Tom Hardy sees double in new film Legend

Notorious Tom Hardy switches between the simmering violence of Ronnie Kray and his more charismatic, ten-minutes-older brother Reggie. Picture: Contributed
Notorious Tom Hardy switches between the simmering violence of Ronnie Kray and his more charismatic, ten-minutes-older brother Reggie. Picture: Contributed
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SCREEN hard-man Tom Hardy reveals to Siobhan Synnot how he brought both of the gangster twins back to life in Legend – and why he hates rom coms

He’s already played Britain’s most violent prisoner, Charles Bronson, where he spent most of the screen time bloody and naked. Now Tom Hardy brings not just one, but two notorious criminals back to life with Legend.

A Kray twins biopic was previously attempted in 1990, casting Spandau Ballet brothers Gary and Martin Kemp as Reggie and Ron. Legend goes one better by replacing siblings with identical Hardy boys. Between them, the Krays ruled London’s East End, murdering rivals, such as Jack “The Hat” McVitie, while carrying out armed robberies, assaults, arson and protection rackets. Before the extent of their savagery was revealed, they were icons of the 1960s, holding court with Hollywood celebrities such as Judy Garland, and photographed by David Bailey. When Reggie died 40 years after their peak of notoriety, crowds turned out for his funeral.

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Mystic River), Legend focuses on Reggie Kray – older by ten minutes – and his struggle to check his bespectacled, paranoid schizophrenic brother. Helgeland had admired Hardy’s performance in another brother battle, Warrior, and wanted Hardy to play Reggie, but the 37-year-old actor was more attracted to Ronnie. The decision to double up came after their first meeting, opting for split screen techniques and pre-recording the lines of each twin so that Hardy could react to himself via an earpiece.

“The hardest thing in my career was trying to pull off two characters in one film,” Hardy says. “And we had ten weeks, which is a very short amount of time.” Hardy worked on different makeup for each twin: medication caused Ronnie to gain weight so Hardy had prosthetics to puff out his face and pushed out his body into a shlumpy profile. When the twins shared a scene, it was laboriously shot twice over, with doubles and stand-ins.

Whatever you think of the Krays and their brutality, Legend is a remarkable showcase for Hardy, who switches between the repressed, constantly simmering violence of Ronnie and the more charismatic Reggie. The Krays’ former hit-man, Freddie Foreman, helped Hardy prepare, and confirmed Hardy worked hard to capture the twins as he remembered them, down to Reggie’s trademark quizzical look.

Hardy proved his hard-man credentials in films like Bronson, as the cage fighter in Warrior and as Bane, the metal-masked villain of The Dark Knight Rises. “After Bronson I was the go-to guy for ‘he will put on weight, he will kick people and he will be punched’,” he says. Hardy also suffered for his art in Legend, receiving real hits to the face during the staged brawl between the brothers in their nightclub, and breaking his heel.

“It was tough, but the things that are tough or complicated are the most fun, aren’t they?” says Hardy, who had prepared for Bronson by lifting weights and visiting the real Bronson in his high-security prison. “The things that really make me want to kill myself are romantic comedies because they’re dead. They really are soul destroying for me because they are so saccharine and pleasant and that’s just not interesting. I do like darkness – but in a light way, if that makes sense.”

Hardy can be both extraordinarily masculine yet in touch with a feminine side too, drawing the room with his expressive eyes and physical charisma. His wrists carry homemade bracelets that celebrate key points in his life and his connection to the British Special Forces, forged during training sessions and his support for military charities. He also rocks a beard that would have Catweazle whistling in admiration.

Hardy was born in west London and raised by his artist mother Anne, and father Chips, an ad executive and copywriter who wrote skits for Dave Allen. Their son attended two private schools, then studied acting at Drama Centre London, with his screen debut coming in Steven Spielberg’s 2001 wartime mini-series Band Of Brothers.

The wheels came off after he worked on Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) as a villainous clone of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. Hardy found the prospect of global fame terrifying and paralysing, and embarked on an epic exploration of booze and drugs that led to a collapse, rehab, and starting over. “I slowly walked back,” he says. “Back then, I was ambitious. So few of us are employed that I would be doing a job, while thinking about the next job. I was never really in the moment. Now, it’s about achievement.”

Hardy now has his own production company, Hardy, Son & Baker, set up with his father. It has just secured its first production; an eight-part BBC period drama called Taboo, about an adventurer who returns from Africa with a plan to build a trade and shipping empire and seek vengeance for the death of his father. At least another dozen film and television projects are also in the works, and he’s just finished The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio, dubbed “The Foreverant” by Hardy because of the length of the shoot with director Alejandro G Iñárritu. “The Revenant is really good,” Hardy says. “But it’s shooting in natural light and there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s turning out more complicated than expected.”

In this second flowering of his career, Hardy has effected a breakout from nuanced tough-guy roles into a series of wider, eye-catching choices. Locke in 2012 was particularly striking; it proved a study in stillness, a film that invites you to spend 90 minutes in a car with Hardy taking phone calls. Immediately after seeing it, Spielberg called him to ask: “How did you do that?”

He’s also still riding high after Mad Max: Fury Road this summer, recently voted film of the year by international critics – and also approved by the original Max, Mel Gibson, who met Hardy before filming. “I thought I owed it to him to say hello,” says Hardy. “We sat and talked about a lot of other stuff, I made him a bracelet and then we were done. Then he phoned my agent and said, ‘I think you may well have found someone who’s more crazy than I am’. I was hoping it was a compliment.”

• Legend is on general release from Wednesday