The wild one

THE PLAN WAS STRAIGHT­FOR­WARD: IN THE RUN-UP TO THE MOST VIS­I­BLE ROLE OF TOM HARDY’S STO­RIED CA­REER—THE LEAD IN MAR­VEL’S VENOM—ONE OF OUR MOST IN­TENSE AC­TORS AGREED TO TAKE ERIC SULLIVAN ON A MO­TOR­CY­CLE TOUR OF HIS HOME­TOWN. THEN THE DAY SPUN WAY OFF-SCRIP

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Greg Wil­liams

Tom Hardy talks his most vis­i­ble role in his sto­ried ca­reer—the lead in Mar­vel’s Venom.

WE’RE AT THE FIRST

stop on Tom Hardy’s lit­eral tour down mem­ory lane, and he’s al­ready caus­ing trou­ble. The care­taker of St. Leonard’s Court, an apart­ment build­ing in the leafy Lon­don sub­urb of East Sheen, comes out to the drive­way to say that a ten­ant has lodged a noise com­plaint. Hardy leans back in the sad­dle of the of­fend­ing source, a Tri­umph Thrux­ton fit­ted with a not-so-sub­tle 1200cc engine. “Must be hard for some­one who’s home at 3:00 p.m. on a Tues­day do­ing fuck-all, in­nit?” he says to the care­taker, who’s al­ready in re­treat. Then, over­rid­ing his knee-jerk snark: “It won’t hap­pen again.”

“I’m the youngest per­son to own a flat on this block,” Hardy, forty, tells me, sound­ing both proud and be­mused. He bought the place fif­teen years ago, moved out six years later, and now uses it as a crash pad for out-of-town guests. He didn’t choose the lo­ca­tion for its so­cial scene, if the few geri­atric res­i­dents shuf­fling by are any in­di­ca­tion. Rather, he was the prodi­gal son re­turned: He grew up in the up­per-mid­dle-class com­mu­nity, the only child of Chips, an ad­man and writer, and Ann, an artist. His par­ents still live nearby.

“Ready for the five-dol­lar tour?” he asks. Our plan is to trace the path from what he calls his “priv­i­leged bour­geois back­ground” to the up­per-up­per-class town of Rich­mond, where he now lives with his wife, ac­tor Char­lotte Ri­ley, and their child, his sec­ond. (He also has a ten-year-old son with as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Rachael Speed.) The jour­ney is short in dis­tance—a lit­tle more than two miles—but ul­tra­ma­rathon-long in life ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Be­hind the Laura Ash­ley cur­tains, there was naugh­ti­ness and fuck­eries!” he be­gins like an ov­er­en­thused do­cent. I point out that’s a line he’s de­liv­ered many times to many writ­ers. He shrugs. “It’s eas­ier to say that than to go deep-sea div­ing into it.” To Hardy, a fiercely pri­vate man and a re­luc­tant pub­lic fig­ure, the canned story serves the use­ful pur­pose of mak­ing an un­sus­pect­ing per­son feel like they’re get­ting to know the real Tom. “Should we fuck off?” he asks as we pull on our gear. Ex­cept for the beat-up jeans, his five-foot-nine frame is cov­ered in black, from his hel­met to his mo­tor­cy­cle boots. We get on our bikes and fuck off.

Five min­utes later, just past the prep school he at­tended as a boy, Hardy spots a com­mo­tion, and we pull over. A wo­man, blood cov­er­ing her face, lies faceup, half on the side­walk and half in the street. A few by­standers are crouched around. As Hardy ap­proaches, he says, “I know her.”

It’s Mae, the mother of one of Hardy’s child­hood best friends.* He drops to one knee and takes her hand in his. Some­one in the crowd tells us that Mae tripped while walk­ing her dog. She’s slip­ping in and out of con­scious­ness.

