Tom Hardy Explains His Approach to Acting: ‘I See Myself as a Piece of Meat’

Star of this weekend’s “Locke” tells TheWrap all about his method of working — with a bunch of F-bombs worked in

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For the entirety of “Locke,” all 85 curious and riveting minutes of Steven Knight‘s new thriller, the only image the viewer sees on screen is that of a bearded Tom Hardy, driving and talking into a speaker phone as his life falls apart.

While some might find it uncomfortable to watch themselves for that long, with no breaks or on-screen accompaniment, Hardy has no issues with it whatsoever.

“I see myself as a piece of meat,” the actor told TheWrap this week. “And it’s purely subjective. For me, I know that’s the best I can do.”

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It’s not that he’s not passionate about his work; quite the opposite. Like a craftsmen or football coach — he compared it to a surgeon — Hardy, a compact and muscular man covered in tattoos, said that he uses video replay to evaluate and adjust his performances endlessly.

“I’m a bit of a micromanager,” he admitted. “In the early days, directors and producers would get nervous about me being in the video village. But to me it really is a tool, just a fucking tool. I need to make sure that my tone is working, that’s not about vanity, it’s about is it working? I’m not saving lives, mate, but a surgeon would look at footage and the video of other people doing surgery, or a formula one racer would watch a lap where someone took a corner, or a boxer would watch another boxer fight, I’d watch a screen and say, ‘OK, that’s bullshit, we’ve got to work on that.’

“Some people do have a problem looking at that, they say, ‘Oh shit, that changes everything,’” he acknowledged. “But I’m 45 films deep now, I’m a bit old and ugly for it, I kind of get it, and I want to know how can I be more immersed in this world.”

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Hardy dives into parts, both physically and mentally; to date, that is perhaps best exemplified by his breakout role in 2008’s “Bronson,” where he played an unhinged petty criminal, a part marked by outbursts as brilliant as they were scary. In “Locke,” he plays a criminal who is almost the polar opposite: Ivan Locke is a cool, collected, rational man who is working, throughout a 90-minute car ride, to salvage his career and family after making one terrible decision.

Knight, who also wrote the script, placed Hardy in an SUV that was being dragged by a flatbed truck, with three cameras recording him at all times. The phone calls — to Locke’s wife, business associates, and one-time mistress  — were made live, with a phone line connected to a hotel room near the motorway where they shot. As everyone else’s tempers rise, Locke stays focused and completely without affectation, his seemingly foreign accent (Hardy’s attempt at Welsh) betraying no emotion whatsoever.

“It’s a shift for me, but it was a pleasure to play in the realm of containment,” Hardy said of the role — and the significant difference between Bronson and Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” “I can’t describe it any other way, apart from there is so many layers to it. The car is a containment in some way, Locke is contained in his emotions. And each individual phone call, there are four walls to each relationship, which collapse or don’t. So it was quite a mathematical performance.”

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Ironically, in this case, Hardy had to cram an hour and a half performance into five days of shooting, and so he wasn’t quite as able to go through his usual process of reviewing footage; he only looked at dailies from time to time, and in all honesty, was quite comfortable with that this time around.

“There’s nothing to perfect [in his performance], his night is intrinsically fucked,” he said, laughing. “The question is, how do you unfuck it, to the best of your ability, when inevitably it’s not going to be the best of nights? So there’s no point of affecting that with embellishments, it’s shit.”

Locke is willing to tell the truth and tear his own life apart in order to take responsibility for his misdeed, which is an admirable thing. Still, his preternaturally cool and steely approach to cleaning up his mess — and the wails of the people he’s hurt — makes him less than empathetic. How’d Hardy view his character? Mostly by not worrying about judging him at all.

“Responsibility has a cost, and there’s no such thing as a perfection,” the actor said. “So the argument of Ivan being a good guy or bad guy, in the same way, he’s not perfect, well fucking welcome to the human race.”