Tom Hardy's Warrior Training Was Built On Broccoli And Beatings

There's just something inherently engaging about Tom Hardy. He's an actor who can spend an entire film wearing a mask in the cockpit of a plane (or talking to people on his car's speaker phone) and still be compelling. Even on the rare occasions where his face isn't obstructed by some kind of covering, Hardy tends to mumble and grunt his lines in ways that are curiously fascinating. Perhaps it's his willingness to commit to the bit that makes him endlessly captivating, whether that means leaping impromptu into lobster tanks or working out seven days a week for months on end to play a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter.

Such was the actor's workout regime for director Gavin O'Connor's "Warrior." Hardy stars in the 2011 film as Tommy Riordan, a troubled military veteran who trains with his father, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic, to enter an MMA tournament with the intent of giving his winnings to the widow of his fallen brother-in-arms. Meanwhile, Tommy's biological brother Brendan (Joel Egerton), who's been estranged from him since their parents split up and Tommy left with their since-deceased mother, trains for the same competition, hoping to win the big prize to pay for his daughter's open heart surgery.

"Is it 'Rocky' meets 'Raging Bull?' Yes, if you want that hyperbole," Hardy told The Guardian in 2011. He also admitted to being exhausted by his prep work for the movie, enough so that it took him a while to appreciate the rich drama at its core.

'In hindsight, I can see it's great drama'

Between the two classic sports dramas, "Warrior" hews closer to "Raging Bull." Both films explore toxic masculinity through the lens of a story about brothers whose struggle to communicate their feelings to one another in a healthy manner results in them coming to very literal blows. Paddy's attempts to reconcile with his sons only adds to the conflict in "Warrior," as neither Tommy nor Brendan is ready to forgive him for the way his alcohol abuse tore their family apart.

"But it's a very intricate family drama, to the backdrop of an MMA movie — which is fantastic," as Hardy described it to The Guardian.

Less fantastic, however, was Hardy's training for the film. "In hindsight, I can see it's great drama, but when you're getting your teeth kicked in and eating endless chicken and broccoli, you don't really care," he explained. Indeed, like he does with all his roles, Hardy went all-in on portraying Tommy as an authentic force to be reckoned with in the ring (er, cage?). That also meant going the whole nine yards when it comes to his practice of the martial arts:

"I did two hours boxing a day, two hours muay thai, two hours ju jitsu followed by two hours choreography and two hours of weightlifting seven days a week for three months. So come on! You have to really want to do that, so it was a challenge."

A step up from Bronson

At the end of the day, Tom Hardy wound up putting on 28 pounds of muscle for his role in "Warrior." He had previously gone through a similar muscle gain in order to portray Charles Bronson — the bare-knuckle brawler and one of Britain's most notoriously violent convicts — in director Nicolas Winding Refn's 2008 film biopic "Bronson." However, when he spoke to Interview Magazine in 2009, Hardy said he (understandably) found "Warrior" to be more challenging due to the constant beat-downs he had to endure as part of his MMA training:

"Yeah, I started training ... when I was doing another film and we trained all the way through to shooting, six weeks straight fighting with Nate Marquardt who's a middleweight for the UFC, Anthony Rumble Johnson, who's another middleweight for the UFC, Yves Edwards from Pride. It was the most intense seven-day-a-week training and then we trained all the way through the first two months of shooting as well til we actually got into the ring. It was pretty intense, a step up from 'Bronson' on fighting. The choreography was really to the letter, and it wasn't originally backed by the UFC."

All that hard work paid off. The fight scenes in "Warrior" are brutal and vigorous yet never incoherent. Hardy's training made it easier for Gavin O'Connor and the movie's director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi, to shoot the MMA bouts as clearly as possible, rather than having to go overboard on shaky camera-work to better hide the moments where it's someone other than Hardy taking the hits in Tommy's matches.

Hardy would undergo a similar physical transformation to play Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" in 2012 — although, thankfully, he's sworn off doing equally difficult (not to mention physically damaging) muscle gains since then.