“Mae, it’s Tommy,” Hardy says. “Squeeze my hand. Keep talk­ing to us. Can you open your eyes?” She moans. He tries out a joke. “Are you Cana­dian?” he asks. She man­ages a word: “No. ” He says, “Not even a lit­tle Cana­dian?” She doesn’t re­ply.

By the time the am­bu­lance arrives, Mae is re­spond­ing, but barely. Shortly af­ter, her son Al­bert pulls up on his bi­cy­cle. When he sees his mother laid out, he bites his fist. Hardy wraps his arms around his friend, both to com­fort him and to keep him at a safe dis­tance.

The paramedics load Mae onto a stretcher, and Hardy asks if they can bring Al­bert, too, then asks again to make sure they re­mem­ber. They say yes, but they’ll first check Mae’s vi­tals.

Af­ter the am­bu­lance doors close, Hardy turns his at­ten­tion back to Al­bert. “Your mum took a whack to the fore­head. But I’m not con­cerned im­me­di­ately, ’cause she’s re­spond­ing bet­ter than when we ar­rived. And ’cause they’re not rush­ing off. You set­tle in at the hospi­tal, and then we’ll meet you.” Al­bert protests, but Hardy stops him. “I’m one of your best mates, and I love you.” He slips money into Al­bert’s pocket. “Just for now,” he says. As soon as the am­bu­lance leaves, bound for Kingston Hospi­tal, he calls Al­bert’s wife.

For the half hour we’ve been here, Hardy has not stopped mov­ing. He’s talked him­self through each step as if check­ing off boxes on a cri­sis to-do list. Sud­denly, he turns to me and con­sid­ers our cir­cum­stances. We be­gan the day as writer and sub­ject, but that dy­namic dis­solved the mo­ment he saw Mae. “There was no in­ter­view here,” he says. “We find our­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where we needed to put ev­ery­thing on hold.” A smile cracks across his face. “Wel­come to my neigh­bor­hood. I told you there’s al­ways some­thing to find be­hind the Laura Ash­ley cur­tains.”

PRI­VATE TOM AND PUB­LIC HARDY:

Th­ese are the two sides that de­fine him. That his time is split be­tween work life and fam­ily life, and that his obli­ga­tions to­ward both are some­times at odds, isn’t unique. How­ever, his stead­fast strug­gle to sep­a­rate them is; he’d be thrilled if never the two should meet. But they do, with in­creas­ing fre­quency, in ways that are be­yond his con­trol.

Pub­lic Hardy may be an ac­com­plished ac­tor in the U. S., but in his home coun­try he’s a na­tional trea­sure. In June, he was awarded the ti­tle Com­man­der of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire, which, while not as pres­ti­gious as knight­hood, is on the same scale. In Fe­bru­ary, Glam­our UK named him the sex­i­est man of 2018. Madame Tus­sauds in Lon­don re­cently dis­played his like­ness re­clin­ing on an oxblood ch­ester­field couch, one arm perched atop the back cush­ion like an in­vi­ta­tion. (“Cosy up to Tom on his leather sofa and feel his heart­beat and the warmth of his torso in what is surely the hottest seat in town,” hy­pes the wax mu­seum’s site.) He tells well-worn anec­dotes to keep Pri­vate Tom con­cealed, and he’s al­ways on alert.

We meet for the first time the day be­fore the ac­ci­dent, at the Bike Shed, a mo­tor­cy­cle club and café in Shored­itch where, last year, he spent his for­ti­eth birth­day. It’s Hardy’s fa­vorite place in Lon­don—not

“NINE TIMES OUT OF TEN, WHEN SOME­BODY SAYS, ‘DON’T DO THAT,’MY IN­STINCT IS TO SAY, ‘THAT HAS TO BE DONE.’”

sur­pris­ing, as he’s an in­vestor in the com­pany, which plans to open a lo­ca­tion in Los An­ge­les soon. Ev­ery few min­utes dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, he nods hello to yet an­other bearded, inked-up passerby. He’s wear­ing a loose T-shirt and cargo pants with enough pock­ets to fit all the world. Brown fuzz dusts the crown of his head. A cop­per beard stip­pled with gray blan­kets the lower half of his face.

