’s willingness to go out on a limb even more extraordinary, I think. In reference to Gatsby, I was trying to work out the book from an outsider’s point of view: What is so special about this book? And there are a lot of special things. It says a lot about America and the world at that time, but it also is just extraordinarily well written. The descriptive language is so wonderfully concise — Fitzgerald just had the ability to put words next to each other that seemed right and perfect. So to imagine this as a movie, how does that written language equate to a visual language? You need someone who has a real strong command of the visual and a sense of poetry about them, and Baz to me is the right guy for that.
There is a long thread on your IMDb message board where your fans say you look like Conan O’Brien, and one even says, “If Conan O’Brien were good looking, he’d look like Joel.” Have you gotten this before?
[Laughs.] I did have someone tell me that I looked like Conan O’Brien. I was like, “What?” Hey, what do you think?
Personally, I don’t quite see it.
I don’t see it, either, but it’s hard to be objective about your own looks. I look at myself onscreen and I feel sorry for Conan O’Brien! I recently watched the movie I just did for Disney, The Odd Life of Timothy Green — which just broke my heart, by the way — and for the first ten minutes, I was just depressed! I was like, Is that really what I look like? Is that really my head? Your ego gets so wrapped up in it. But maybe I should go on Conan and see what happens!
You’ve got a ready-made anecdote now.
He’s an incredible guy, by the way. If you compared me to his sense of humor or his energy, I’d be totally cool with that.