Tom Hardy has taken the actorly objective of self-transformation pretty literally. He lost weight to portray a homeless man, bulked up to play a prisoner and later an MMA fighter, looked practically diminutive in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and again put on mass to be the baddie in this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises. (“I doubt I will be doing that for my whole life,” he says. “It won’t be very healthy.”) For This Means War, his first romantic comedy, the 34-year-old Englishman says he underwent a different kind of change: playing someone who looks and sounds like he does. Hardy and Chris Pine star as CIA operatives caught in a love triangle with Reese Witherspoon.
You learned to cage fight for Warrior, to speak Italian for your upcoming Al Capone role. Any immersive preparation for a secret-agent romcom?
Funny enough, the technical and stunt coordinator on this film was a very serious military dude, and I spent an awful lot of time with him working with pistols. But for me the challenge on This Means War was using myself to play a character, as opposed to creating a camouflage on a character like Tommy from Warrior.
You’ve got this working-class tough-guy persona both offscreen and on; there’s the upcoming Mad Max, for example.
Yeah, but I’m not working class actually. My parents made money, but their parents were bricklayers and teachers and they didn’t have much money. My father was the first person to make money, so I went to the private-school system, which means I’m too posh to be working class and too working class to be posh. [Laughs]
You’ve described yourself as a pretty-boy kid of privilege in an affluent suburb of London who had to develop a more manly persona.
I really didn’t have to develop a more manly persona. I felt like I was gonna struggle in life if I didn’t know how to look after myself, so I found out how to look after myself. I ended up in a lot of trouble. You just have to look on the Internet—or if you want to check my previous criminal record, you can go look at that as well. I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’m very lucky to be alive.
Your mother’s a painter, your father’s an ad writer—what’d they make of their only child going through this rough time, getting expelled from school?
They hated it, poor guys. It wasn’t easy. No matter what class you are, families are families; they want to look after each other. It was desperate for my mum and dad to see me getting hurt or in trouble. Difficult times, brother.
And now that you’ve got a three-year-old boy yourself, do you look at your youth differently?
Absolutely, yeah. I’m much more responsible as a human being now than I ever was as a teenager, but I think part of being a teenage boy and having hormones is being thrown to the wind. You have to go through a passage of rites. Very few people become men. I don’t know if I’m a man yet.
A decade ago, your career took off but then stalled and you became addicted to alcohol and cocaine. You said, “It’s like living with a 400-pound orangutan that wants to kill me.”
Yeah. Arthur. Arthur is the 400-pound orangutan that runs around inside my brain in a pair of underpants. I was gonna write a play about living with Arthur. One day I woke up in his arms. He doesn’t want to kill me, but he can’t help it. He probably will because he’s an orangutan.
Has Arthur gotten any gentler over the years?
No, he’s gotten stronger over the years. [Laughs] That’s the thing about living with Arthur. Knowing the addictive personality and knowing that that’s within me, that ability to self-sabotage, I suppose it’s a journey that I have personally, that I have respect for. I use it in my work, but there’s a place and a time for it, as opposed to the self-will run riot.
You’ve been a straight talker in interviews, saying you want adulation as an actor, you’ve sexually experimented with guys—not typical things to hear from a rising film star. Is it getting trickier to remain that publicly frank?
I have to be more careful about how outspoken I am, which is a shame ’cause things get taken out of context. And at the end of the day, 30 percent of the people are gonna hate you, 30 percent are gonna like you, and another 30 percent of people just don’t give a shit, so you’re really only talking to one in three.
Any specific things you’ve said that you then found weren’t what you intended?
Always. I’m always misquoted. And that’s part of growing up and dealing with press and media and people that I’ve never met before.
Comparisons have been made between you and Marlon Brando.
I wish. Marlon Brando’s a frickin’ legend. I’m Tom Hardy from East Sheen.
Was he the actor who inspired you as a kid?
I’ve never watched him in anything apart from Apocalypse Now, to be honest. I haven’t even seen The Godfather. Robert De Niro, I think he’s awesome. But I’m not a big avid watcher of films. I like documentaries; I love reality TV shows. Someone once said, “Why would pilots go to an airport on a Sunday to watch the planes take off?”
This Means War opens February 17.