He an­swers my first ques­tion—how he’s do­ing—without miss­ing a beat: “I’m tired.” He’s been work­ing a lot, mostly on Mar­vel’s Venom, in which he plays the ti­tle role, a re­porter named Ed­die Brock whose body is hi­jacked by an alien sym­biote. Venom has re­mained one of Spi­der-man’s best-known foes since he first ap­peared in comic-book form in the late eight­ies. At times, he’s an out­right vil­lain; at oth­ers, in­clud­ing in Hardy’s hands, he’s more of an an­ti­hero. He can’t dis­cuss the plot, but he says the tone of the movie, di­rected by Ruben Fleis­cher (Zom­bieland), is “dark and edgy and dan­ger­ous.”

The three-month shoot, which ended in Jan­uary, took him to At­lanta, New York, and San Fran­cisco, where the movie is set. “I see Amer­ica by where the tax breaks are,” he jokes. Next, he headed to New Or­leans to play a syphilitic Al Capone in Fonzo, di­rected by Josh Trank (Chron­i­cle). That crew went hard: nine­teen hours a day for six weeks. The day they wrapped, he flew home, threw on a suit, and at­tended the royal wedding with Ri­ley. (All he’ll say about why they landed the cov­eted in­vite is that “it’s deeply pri­vate” and “Harry is a fuck­ing leg­end.”) The work wasn’t the hard­est thing; it was, he says, spend­ing such long stretches away from his fam­ily.

Yet work­wise, Hardy has ar­rived at what you might call a stakes mo­ment, one that’s twenty years in the mak­ing. At the dawn of his ca­reer, af­ter land­ing just two small roles, al­beit in big projects—band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down—he scored his first ma­jor part, as the bald, asex­ual vil­lain in 2002’s Star Trek: Neme­sis. But the movie tanked, snuff­ing buzz over his ex­cel­lent per­for­mance. Five years of for­get­table films and a few distin­guished stage per­for­mances passed be­fore Hardy played lead roles that fully show­cased his tal­ents: the home­less drug ad­dict with a heart of gold in the BBC’S Stu­art: A Life Back­wards (2007), for which he shed nearly thirty pounds, and the most vi­o­lent in­mate in Bri­tain in Bron­son (2009), for which he packed on fif­teen pounds of mus­cle.

PHYS­I­CAL CHANGE

is just part of Hardy’s ex­act­ing, chameleon­like trans­for­ma­tions. “One can em­bel­lish with flair or an ac­cent,” he says. “But ul­ti­mately you need to ground the char­ac­ter in some form of rec­og­niz­able truth.” Hardy will talk your ear off about act­ing the­ory—stanislavsky ver­sus Adler, pre­sen­ta­tion ver­sus rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the use of clown­ing and mask work. “I’m a com­plete geek about it,” he says. But those seams don’t show. At his best, Hardy so thor­oughly em­bod­ies a char­ac­ter, in both body and spirit, that he all but dis­ap­pears.

Take a scene from 2015’s The Revenant. Hardy plays Fitzger­ald, the cold­hearted fur trap­per and the tar­get of re­venge for Leonardo Dicaprio’s Glass. One night, around a camp­fire, Fitzger­ald makes a veiled threat to a sus­pi­cious travel com­pan­ion. (To watch, Google “God is a squir­rel.”) He never raises his voice, but it’s as if he’s ripped out the man’s heart. Hardy’s per­for­mance earned him both an Os­car nom­i­na­tion and, af­ter los­ing a bet with Dicaprio over whether he’d re­ceive such recog­ni­tion, a tat­too on his right arm that reads LEO KNOWS ALL.

