1 THE PART WHERE HE’S NOT THERE
Tom Hardy’s trailer is stationed in the car park of a film studio on the outskirts of Cardiff. It’s one of the flashier kind, with a kitchenette and seated area and some other rooms at the back I don’t see which presumably contain a toilet and a bed or, I don’t know, chaise longue. The seated area has a wipe clean, upholstered bench down one side, which I’m sitting on, and a white leatherette armchair in the opposite corner which, it must be said, has the slight quality of a throne. There are letterbox windows high up on either side, a flat-screen TV on the wall, and a strange mirrored panel in the ceiling. There is a bag of sweets on the table by the chair, and some bumper packs of chewing gum, and no other notable items to report besides a dog bed and two dog bowls on the floor, which have a blingy, coppery finish that draws the eye.
It’s the kind of trailer—and they are the kind of dog bowls—you’d hope would be made available to one of our most-beloved actors who, in a poll earlier this year, was voted the number one ‘male British film star of the 21st century’. However, there is one thing that is conspicuously lacking from Tom Hardy’s trailer and that is Tom Hardy.
Instead, the armchair is occupied by his assistant, Natalie, an elegant blonde who carries her phone on a cord around her neck and checks it sporadically. It was Natalie who met me at the station, along with Hardy’s driver and security guard Luke, who is young and chatty and has trained in both boxing and Krav Maga. Natalie can also handle herself, one suspects; before becoming Hardy’s assistant, around the time he played both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the 2015 film Legend, she worked for more than a decade with Liam Gallagher. But though I glean this from a very enjoyable chat we have in Tom Hardy’s trailer while we wait for Tom Hardy, she’s not the one who signed up for an interview so I will, as Ronnie Kray might say, leave her out of it.
As it happened, I’d been waiting for a few weeks for a summons from Hardy to an unspecified destination— maybe London! Maybe Wales! Maybe, God forbid, on Zoom!—so another hour here or there was no big deal. Having interviewed him a few times before, I knew time-keeping not to be his strongest suit.
I’d also learned not to second-guess the setting: the first time, when he was shooting The Revenant for director Alejandro Iñárritu and promoting George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, we painted ceramics in a Calgary strip mall. Another time, when he was preparing to launch his debut superhero movie Venom, we pottered around the Richmond-upon-Thames branch of Homebase. He likes to keep you on your toes.
Even in the car with Natalie and Luke, driving past clapped-out industrial buildings and a surprising number of horses—owned, Luke informed me, by a local Traveller community who keep them tethered at the roadside—I knew nothing of what would be happening, other than that I had taken a train to Cardiff because Hardy was somewhere nearby filming a movie called Havoc: an action film for Netflix about a ‘bruised detective’ pulled into the criminal underworld while on the hunt for a politician’s wayward son. I knew they were taking me to the studio for a Covid test, but it wasn’t until we were back outside in the car park, mounting the little steps to the door of a trailer bearing a sign that said ‘Walker’, his character’s name, that I realised this was to be our final destination. So obvious! And therefore so unexpected! It made a strange sort of sense. And it was still, after all, a glorified shipping container in a car park. “‘Glamour,’ they said,” I hear Natalie deadpan, more than once. Also more than once: “Tom’s on his way.”
While we wait, members of Hardy’s ‘team’—the coterie of people he brings with him from one production to the next, perhaps because he trusts them, perhaps because they make it all feel a bit more normal—come in and out. There’s Natalie and Luke, who have an easy, jocular camaraderie, and Hardy’s make-up artist Audrey, who bustles about in the kitchenette before rushing out again to practise some prosthetic scars on an extra who is temporarily doubling for him. But then there’s an almost imperceptible change in air pressure, like the breath of wind before a storm, or the tremble of leaves at the mouth of a tunnel before a train comes. Natalie’s eyes flit to the window as an Audi estate pull in.
