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Tom Hardy Makes Brooding an Art

His FX series ‘Taboo’ is the latest piece of evidence

(Jason Raish)
(Jason Raish)

“Is that grief, James?”

About halfway through the first episode of Taboo, a new television show on which Tom Hardy wears big jackets and big hats and stalks around London in 1814, Hardy, playing a character named James Delaney, sits by a fire as an old friend talks to him about things James’s father was doing before he died. It’s immediately clear that it’s going to be an excellent scene. It has all of the parts for a good Tom Hardy moment: (1) There’s Tom, and he has a great haircut and also a scar on his face and also he looks just the exact right amount of dirty to be interesting without being off-putting. (2) There’s a thing for him to stare at. (3) There’s an older, weathered, wise person who will say a thing that will inspire the brood. And (4) there’s empty space for his gaze to fill with meaning.

“James,” the man grumbles, “you could have written to your father just once. In the end, he was calling for you.” When he says it, Hardy, a mountain, adjusts his position a tiny amount, but it’s enough to disrupt the tides because that’s what Tom Hardy does. He turns his eyes toward the fire and there is more light on his face but somehow he looks darker than he had the moment before. “I know,” he says, and it sounds like a hungry chainsaw starting up. “I’d say, ‘Come on,’” the man continues, still talking about James’s father, “‘come in before the tide gets your shoes.’ He would light these fires on the shore, call out your name and talk to you.” As the man is talking, Hardy closes his eyes and absorbs the words and the fire and the universe. It’s a silent moment for his character, who is a mostly silent person, and it’s wonderful and complicated.

The man, watching Hardy’s tiny seismic shifts, has trouble calibrating the situation. “Is that grief, James?” the man asks. Hardy opens his eyes, looks straight ahead for a second, then looks at the man out of the side of his eyes before turning his fully toward him. “Is what grief?” Hardy asks, and the man immediately looks uncomfortable. He does not misread the situation this time: He pivots the conversation away from the way James might be feeling and aims it back to his father.

I like that question there: “Is that grief, James?” It’s a perfect question to ask Tom Hardy while he’s acting because Tom Hardy is such a good actor that the way he moves his emotions around in silence can be alarming, or surprising, or devastating. It’s like watching someone do math that you don’t all the way understand. It’s captivating. “Is that grief, James?” “Is that anger, James?” “Is that desperation, James?” “Is that contemplation, James?” “Is that confusion, James?” “Are you just hungry, James?” There is no actor better at rolling around in the gradations of that specific kind of sadness than Tom Hardy is. He is at his very best when he broods.

This is a scene from The Drop, a movie that came out in 2014 that starred Tom Hardy:

(If for some reason you can’t see that video, like perhaps you have an office job and can’t just watch YouTube clips whenever you want, then let me briefly describe it to you. It’s from the end of the movie. There is a voice-over Tom Hardy monologue playing as he sits in a truck at night with his dog and considers the moral and existential consequences of the acts he’s committed in his life. It’s art.)

It is, I would say, one of the TOP FIVE TOM HARDY BROODING scenes of his career, which is impressive because Tom Hardy has, in some form or some fashion or some part or some way, been brooding for his entire career, and probably his entire life, and possibly since before he was even born, and potentially since before his parents were born. Do you remember when he was brooding in that movie Legend (he performed the ultra-rare Double Brood in that one because he played both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, twin brothers and brooders)? Or, how about when he was brooding in that movie Locke (among all the locations for brooding, “exclusively inside of a car” is somewhere near the top, as only the highest tier of actors can pull it off)? Or, what about when he was brooding in that movie Lawless (I am a big, big fan of Prohibition Era brooding)? Or, there’s also when he was brooding in that movie Layer Cake. Do you remember him briefly brooding in that one? Those were all great moments in the Tom Hardy Brooding canon. And Taboo, as we’ve established, is the latest addition.

Tom Hardy is great.

Brooding is great.

Tom Hardy brooding is the greatest.

He is so fucking good at brooding in movies that start with the letter L, but also he’s equally good (and occasionally better) in movies that don’t start with the letter L, too, like when he brooded in Bronson (maniacal brooding) or Mad Max: Fury Road (the only time anyone has ever brooded while being chased by a guy playing a flaming guitar) or Warrior (the second-best brooding of his career, but his best movie).