HIS KNACK FOR MAG­NETIC UNEASE

can in­ject a block­buster with edge: Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception, and, most no­tably, The Dark Knight Rises. But aside from Fury Road, when­ever he’s as­sumed the lead role—law­less, War­rior, This Means War, The Drop, Locke, Leg­end, Child 44—the re­sults have come up short crit­i­cally, com­mer­cially, and some­times both. Venom is Hardy’s most vis­i­ble role yet.

“Sounds like a lot of pres­sure, doesn’t it?” he half-jokes. But he says he’s not con­cerned about box-of­fice re­turns; as al­ways, he’s con­sumed with build­ing a good char­ac­ter. He ad­mits he knew lit­tle about Venom when he first read the script. “So I spoke to the only per­son I could re­ally trust in this en­vi­ron­ment: my older boy.” His comic-book-lov­ing son “was a huge in­flu­ence on me do­ing the role.”

Hardy prepped for the movie for more than a year. He un­der­goes a rig­or­ous process to shape each per­for­mance, com­plete with its own ar­got. A script is a “case file,” to be “un­packed” via “in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” He of­ten be­gins by us­ing per­son­al­i­ties, both real and fic­tive, as lodestars to­ward which he guides his por­trayal. The voice he de­vel­oped for Al Capone in Fonzo is based on Bugs Bunny’s; to prove it, he plays me a clip of the raw footage on his phone. Sure enough, he sounds like the car­toon rab­bit with a se­vere case of vo­cal fry. In Venom, the dual roles of Ed­die Brock and Venom re­minded him of three wildly dif­fer­ent traits of three wildly dif­fer­ent peo­ple: “Woody Allen’s tor­tured neu­ro­sis and all the hu­mor that can come from that. Conor Mc­gre­gor—the übervi­o­lence but not all the talk­ing. And Red­man”— the rap­per—“out of con­trol, liv­ing rent-free in his head.” Those are not de­tails he re­vealed to the ex­ecs at Sony, which is pro­duc­ing the movie. “You don’t say shit like that to the stu­dio,” he says.

Hol­ly­wood is hav­ing a stakes mo­ment of its own. Dis­ney’s ac­qui­si­tion of Fox is the lat­est sign that the stu­dio sys­tem is strug­gling to adapt to the rise of stream­ing ser­vices, among other things. Sony weath­ered a rough patch last year—a nearly USD$1 bil­lion write-down—then re­cov­ered with

the help of the fifth- and sixth-high­est-gross­ing films of the year world­wide: the Ju­manji se­quel and Spi­der-man: Home­com­ing, the fever­ishly an­tic­i­pated re­launch of its most valu­able prop­erty. The stu­dio now plans to de­velop a fran­chise of in­ter­con­nected Spi­der-man-re­lated movies that will fill the cof­fers for years. Venom is the first of­fi­cial en­try.

“If the odds are stacked against Sony, that’s not my fuck­ing busi­ness,” Hardy says. “It’s ir­rel­e­vant.” He bur­nishes an im­age of him­self as a creative lone wolf, and in the third per­son no less: “Tom is very mer­ce­nary when it comes to work. I can­not give a fuck what the writer, or the di­rec­tor, or Larry in Bal­ti­more thinks about my choices.” (He later clar­i­fies the per­spec­tive shift: “Some­times I talk in the third per­son be­cause it’s a lot eas­ier to see my­self at work as a piece of meat. So when Tommy says he doesn’t give a fuck what you think, it’s only be­cause I give too much of a fuck, and it gets to a point where it sti­fles me.”) But it’s hard to square his claims of artis­tic pu­rity with the oc­ca­sional very non-lone-wolf de­tail like, “Mar­ket re­search shows that the big­gest fan base for Venom is ten-year-old boys in South Amer­ica.”

