Brian Helgeland interview

Set in the 1960s, Brian Helgeland‘s Legend opens with East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray already at the top of the food chain, avoiding the typical rise-and-fall structure we see in most biopics. Everyone knows the gangsters, and not just because they’re two bulky, hard-hitting twins. Everyone loves Reggie, a charming, friendly face with a sense of panache. His brother, Ronnie, however, is less popular. The hulk of a man is a bit mad and doesn’t share his brother’s good looks or smarts.

Both twins are played by actor Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road). A dual performance is tricky for a variety of reasons. Even if Hardy delivered a simply good performance, it might not have been enough to prevent an audience from focusing on the gimmick of two Tom Hardys in a scene together. But Hardy is fantastic in Legend because he’s serving the story, not showing off his acting or technical trickery.

Helgeland credits Hardy and his director of photography, Dick Pope (Mr. Turner), for making the two performances disappear into the story. But of course, Helgeland also deserves recognition for pulling off such a feat. The director made seemingly minor but vital decisions to make an audience believe Hardy in both roles.

Here’s our Brian Helgeland interview, in which he discusses brotherhood, Tom Hardy’s performance, the American mafia, and recreating the 1960s. 

What I keep saying is you don’t need to be gangsters to find something to relate to with Krays. How fast they make up after their big fight scene is a moment anyone with a brother can recognize.

Yeah. If you have an action scene or a fight scene, it’s always great if it can tell a part of the story, too, where we’re not just stopping to have a fight. The whole idea was: how would these two brothers fight? They’re angry at each other, but at the same time, some part of your brain is saying, “Don’t kill him. He’s your brother.” To end it that way, I was pleased it told a story.

Was that in your first draft?

I didn’t write it out as far as the beats of the action, just that they fought each other, and it ended on a sad moment between them. In my head, it was always Ron’s way of getting Reggie to himself. He had to get rid of Frances (Emily Browning), but he didn’t know how to do it. Ron had to insult her away, which led to a fight, but it was worth it to get Reggie to himself. That was the thought behind it.

Writing the script, did you envision having one actor play both roles?

Obviously there’s a history of two actors playing twins or one actor or actress playing twins. I didn’t really think about it, but I was a little hesitant both ways. If it was one actor I worried it would take you out of the movie, because you’d never be able to fully get into it. If it was two actors you’re limited in the casting of the second actor, because the second actor you cast has to look like the first one. I didn’t deal with it, in my head, until I had to. I went to Tom for Reggie, because Reggie’s the lead, really. I wasn’t thinking, one way or another, he’d only play Reggie or both. I just knew Reggie was the place I had to start out. Also, you don’t know if the actor wants to play both parts.

It’s always a challenge having an actor play dual roles, because it could come off as a gimmick. What’s the trick of making an audience buy the illusion?

You know, you have three different things you can do, camera-wise, but they’re all technical. If you don’t buy it, you’re not going to buy it just because the technique is seamless. It has to be seamless, but even that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. The things we had going for us was, in real life, they were different, in many different ways. They were written differently. And, as they grew older, they looked different. Even though they were identical twins, Ron was heavier and his face was thicker, so you didn’t have that onus of looking at the same face again and again. Also, they had a different style. Ron wore double-breasted suits, while Reggie was more cool and suave.

It still comes down to Tom, having to breathe different life into the two of them. Obviously I knew if anyone could do it, it would be him. I knew he’d take that as the big challenge of the film. If I had cast him to play one or another, that would’ve been fine, but to play them both together — and disappear and separate them — was his main challenge. Technically, my big challenge was to do the same thing, so it was good.

Continue Reading Interview: How ‘Legend’ Director Brian Helgeland Made Two Tom Hardys Believable >>

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