Casting Tom Hardy In Inception Was A No-Brainer For Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is not exactly known for his sense of humor. It's not that his movies are devoid of comedy, mind you. Despite his reputation for making ultra-serious, brain-tickling thrillers with labyrinth plots, Nolan often finds room for quips or funny asides in his work. He's also an avowed fan of "MacGruber," the 2010 "Saturday Night Live" sketch-turned action-comedy movie in which, at one point, Will Forte pulls down his pants and sticks a piece of celery up his butt to distract his enemies.

While there's nothing quite so ribald in Nolan's sci-fi film "Interstellar" (which came out the same year as Forte's vegetable hijinks), there is the character of Eames. Played by Tom Hardy, the sassy, sharply-dressed law-breaker specializes in the art of impersonating others and stealing their identities in the dreamworld, making him an invaluable member of Dom Cobb's brain-hacking team. He's also a bit of a scamp who spends most of the movie flirting with Cobb's partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the best Christopher Nolan love story this side of The Protagonist and Neil in "Tenet." (I said what I said.)

Hardy was a relatively smaller name when he joined the "Inception" cast, especially in the U.S. (where, at the time, he was probably best known for playing Picard's clone, Praetor Shinzon, in the 2002 film "Star Trek: Nemesis"). But even back then, Nolan knew he was perfect for Eames.

'He can inhabit a role'

By the time he hired Hardy, Nolan had come to know the actor primarily for his early transformative roles, like that of the titular convict in "Bronson." "He can inhabit a role. He saw the potential of the character right away and brought a wonderful cheeky quality to his performance," the director told The Guardian in 2010. On another level, however, Nolan seemed to recognize he needed someone like Hardy to ensure Eames would work as the comedic crux in an otherwise no-nonsense movie.

Mind-bending action and M.C. Escher-style visuals aside, "Inception" is a fairly dark story about a parent's quest to be reunited with their children. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a haunted man; if he isn't being tormented by a warped vision of his late wife, he's ready to shoot himself in his head, should he suspect for a moment he's actually in a dream without knowing it. In a film such as this, you need a character like Eames to help lighten the mood and drop playful one-liners like, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

Finding the comedy of circumstance

Describing Eames as "my nod to the linen-suited Havana brigade, a faded luvvie who still has a really good fist fight," Hardy explained to The Guardian what attracted him to the role, stating he's really interested in finding the comedy of circumstance in his work:

"I do like to find comedy – not boom boom, but circumstance, an incongruous character juxtaposed with a certain situation. My old man is a comedy writer – he wrote for Dave Allen and he writes adverts, and I grew up around that. I have an acute awareness that I'm selling something – lying and keeping a straight face. I was incredibly boring as a child, but I had a sense of humor."

In a way, Hardy would go on to serve a similar function in his other films with Nolan after "Inception." In "The Dark Knight Rises," Hardy brings an off-beat touch to the villainous Bane, a muscular brute whose peculiar manner of speaking lends an air of whimsy to the vicious terrorist. Even in the dead-serious "Dunkirk," Hardy delivers his lines as the Royal Air Force pilot Farrier with an air of bemused resignation — as if nearly getting shot down by enemy fighters were tantamount to having to make a fresh pot of coffee in the employees' lounge.

Indeed, the humor is always there in Nolan's movies (with or without Hardy). You just have to know where to look for it.