If this movie does well, there will be se­quels. And if Sony builds its cin­e­matic Spidey uni­verse, Hardy may well ap­pear in those, too. Be­yond those com­mit­ments, he’s vague about his post-fonzo plans, most of which don’t in­volve act­ing. “What I’d like to do is pro­duce. Write. Di­rect,” he says. Through his pro­duc­tion com­pany, Hardy Son & Baker, he’s work­ing on the sec­ond sea­son of Taboo, a moody pe­riod drama set in early-1800s Lon­don that he stars on and cowrites with his fa­ther. The first sea­son was a mixed bag—its pre­miere ranks as one of the most streamed episodes of any BBC show, but his­to­ri­ans crit­i­cized its ac­cu­racy and U.S. view­ers met its FX air­ing with in­dif­fer­ence—yet his stature is such that the BBC green-lighted the sec­ond sea­son. He also op­tioned Once a Pil­grim, a thriller by a vet­eran of the Para­chute Reg­i­ment, the elite air­borne in­fantry of the Bri­tish army; he’s con­sid­er­ing di­rect­ing the adap­ta­tion.

Hardy’s fu­ture looks rosy. And yet, more than any­thing, he feels worn down. Phys­i­cally, sure: He’s walk­ing with a limp. He says he tore his right menis­cus on the set of Venom, but he doesn’t know how it hap­pened. “At the end of a job, I nor­mally end up on the side of the road,” he says. “And then car­ry­ing the tod­dler around on my shoul­ders. . .” He lets loose a two-note cackle. “Things get in the way of look­ing af­ter your­self.”

But the fa­tigue is also men­tal. Maybe it’s be­cause the grow­ing de­mands of the job, es­pe­cially the time spent far from his wife and chil­dren, are be­gin­ning to out­weigh its di­min­ish­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion. When I ask if be­ing forty has changed how he feels about his ca­reer, this time he an­swers in the sec­ond per­son. “You’ve sum­mited Ever­est. It’s a mir­a­cle that you’ve made it any­where near the fuck­ing moun­tain, let alone climbed it. Do you want to go all the way back and do it again? Or do you want to get off the moun­tain and go fuck­ing find a beach?” He tugs his left tem­ple so hard that it looks like the skin might tear. “What is it that draws you to the craft? At this age, I don’t know any­more. I’ve kind of had enough. If I’m be­ing bru­tally hon­est, I want to go on with my life.”

AF­TER THE AM­BU­LANCE LEAVES

with Mae and Al­bert, Hardy sug­gests that we stop at a few places on our way to the hospi­tal. Not for my ben­e­fit, but for his friend’s. “Al­bert needs to be alone with his mum and his thoughts,” he says. “He’s go­ing to be tak­ing care of her, so it’s im­por­tant he pays at­ten­tion. Some­times, when there are other peo­ple around, that’s hard to do.” Hardy isn’t try­ing to swash­buckle; he’s think­ing of how to best help two loved ones.

And, ap­par­ently, a guy he just met: Look­ing me up and down, he says, “We’ve had a bit of a shock our­selves. We could use some sugar.” We set out for a re­fresh­ment stand in a nearby park he first came to as a tod­dler with his mother to pad­dle around the kid­die pool, and then as a teen with Al­bert and oth­ers to play rugby.

When we ar­rive, the stand is closed. As we get back on our bikes, a fa­ther walks by car­ry­ing his son, a chubby boy with an ex­plo­sion of straw-col­ored curls. “How old are you?” Hardy asks the boy. “He’s two,” the dad beams. “When will you be three?” Hardy asks. “July,” the tod­dler says softly. “That’s re­ally soon!” he says. “You’re a bit older than my youngest, who’ll be three in Oc­to­ber. Oh, you’ll be a big boy by then. You’re al­ready a big boy. Do you want to sit on my bike?” The boy buries his face in his fa­ther’s chest. “I ap­pre­ci­ate I’ve made you feel ner­vous. This is what I will do: I will dis­ap­pear,” he says, which could dou­ble as his twosen­tence act­ing man­i­festo. He revs his engine over and over. As we depart, the boy watches Hardy, his mouth agape.

