Tom Hardy on His Wild ‘Bikeriders’ Accent and Knowing ‘Furiosa’ Is ‘Special’ (Without Even Seeing It Yet)

Tom Hardy
Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

Tom Hardy knows that his character in Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders” may seem to be a badass, charismatic leader of a lawless motorcycle gang — but appearances can be deceiving, he warns.

“You look straight away at a biker movie and think, ‘Oh, it’s leather. It’s sexy. The music’s great. The hair’s great. The obvious choice is to play to all of these. So the obvious choice for somebody like me is to go to the counterpoint of all those,” he muses. “This guy is a tragic clown.”

“Where’s the pathetic element? Where’s the wretch? Where’s the embarrassing moments? Where’s the weaknesses? I need to flesh this guy out. Why is the voice a little bit creepy? Why is it a little like Bugs Bunny? What can we imbue this stud with that’s so un-studly that I can identify with it? Because I’m not that!”

Speaking over Zoom a month ahead of the film’s June 21 release, Hardy seems relaxed and in good spirits, dressed down in a black hoodie and puffing on his vape pen between lengthy answers. It’s a sharp contrast to the heaviness to his role as Johnny, the founder and leader of Chicago’s Vandals motorcycle gang.

He immediately rebuffs a compliment about his midwest accent in the film: “I’m not sure that I did nail it,” Hardy says.

But getting the dialect perfectly right was never really his goal. “What’s important to me is that if you’re doing something as an actor, if you’re going to commit, then make the effort to fully commit, even if you fail. It doesn’t matter. I’d rather go out swinging, trying something to make the effort, than not make the effort at all, because there doesn’t seem to be any point in playing safe.”

It’s hard to deny that Hardy always swings for the fences. He’s developed a reputation for crafting unique voices and accents for nearly all his characters, from Bane’s harsh, breathy delivery in “The Dark Knight Rises” to a ruggedly guttural American dialect in “The Revenant” (for which he earned an Oscar nomination).

“One of the things that I hold myself to, as a principle, is that you’ve got to make an effort to create a vocal silhouette, as well as the physical silhouette,” Hardy says. “Accent work is not about phonetics or being accurate, to me. It’s about conjuring an atmosphere from a place which is authentic.”

Early in the film, Johnny is seen watching “The Wild Ones” with his wife and children, imitating Marlon Brando’s tough-as-nails exterior as he endeavors to start his own biker gang.

“I thought that was very sad,” Hardy says. “This is a grown man with kids, copying a young, genius actor in a very provocative movie that he’s got a connection to. It’s like singing Justin Bieber songs in the shower. Pick someone: Amy Winehouse, Ian Brown, Jimi Hendrix … Mimicking an icon, going, ‘I identify,’ but not having your own personality.”

That yearning to belong fuels Johnny throughout the film, as he becomes entangled with couple Benny (Austin Butler) and Kathy (Jodie Comer). He takes Benny under his wing as his right-hand-man in the gang, but his intentions aren’t entirely selfless.

“Johnny, bless him, kind of missed the cool boat,” Hardy says. “I think Benny, for Johnny, presents an element of wish fulfillment: vitality, freedom —whatever that is — and this guy’s got no responsibility. He’s pure. He’s beautiful. And what does he do? He tries to chain it. He can’t. There’s an addiction element to it. A compulsion, like a moth to a flame. It’s like Icarus to the sun. It’s very clear that Johnny was into Benny, way more than Benny was into Johnny.”

Johnny butts heads with Comer’s Kathy, who seeks to pull her husband away from the Vandals’ dangerous lifestyle. “Both Johnny and Kathy are, to some degree, guilty of objectifying Ben,” Hardy says. “Benny is is own person. The question is, what did Benny want?”

Hardy is effusive in his praise of Comer and Butler, adding, “They’re good people. They’re talented people. It is an absolute blessing for an old timer like me to be able to play. I’m very grateful for that.”

And the gratitude doesn’t stop there — he cites another film as particularly influential in his journey: “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

“‘Fury Road’ was a great experience, and it absolutely was one of the most important things that ever happened to me in my career, ever. I’m grateful for that. And I think George Miller is a genius, and the whole crew with everybody was amazing. I learned an awful lot on that film.”

Hardy, who played Max, famously feuded with co-star Charlize Theron on the 2016 film. “Tom has a damage to him but also a brilliance that comes with it, and whatever was going on with him at the time, he had to be coaxed out of his trailer,” Miller said this year of the on-set dynamic.

Still, Hardy remains positive about his collaboration with Miller. At the time of our interview, he hadn’t yet seen this year’s prequel, “Furiosa,” starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, but he has utmost faith in Miller’s ability as a director.

“I’m sure that ‘Furiosa’ will be a tremendous success, as rightly George, Anya and Chris well deserve. I’m a huge ‘Mad Max’ fan, and ‘Fury Road’ fan and ‘Furiosa’ fan. I haven’t seen the film, but I know it’s bound to be special because it’s come from George.”

“The Bikeriders” hits theaters on June 21.

From Variety US