Tom Hardy Turned His 'Gangster' Roles Into A Career-Long Character Study

In an era of Hollywood less interested in movie star power, the most interesting performers these days tend to be character actors. Enter Tom Hardy, an English actor with a face chiseled and handsome enough to pass as the leading man, but looks are not very high on his list of priorities. From his delightfully incoherent take on Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" to his twitchy, silent Max Rockatansky in "Mad Max: Fury Road" and even his leading role in the "Venom" comic book films, his chaotic, kinetic energy is his number one quality.

Recently, one can find Hardy on "Peaky Blinders" as a Jewish gang leader, or in Josh Trank's 2020 film "Capone," in which he portrayed an aging and withered Al Capone, one of the most famous criminals in American history. Both are gangster characters in a long career of playing mobsters, hitmen, and hardened criminals. While Hardy is no stranger to experimentation, it's interesting to see him build his career off of playing darker and morally dubious characters.

In a 2016 interview with Esquire, when Hardy was asked about his affinity for gangster roles, he responded:

"There's a part of me that wants to do different stuff, but there's a part of me that goes: do you know what? I want to carry on playing gangsters because every time you go a little bit deeper in that study. Why switch it up and be rice-paper thin? 'Oh, he's good because he's doing a musical now!' You know what I mean? It's like, 'Look at me! I'm trying to please people!"

Hardy's breakout role in Bronson

One of Hardy's first breakout criminal roles was in Nicolas Winding Refn's 2008 film "Bronson," loosely based on the real-life figure now known as Charles Salvador, who is considered one of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain. Refn's take on the material was more impressionistic than the average biopic, focusing on a surrealist portrait of a violent, and theatrical man. It was a perfect showcase for Hardy's wild card screen presence. In an entry from his published diary, "Diaries from Hell," the real Charles Salvador wrote, "[Hardy] looks awesome and I'm so f**king proud of him. You wouldn't want to meet him down a dark alley at 3 am. Tom looks more like me than I look like me."

In 2014, Hardy made his first appearance as Alfie Solomons in Series 2 of "Peaky Blinders," and was immediately praised as a scene-stealing addition to the cast. We've described his role as Alfie as "Tom Hardy at his most Tom Hardy." Alfie, like many Hardy roles before him, is elevated by Hardy's infinitely watchable nuttiness. If "Bronson" was a precursor to the eccentric qualities Hardy would take with him for the rest of his career, Alfie is a fully developed TV role for Hardy to build upon that reputation.

Legend added extra layers to Hardy's gangster roles

Then there's "Legend," while not a particularly critical success, the film has Hardy playing dual roles as two real-life gangster twin brothers in 1960s London, Reggie and Ronald Kray. While identical in appearance, the film would follow the two brothers' motivations drifting apart — Reggie attempting to reform his life of crime for his wife, while Ronald's unchecked schizophrenia leads them into darker situations. "Legend" was an interesting challenge for Hardy, playing two physical manifestations of a straighter edge man and one more in common with his usual characters. For any other actor, the more unstable character would be the bigger challenge, but for Hardy, it was quite the opposite.

Hardy explained to the Belfast Telegraph:

"There was a moment in the conversation where Brian wanted me to play Reg, 'cause Reg was his lead. And me being me, well, it wouldn't be me if I didn't go for the other one immediately. But Ron is the firework in many ways.I was a bit less confident in playing Reggie. I find straight leads really quite complicated, because they don't do anything. Things happen to them and they respond to the environment. It's quite 'plod, plod, plod' and kinda boring. It's very easy to play Ronnie because there's an unpredictability to him, so my brain can start to respond in a dramatic environment to that type of mechanism."

Hardy's latest challenge was playing Al Capone

Finally, Hardy's latest gangster role is as the famous "Scarface" gangster Al Capone in Josh Trank's 2020 film "Capone." While it initially might not seem like a huge jump for Hardy, the film actually follows Capone in a late period of his life, while he is imprisoned and suffering with neurosyphilis and dementia. While Trank played up the surrealistic elements of Capone's condition, Hardy got to sufficiently disappear into the role and lose his mind on camera, but there's a different context to the chaos in this role. While "Legend" had Hardy reflect on his gangster characters and foil a side of himself with a desire for a tranquil life, "Capone" is a film that seeks to humanize the past actions of an infamous man.

Hardy currently has "Mad Max: The Wasteland" as well as "Venom 3" in development right now, but wherever he goes next with his career, it's safe to say he'll eventually return to portraying morally difficult and eccentric characters again. Hardy continued with Esquire, "I enjoy the nuttery in my work. So that's probably why when somebody goes, 'Do you want to play another loony?' I go, 'Yeah, I would actually, yeah.'"