Tom Hardy created, produced, and starred in a new series that’s about to premiere on FX. But what he’d really like to talk about is the purity of dogs.
“They’re just so clean and straightforward, and they wear their heart on their chest. You know what you’re getting with a dog.” He lets out a gruff, gleeful chuckle. “I love that. Unfettered companionship and loyalty in the most boring of manners. The life and the soul is right next to you, keeping the heart ticking over in the room. You know when a dog’s around, there’s good times. . . . It’s like, why would it choose to be around us? What the hell does it see in us? We don’t deserve them! What does it see in us that it’s so like, ‘Well, I wanna be with you, you’re awesome?’ I’m not that awesome. You’re awesome.”
Clearly, Hardy could discuss “doggies”—as he happily calls them between puffs of an e-cig, sitting with his legs slung over an armchair like a big kid in Santa’s lap—for ages. His love for man’s best friend is so well documented that fans have dedicated numerous social-media accounts to his obsession, sharing photos of him holding a surprisingly vast array of canines. “Bit random, innit?” he says in an interview with Vanity Fair. “I’m like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, with dogs.”
It’s a funny dichotomy. Off-screen, Hardy is a dog-loving goof; on-screen, he’s famous for playing a variety of dangerous blokes. (Calling them “villains” seems too cartoonish; “antiheroes” would be too narrow). His characters run the gamut from morally dubious to just plain corrupt, like the notorious titular criminal in Bronson, or Fitz in The Revenant. The latter performance earned him an Oscar nomination, solidifying a bet he made with co-star Leonardo DiCaprio: if he was nominated, he’d have to get a tattoo of Leo’s choosing. “Fucker,” Hardy jokes. “He would never get a tattoo if he lost that bet! It was just one-way. I’m covered in shit tattoos anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference to me. If I got a big bold ‘Leo’ right across my thigh or across my face. It’s just that, isn’t it? You bet a tattoo, you lose. That’s what happens.” (Hardy still doesn’t have any concrete plans for the tattoo, and doesn’t know what it will be.)
Up next on Hardy’s list of grim protagonists is James Delaney in Taboo, a mini-series the actor co-created with his dad, Chips Hardy, and Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders). The series is also executive produced by Ridley Scott. Taboo is a gloomy period piece set in London in 1814; it’s the “anti-Downton,” Hardy previously told Esquire U.K. The London of Taboo is filthy, full of grubby people with rough skin and questionable motives. Even the aristocrats can just barely cover up their sordid selves in gilded finery.
Hardy’s Delaney is an outsider. After fleeing London for a trip to Africa—the continent is treated like a monolithic swath of land, shamanistic and full of barbarism—he was thought to be dead. Ten years later, though, Delaney returns, all spooky and unsound with an “I see dead people” air about him. He’s the only man with rights to Nootka Sound, an island the East India Company is keen to own. But he becomes a deep thorn in their side, unwilling to sell at any price. “People who do not know me soon come to understand that I do not have any sense,” he says early on, an apt line that encompasses the character.
Hardy first developed the concept for Taboo nine years ago. He relishes the chance it gives him to work with his father, whom he calls “Chips”—never “Dad.” “Chips is awesome as an artist,” says Hardy. “His ideas are great, so it’s very easy to see him as a partner in crime.”
But what Hardy really relishes is the opportunity to be a producer, making creative choices behind the scenes and dealing with the various “shit sandwiches” he’s dealt every day. He says he’s pretty straightforward when it comes to handling problems on set—as long as you don’t lie to him.
“We’ll be O.K. D’you know what I mean? We’re gonna eat another shit sandwich today. It’s just this is the one we want mustard on it, so just tell me which one we’re eating and get it out of the way,” he explains. “When I’m working for other people and I’m not accountable or responsible, I’m not privy to the conversations of what shit sandwich is coming next—or if indeed there is one. ‘Cause a lot of people go, ‘Oh no, no, there’s no shit sandwiches here. Everything’s fine.’ But you can sense that there’s a shit sandwich in the wings. You just know it.” He lets out a peal of high-pitched laughter. “I’m a professional liar. I know when you’re telling me a porky. You know why? Because I’ve spent 30-something years lying professionally.”
Hardy’s head-on approach to tackling problems—and shit sandwiches—also extends to film sets where he’s only a lead actor. In that context, his co-workers aren’t always fond of his blunt style.
“My intention is to help, which is frustrating, and I suppose maybe that’s why some people might find me difficult,” he says. Though it depends on whom you ask, Hardy’s reputation does often precede him: back in 2015, he made headlines for admitting he literally wrestled on set with Revenant director Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Still, Hardy can probably work with any director he wants. He’s set for a third reunion with Christopher Nolan this summer when W.W. II drama Dunkirk hits theaters. That is one director he prefers not to fight with. “He’s too important to argue with a peon like me,” Hardy says with a laugh. “He wouldn’t stoop so low as to have an argument with a bag snatcher like myself. He’s a kingpin.”
Dunkirk, which stars Hardy as a spitfire pilot, also stars young One Direction singer Harry Styles in his first film role. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t really work together on the set. “I met him once, really briefly. It was lovely, big hug,” Hardy says. “He’s very polite and just a sweet guy.”
Nolan, however, was “very effusive” about Styles, Hardy continues. “And that’s not easy, to come in from a very specific department in the industry, and cross over. So poor guy is gonna be judged. I wouldn’t want to be in those shoes, but from what I hear is that, actually, it’s gonna be a very comfortable transition for him, because he’s done such great work—which is really a testament, not only to his skill as an artist, [but] also Christopher’s part in that as well. . . . One Direction aside, do you know what I mean? Which I can’t say I know an awful lot about.”
After working with Nolan on three films now, Hardy is an expert at handling secretive sets and rumors—like one whisper campaign claiming he’s set to appear in the next Star Wars film as a stormtrooper. “That’s like Nolan territory. I can’t tell you anything. And it’d be good to know myself,” he says with a laugh, denying the gossip.
Considering his hardened résumé full of complex characters, you probably won’t ever see Hardy playing, say, “a single dad . . . trying to find a partner on Match.com” or a “chisel-jawed guy in the rubber suit wielding a mighty electric stick at some flying goblin.”
Instead, he would much rather explore darkness, because classic heroes are too suspicious for his liking. “If somebody presents themselves as the pillar and bastion of nobility and pure sanctimonious proper rightness, I’m pretty sure that it’s about as honest as rocking horse shit,” he says. “A great mask belies, probably, even darker, more insidious stuff in my experience.”