Tom Hardy Talks About the “subtleties and complexities and paradoxes” of Playing Villains

Actor Tom Hardy

“I have to find an identifier, a silhouette which immediately radiates something for me.” – Tom Hardy on Creating a Character

Like many of his fellow acclaimed actors, Tom Hardy is coming to television, starring in the BBC/FX co-production Taboo. As is typical for Hardy, he is playing an unsavory character, this time in the underbelly of 19th-century London. In an interview with Vulture, Hardy spoke about why he likes playing characters who aren’t heroic and what he learns from making sketches of his characters.

So why does Hardy often choose to portray villains? He explains, “The appeal for me in playing villains or baddies, or however you want to put it, is that there’s often a lot more in the way of the subtleties and complexities and paradoxes of the human condition to play with than there is in a straight lead.”

Another reason why is because Hardy does not like playing characters who are more reactive — he prefers the ones that take action. He points out that the issue is, “Things happen to them; they don’t make things happen. There’s a laziness in storytelling whereby you present the character as a blank canvas and then you throw a lot of stimulus at the character and you just follow this blank canvas through various rooms where we meet the actually interesting people. But if you have your protagonist fully faceted in ambiguity and hypocrisy and the paradox of true heinous wrongness, combined with innate nobility, well, that’s more interesting to watch.”

One unique way Hardy approaches his characters is by drawing them to figure out how they should visually look, particularly characters that are fictional. He says:

One has to have a silhouette, you know? Say I’m playing Elton John. You know what he looks like. Playing Al Capone. You know what he looks like. But what about characters we’re making up from scratch, who you don’t know what they look like? You have to create a memorable silhouette for them, too.

 When I was at school I was told, “Tom, when you play the prince or the king, I want to fucking see a king walk onstage before you even open your mouth. What does that look like?” Do you do it literally, with a costume, or through physicality? How do you immediately see the king? Crown? Robes? I have to find an identifier, a silhouette which immediately radiates something for me. Remember, you won’t necessarily know by their clothes that they’re the king. You can walk on in a disheveled homeless man’s outfit, but there’s something about them that radiates a nobility, something that makes you go, “This person’s a king.

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