We cut into Rich­mond Park, a twenty-five­hun­dred-acre ex­panse that’s equal parts pol­ished and un­tamed. When some­thing catches Hardy’s at­ten­tion—stags in the brush, a view of the Thames, a tree with knot­ted bark—he raises two fin­gers to his eyes in a V, then points so I see it too, like I’m his Dunkirk wing­man.

We pull over at a dead end. With our en­gines rum­bling, Hardy tells me that his par­ents moved to this part of Lon­don to en­roll him in the best schools they could af­ford. The area is among the wealth­i­est in the UK, but it’s also an eco­nomic patch­work where coun­cil houses sit blocks away

“YOU’VE SUM­MITED EVER­EST. DO YOU WANT TO DO IT AGAIN? IF I’M BE­ING BRU­TALLY HON­EST, I WANT TO GO ON WITH MY LIFE.”

from man­sions. “Grow­ing up, you mix and min­gle. You can sit in the shit if you want to, or you can make some­thing of your­self,” he says. “Or you can end up un­der too much pres­sure and fad­ing out young.”

AS A CHILD,

Hardy had a strong re­la­tion­ship with Ann, but he butted heads with Chips. Fa­ther and son made up years ago, and Hardy re­sists go­ing into de­tail about their dif­fi­cult past. “My fa­ther was the most won­der­ful of teach­ers in a world that can be cruel,” he al­lows. “He treated me like an adult, as op­posed to chang­ing his per­sona for his child. There was no fil­ter. Do you un­der­stand? No fil­ter.”

In his teens, Hardy wob­bled. “The cen­trifu­gal force in my life is a nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tion to not be happy with the way I feel,” he says. That, com­bined with a ro­bust con­trar­ian bent—“nine times out of ten, when some­body says, ‘Don’t do that,’ my in­stinct is to say, ‘That has to be done’”—got him into a fair bit of trou­ble. He hung out with the wrong crowds; he fought in school. “I grew up in the neigh­bor­hood be­ing a dick,” he says. “I’ve learned and will con­tinue to learn from be­ing a dick. To try and some­how chisel my­self into be­ing a hu­man be­ing so I can re­spect my­self when I look in the mir­ror. And that’s a pro­ce­dure that will go on un­til I die.”

Start­ing at thir­teen, he strug­gled with al­co­holism and other ad­dic­tions. He still has a soft spot for those with sim­i­lar demons. In April 2017, when two kids rid­ing stolen mopeds were T-boned at an in­ter­sec­tion and tried to run, Hardy, who lived nearby, ap­pre­hended one of them. The Sun head­line sums up how the press cov­ered the in­ci­dent: “Tom Hardy Catches Thief Af­ter Dra­matic Hol­ly­wood-style Chase Through Streets Be­fore Proudly Say­ing, ‘I’ve Caught the C**t.’ ” He dis­putes the de­tails of what was re­ported— “It wasn’t much of a chase; when I found him, he was in fuck­ing rag or­der”—but that’s be­side the point. The tabloids missed the real story: Af­ter the in­ci­dent, he tracked down the kid he turned in and got him help. “He must stand ac­count­able for what he’s done,” Hardy tells me. “But he’s got is­sues, and he’s in a bad way. Do we just give up on a six­teenyear-old?”

As a boy, Hardy was given sec­ond, third, and fourth chances. Along the way, he dis­cov­ered that act­ing of­fered an out­let for his bane­ful dis­con­tent. He at­tended one drama school, then an­other, got kicked out twice, and was cast in Band of Brothers be­fore he grad­u­ated.

Still, for years, he ques­tioned his cho­sen path. Hardy even signed up for a Para­chute Reg­i­ment train­ing course—but never fol­lowed through. “Oh, mate, I did so much backpedal­ing,” he says. “The re­al­ity is that where I be­longed was not there. The last per­son de­fend­ing the realm was Mr. Hardy.” He calls the decision to back out “one of my big­gest re­grets. I won­der what life would’ve been like. I would’ve loved to have served and been use­ful.”