He appears through the door of his trailer, in a tight-fitting T-shirt and baseball cap, looking muscly and lean and not like any of the other 43-year-old dads I know, followed by his dog Blue, a soft-grey mixed-breed with more than a hint of French bulldog and a permanently quizzical expression. He gives me a hug—my first full-body hug with anyone outside my immediate family for more than a year and a half! What a way to go!—and sits down in the armchair that Natalie has vacated and next to which she has placed an espresso in a tiny cup. Blue settles into the dog basket next to the coppery bowls, into one of which Natalie has just, for reasons, I’m going to assume, of convenience rather than diktat, squeezed water from an Evian bottle. At last, Tom Hardy, number one male British film star of the 21st century, is here.
2 THE PART WHERE WE TALK ABOUT HIS NEW MOVIE
Midway through the closing credits of Venom, which was released in 2018, there is an additional scene. Hardy’s character (or more specifically, Hardy’s human character, but more on that later), motorbike-riding investigative reporter Eddie Brock, is escorted through the security gates of California’s notorious San Quentin Prison. After being led through a series of grimy corridors, he and a gruff-talking guard arrive at a large metal cage in which Woody Harrelson, in manacles and a curly auburn wig, is waiting. Harrelson is Cletus Kasady, an eccentric serial killer, and he wants Eddie to deliver a message: “When I get out of here, and I will, there’s gonna be carnage.”
Not only does it provide a handy parallel to what’s happening now that, I’m sorry, I can’t resist—Hardy’s summoned me! In mysterious circumstances! And here we are! Eyeball to eyeball! In a box!—but it also sets up the premise of the imminent sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, directed by Andy Serkis, in which Harrelson’s Kasady looks set to make good on his promise. And, of course, Hardy hasn’t invited me to come so he can ask after my family (though he does, which is nice), or so that I can ask about his—he and his partner, the actress Charlotte Riley, have two young children, and Hardy has a 13-year-old son from a previous relationship—but because he has a film to promote and, perhaps, a point to prove.
In at least a couple of ways, the original Venom had been a litmus test. It was the first film released under the umbrella of the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters—attractively shortened to SPUMC—an eye-wateringly complicated deal by which Sony is allowed to develop a separate cosmos of superhero movies based on selected characters from Marvel Comics, notably not including Spider-Man. Hardy was cast as both the aforementioned motorcycling journalist Eddie Brock, and also, through the magic of CGI, as Venom, a loveable, brain-eating alien symbiote who inhabits Brock’s body and is confusingly one of Spider-Man’s most iconic adversaries. On a broader scale, Hardy’s job was also two-fold: to launch the new SPUMC Spidey-free universe and, despite having starred in (or as he’ll later argue, co-starred) and successfully rebooted Miller’s beloved franchise with Mad Max: Fury Road, and having played Batman’s adversary Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, to show that he had what it took to carry a superhero blockbuster all on his own.
“There were other objectives with Venom, but they were minor compared to the main objective: can I land Eddie Brock and Venom as an established Marvel superhero?” says Hardy, from the leatherette armchair-throne. “Venom and Eddie Brock are part of a universal canon among those who know about superheroes, so I don’t want to scratch the record. I’d like to be part of that legacy and not bugger it up completely. Not bring shame on it. Ha! You’ve got Black Panther, Thor, Wonder Woman, Venom; there’s not one that you go, ‘Ooh God, have you seen that? That’s terrible! Avoid the terrible one!’ Maybe people dislike it, maybe people really like it, but it’s not dismissed.”
Hardy’s summary is actually a fairly accurate representation of the reactions to Venom. Some people disliked it (critics), some people really liked it (audiences), but with an ultimate box office gross of USD856 million on a USD100 million budget, dismissal was never on the cards. Even the haters couldn’t help but acknowledge that there was something winning about Hardy’s performances as Venom and Eddie, who develop a screwball, odd-couple dynamic as they struggle for primacy in Eddie’s body. (In an ingenious marketing ploy, for the home entertainment release Sony issued a spoof trailer reframing Venom as a romcom: “I am Venom and you are mine,” et cetera.)
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