What do you think about when you think about Tom Hardy?
Maybe you think about [wheeze] Bane, villain of 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, perhaps clutching somebody — Christian Bale, a corrupt businessman, whomever — by the throat/eyeballs. Maybe you think about [grunt] Max, titular character of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, in which he is more often a hood ornament or a flamethrowing guitar–wielder than a conversation partner. Or maybe you think about [wheezy grunt] Taboo, the FX series whose Season 1 finale aired Tuesday night and on which the prevailing trait of the characters, Hardy extremely included, is being dirty.
On Taboo, Hardy plays James Delaney, the presumed-dead son of a London shipping magnate. Delaney returns to the city upon the death of his father and embarks upon a series of Count of Monte Cristo–esque revenges, with brief interludes for him to commit — duh — a handful of taboos for which he acquired a taste (so to speak) during his time away. In the grimy, grayscale, steampunk orgy of Taboo’s London, Hardy is the grimiest of them all:
He is also in a bad mood for the season’s entire eight-episode run. When he does bother to speak for more than a couple of syllables at a time (not often), it is nearly always in the second person and usually while delivering a threat of some kind. He stomps around London, glowering and ignoring direct questions and murdering people in front of children and just generally being extraordinarily bad company.
This has become Hardy’s hallmark as an actor: He broods and kills, often at the same time. The Ringer’s Shea Serrano wrote about Hardy’s mastery of brooding in January, and many of Hardy’s recent appearances have been as characters who were … less than emotive, like a 1950s dad who is also maybe an ax murderer. There’s his role in Taboo: scarred-up antihero who says so little about such a small set of violent subjects that he might as well be a Furby built by Satan. There’s his part in Mad Max: Fury Road, in which the actual main character is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and in which Hardy has a thing over his face for most of the movie. (Though partly for effect, our dude says so little that he doesn’t reveal his name until the damn-near end of the freaking movie, and he says it only to somebody he believes is probably dead.) There’s his gig in The Dark Knight Rises, in which he has a thing over his face for the entire movie and in which the magic of modern cinema gives him a Weird Creepy Voice. If you weren’t paying close attention, you could be forgiven for thinking that gruff and monosyllabic were just about the extent of Hardy’s range.
But Hardy can do so much more than just grimace. We know this because he has. Tom Hardy, he of the grime and face masks and dismissive grunt-chuckles, can be very charming. And it’s time for him to be charming again.
Hardy pulled off a riveting one-man show in 2013’s Locke, which posited that you can glower for a good reason, and which you should really just go to see, please trust me, it is so good. He did a gosh-dang rom-com with Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, 2012’s This Means War; this is a fact, it happened. And then there’s this:
Hardy’s performance in 2010’s Inception, in which he played a forger and one of the key plotters in a series of intricate dream worlds, was mesmerizing. We meet him losing at a card table in Mombasa, Kenya, and yet he insists on using a poker chip as the totem that confirms he’s in the real world, which may not exactly be a subtle metaphor, but what can you do? He out-classed Leonardo DiCaprio! He made Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a child! Watch that clip again and imagine [BRAAAAAHMMM] Hardy the spy, [BRAAAAAHMMM] Hardy the assassin, [BRAAAAAHMMM] Hardy the put-upon hotelier who has wormed his way into the good graces of a murderous billionaire while he bides his time and waits to avenge a woman he barely — oh.
Or here’s Hardy in 2015’s Legend, a black comedy about ne’er-do-well brothers in London:
As an angry, ready-to-brawl mob begins to turn on him, Hardy takes a moment to point approvingly at the beer he’s just casually poured for himself: “Full of iron, that is. Takes a while, that does, to settle.”
We haven’t seen that brand of gruff whimsy in a while, but Tom Hardy still has it. This, after all, is a person who is also a devoted creator of Dubsmashes, sometimes costarring a baby. This is the mind behind what might be Myspace’s most enduring gift.
Like: Look at this guy. Tell me that he does not know how to delight when he wants to.
There is a lot of doom and gloom on the near-term Hardy horizon. There’s the less-than-cheery-sounding Triple Frontier, a “South American crime thriller” set in a “dangerous border zone.” There’s Fonzo, the Al Capone film he’s set to star in with a rumored 2018 release, which will feature uplifting topics like prison and early-onset dementia. There is a looming Mad Max sequel. Then there’s Dunkirk, which is set to be released in July and which could in theory give Hardy a chance to be very un-Bane-ish, but, well, he has a face mask in the promotional materials, so I don’t know.
This is fine. Hardy is good at brooding; let Hardy brood. But for heaven’s sake, Hollywood, please maybe make some time to let him be charming again. Though, just to clarify: Let’s stay away from the Camaro dates.