In 2003, at twenty-five, Hardy cleaned up with the help of a twelve-step pro­gram—he calls it “my first port of call”—and he’s been sober ever since. “It was hard enough for me to say, ‘I’m an al­co­holic.’ But stay­ing stopped is fuck­ing hard.” Sit­ting on his Tri­umph, at the cen­ter of the place that held all the risks and pos­si­bil­i­ties that would de­fine him, Hardy sounds al­most wist­ful.

We take off through the park. He rides with his legs bowed out, his left hand rest­ing on his knee, and his right hand hold­ing steady on the throt­tle. When he rips on a vape pen, white plumes swirl around his head and dis­si­pate into the damp air.

WE HEAD TO RICH­MOND.

The town sits within the bor­ders of Greater Lon­don, but its roots are as much in the coun­try­side as in the city. Gen­er­a­tions of fa­mous Brits seek­ing refuge have called it home: Queen El­iz­a­beth I liked hunt­ing stags in the park; Charles I re­lo­cated his court here to avoid the plague; Mick Jag­ger lived near the Thames with Jerry Hall, who, though now mar­ried to Ru­pert Mur­doch, ap­par­ently still co-owns the home they shared.

We stop at a café around the cor­ner from Hardy’s place. The wall be­tween us that crum­bled upon see­ing Mae—or seemed to, any­way—is for­ti­fied just as quickly. When Pri­vate Tom reaches play­fully for my stack of ques­tions and I in­stinc­tively pull them back, he casts a leery eye. “I see I’m not in the cir­cle of trust,” Pub­lic Hardy says, when in fact I just got booted from his. “Can I get a dou­ble espresso?” he asks our waiter. “For sure,” the waiter says. “By the way, big fan. I al­ways know if you’re in a movie, it’s go­ing to be a good one.”

“Thanks. But don’t put your money on that,” Hardy says. “I’ve got to be crap at some point.”

“I would say you’re one of my top three best,” the waiter says. “Ac­tion ac­tors,” he clar­i­fies. “I think I’m a bit too old now for ac­tion.” “Ex­cept for the next Ex­pend­ables,” the waiter jokes.

“I’m tempted to ask who the other two are,” Hardy says af­ter the waiter walks off. “I showed great re­straint. Great re­straint.” He might claim that the opin­ions of oth­ers don’t mat­ter, but this is driv­ing him crazy. “Who are the fuck­ers?”

When the waiter re­turns, I ask. “Mark Wahlberg,” he says without de­lay, as if he were wait­ing for the ques­tion. Hardy, stone-faced, says noth­ing. “And Matt Da­mon.”

Fi­nally, Hardy speaks. “Can I give you this?” he says, hand­ing over a plate, any plate, just to send the waiter on his way. Al­most as an af­ter­thought, he adds, “Thanks, man. Good com­pany.”

He deals with this sort of thing all the time. “I’ve crossed the line of be­ing a pub­lic fig­ure. And I ac­cept that means to a cer­tain de­gree I’m pub­lic prop­erty,” he says, “even though I pro­ject an im­age of my­self to them,” ac­knowl­edg­ing Pub­lic Hardy in all but name. Most peo­ple he meets are lovely.

But “the down­side of be­ing overt is you in­vite dark­ness,” he says. “It only takes one per­son to cause real harm.” He de­fends him­self as if some­one has called him out. “That’s not be­ing para­noid. That’s just facts.”

By fil­ter­ing which parts of him­self be­come pub­lic, he’s mostly okay with the bal­ance of Pri­vate Tom and Pub­lic Hardy. Ex­cept, that is, when it comes to his chil­dren. “I will pose for you, and pho­tos of me and my wife are fine,” he says. “But if some­one takes a photo of my kids, all bets are off. I will take the cam­era off you and beat the fuck­ing shit out of you.” His voice con­tains no hint of ex­ag­ger­a­tion. “That’s the one that hurts. My kids didn’t ask for what my job is.” He pauses. “There’s some­thing that re­ally up­sets me about the im­po­si­tion of a grown-up world on a child.”