Let’s look at some of the different ways that Tom Hardy can brood, because talking about Tom Hardy brooding is one thing, but watching him do it is a whole different thing.

This is him brooding in Black Hawk Down. Technically, Hardy has a small part in that movie, but you know what they say: “There are no small parts, only small brooders,” and Tom Hardy is no small brooder. He was, of course, magnificent.

(Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

It happened after a guy who was trying to save him got shot, and Hardy’s crew are now trying to save his life. I can assure you I will never be shot trying to save someone else from being shot, but if I ever get shot, I hope that it’s Tom Hardy standing over me brooding. That’s the hospital I want to go to. All of the doctors are Tom Hardy and the only medicine he gives is 20 CCs of brood, stat.

This is the ultra-rare Double Brood from Legend that I mentioned earlier:

(Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

Many actors have tried to successfully pull off the Double Brood before. Jake Gyllenhaal tried it when he played twins (I think??) in Enemy. He was pretty good, I suppose, but that water was a bit too deep for him. Armie Hammer tried it in The Social Network, and he was less good than Gyllenhaal, but better than Edward Norton in Leaves of Grass. (My no. 1 secret hope is that Armie Hammer actually does have a twin brother and his name is Navy Hammer.) Jackie Chan played twins in Twin Dragons, and Jean-Claude Van Damme played them in Double Impact, but neither of those guys are near as good at acting as they are at kicking things, so of course they could never brood anywhere near the level that Tom Hardy can. The closest anyone’s ever gotten to the Double Brood with the same sort of vibrancy was when Christian Bale double brooded as twins in The Prestige, but even then it was one of those Vince Carter–to–Michael Jordan situations.

Here’s Hardy brooding away from his father, whom he hated, in Warrior:

(Lionsgate Pictures)
(Lionsgate Pictures)

And here he is brooding toward his father, whom he still hated but by this point felt sorry for, in Warrior:

(Lionsgate Pictures)
(Lionsgate Pictures)

It might seem like it’s a joke, but it’s really not: the miles-wide range that Tom Hardy is able to traverse while brooding is really something special.

There are two proper definitions listed for brooding. They are: (1) showing deep unhappiness of thought, and (2) appearing darkly menacing. You know what’s weird? Prior to right now, this very moment while I’m typing this, I didn’t know what the actual definition of brooding was. And yet, any time that I would ever talk about Tom Hardy (which was often, because have you even seen him), “brooding” was always the first adjective I would use. Tom Hardy is so good at brooding in his movies that he placed an understanding of the word “brooding” in my heart. That’s a real thing, even if it doesn’t sound like it is. How many other actors are so good at a specific thing that they can make you understand the definition of a word without you even having to learn it? (Like: Miles Teller and “peacocking,” or Vince Vaughn and “turbo salesmanship.”) You just feel it. Tom Hardy broods with such meaning and strength that it gives the dictionary a texture.

D you think Tom Hardy is brooding right now? I’m almost certain that he is. He’s (probably) there, in a room by himself, sitting on the floor or some shit and staring ahead, and there’s just enough light on his face that you can see a part of it but not the whole thing, and he’s thinking about how some forgotten colonial war ravaged families or whatever, and he’s doing it with such urgency that his eyes are filled with mania and energy, even if his body is motionless. I hope there is a camera on him.

Imagine waking up next to Tom Hardy.

Do you think Tom Hardy broods in his sleep?

I’ll bet he does.

“Tom,” you would say, worried. “Tom … wake up,” and you move him just enough to wake him but not so much that you startle him. “Tom, are you OK? You looked so tense while you were asleep.”

He would grunt a little bit, because he’s also an expert grunter, and then he would say something like, “I was thinking of how oppressed women must feel all the time,” and then you would both sit there and cry together, but you would never feel vulnerable because even when Tom Hardy is being vulnerable and sensitive, he still very much is a powerhouse, a lighthouse, a safe house for you and your most secret emotions, which you would only tell him about because he looked you in your eyes and you almost passed out. That’s how good he is at brooding.