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The Transformations of Tom Hardy

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The Mad Max: Fury Road star’s ‘ghost personae’ electrifies audiences and astonishes peers...

 “I try to change every character so there’s a distinguished little difference between everything that I’ve played.”

It’s kind of an odd sensation, sitting in front of Tom Hardy and hearing the acclaimed thespian speak in his natural English accent.

After all, whether it’s disguised under a Brooklyn dialect in crime-thriller The Drop, or given a Southern twang in Depression-era American dramas like the bootlegging biopic Lawless, or simply menacingly mechanized behind a face-eating mask in his role as evildoer Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy’s own London pronunciation is rarely heard in the movies.

However, sitting across from me in an upscale hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival, the deep resonance of Tom Hardy’s normal speech is plain as day – and as rich and warm as an old scratched-up soul record. This leaves one to cautiously imagine why he doesn’t utilize it more in his movies.

“It can be a way in [to a character],” Hardy says of his affection for dialects. “I try to change every character so there’s a distinguished little difference between everything that I’ve played.”

Nobody could say the 38-year-old hasn’t succeeded in that department. Although many moviegoers began noticing the stocky, muscular actor only after continuous scene-stealing portrayals in such recent box-office hits as Inception, Warrior, and the aforementioned Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy has been quietly electrifying audiences with his diverse range since his debut in the hit HBO mini-series Band of Brothers back in 2001.

Now, with what is possibly a career-defining role as a post-apocalyptic protagonist in the multimillion-dollar epic Mad Max: Fury Road, Hardy has distinguished himself as perhaps Hollywood’s most unlikely (and most unrecognizable) leading man.

“Max just wants to go home, but there is no home...”

In this fourth instalment of the popular Australian film franchise that turned Mel Gibson into an ’80s movie icon, the story follows Max Rockatansky, a drifter who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a high-octane death race through the desert after he and a one-armed rogue warrior (played by Charlize Theron) make a break from a tyrannical ruler’s dystopian prison.

“Max just wants to go home, but there is no home,” Hardy said while explaining his attraction to the role for U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. “There’s nothing but silence, pain and destruction. He lives in a place where there’s no humanity yet he still yearns for it. But relationships cost in this world.”

The futuristic role may sound far from the modern-day actor’s real life, but the role of Mad Max was a lot closer to home than one might expect. After all, although Hardy now has a skyrocketing career, a successful second marriage (to actress Charlotte Riley), and two children, his ability to uncover convoluted characters like Max came from a rather sordid past, which presumably cost him a few relationships.

In fact, Hardy has been brazenly honest about how he overcame an early bout with alcohol and addiction that often found him in violent altercations and ultimately ended his first marriage after five years. Today, he may be able to mutate into those menacing men easily enough onscreen, but it’s surely by drawing from his own experiences of the past.

“I’m not a fighter,” he announced to Esquire magazine of his reformed life in 2014. “I’m a petit little bourgeois boy from London. I don’t fight, I mimic.”

And mimicking is surely what he loves best now. His unique ability to illuminate such a range of characters hasn’t just allowed him to avoid being typecast in Tinseltown. It has led Hardy to become what Esquire has considered as the “greatest actor of his generation.”

“I love to try to transform,” Hardy declares. “There’s two types of acting in my head – there’s presentational and representational. In one, I present myself in a different hat but I use my same voice or same physicality; then there’s representational acting, which is where I represent a human being [with] guise and camouflage, and therefore a transformational change will take place. I prefer the representational side.”

Audiences certainly reap the rewards of witnessing Hardy work that representational side of his skills. But it has also led to a reputation that Hardy can, at times, be bullheaded or difficult to work with. There have been rumours of spats with directors and a publicized scuffle with Shia LaBeouf while filming Lawless. Even Theron reportedly kept her distance during the making of Mad Max, apparently intimidated by Hardy’s transformational method acting.

“I’m not sure how aware you are that you change a lot depending on who you’re performing,” two-time co-star Noomi Rapace said to Hardy during an interview for The Drop. “It was interesting for me to see that you were working in one way on The Drop, and then we went into Child 44 and it was a completely different personality that came out.”

Hardy casually shrugs off the comment, admitting he often adopts a “ghost persona” — a necessary process that is simply just part of his method.

“Some actors choose a certain type of acting,” Hardy says. “Other actors get off on authenticating their specificity by transformational work. That’s really more of a nerd thing — but that’s where I’m at.”

Steve Gow is a Toronto-based entertainment writer and editor of StrictlyDocs.com