When we spoke ear­lier about his re­la­tion­ship with Chips, he said he was work­ing to be­come a bet­ter fa­ther by learn­ing from the mis­takes of his own. “In try­ing to pro­tect my chil­dren, I’ll prob­a­bly give them their own dose of prob­lems,” he told me. “But I don’t want them to go through what I went through.”

AT KINGSTON HOSPI­TAL,

we make our way to Mae’s room. She’s feel­ing bet­ter, but dried blood still cakes her face. She and Al­bert don’t know who or what to ex­pect next, or how long it will be. Hardy asks what she re­mem­bers—“hit the pave­ment,” she says. “Made a nice sound”—and what still hurts. We un­load snacks we brought, and then we wait.

The three re­lax into a fa­mil­iar rhythm. Age has smoothed but not erased the boys’ mis­chief and the mom’s sass. Hardy jokes to Mae, “All right, lovely, want salt-and-vine­gar chips with a side of in­fec­tious dis­ease? Pick up a lit­tle sou­venir?” She smirks.

Hardy squeezes some san­i­tizer onto his hands and rubs it, then reaches for a chip. “Don’t do that,” Mae says. “Wipe off your hands first. It’s not for eat­ing.”

“It’s bet­ter than eat­ing dis­ease,” Al­bert weighs in. “I’d rather be san­i­tized to death.” “I’m gonna take my chances,” Hardy says. “How’s your mum and dad?” she asks. “Very good, ac­tu­ally,” he says. “It was my mum’s birth­day last week.” “Twenty-one again?” “I’m glad to see you’re crack­ing jokes,” Al­bert says. “Me too,” Mae says. When she leaves the room with the help of a nurse, Hardy turns to Al­bert and de­liv­ers a dose of op­ti­mism: “She’s walk­ing, mate. That’s a good sign. The next thing we’re go­ing to get is an X-ray, or maybe a CT scan if they’re con­cerned about bleed­ing or swelling in the brain. They’ve got to check all the boxes.”

Once Mae is back, Hardy steps out to talk to the nurse without say­ing why. “Is he us­ing his celebrity pow­ers?” Al­bert asks me. “Not the first time I’ve wit­nessed that.” He laughs, then qui­ets. “But it’s a nice tool to have.”

Hardy re­turns without ex­pla­na­tion. A few min­utes later, the nurse comes in. “She’s go­ing to be seen next.” Like that, Mae is at the top of the list. Though Hardy is coy about how much

he played the fame card, it’s clear his job here is done. As we say good­bye, Mae pulls him in close. “I want you to know that I have plans to see Venom,” she says. “You’ve done some­thing that’s close to my heart. You know I’m a sci-fi freak.”

“You’re gonna en­joy this one,” Hardy says. “This one’s just for you. And for my boy.”

Hardy wants to ex­ert con­trol over his world. The bru­tal irony is that the more suc­cess­ful he be­comes, the more the world con­trols him. But as we walk out of the hospi­tal, I sug­gest that while his celebrity might feel like a bur­den, in the in­stance of Mae and Al­bert it was... He fin­ishes my sen­tence: “Per­fect.”

At the exit, an or­derly chases us down. “Tom! Tom Hardy!” We stop. “I just love your movies. Can I take a pic­ture?” Two more fans fol­low. He smiles as they gather around in the hospi­tal park­ing lot and start snap­ping self­ies.

NAVY/RED/WHITE COT­TON TRACK TOP; NAVY/RED/WHITE COT­TON TRACK PANTS BOTH BY GUCCI; RED/SIL­VER TRAIN­ERS BY NEW BAL­ANCE.

NAVY/RED/WHITE COT­TON TRACK TOP BY GUCCI.

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