Gritty, cerebral, and difficult—at one point or another, these words have all described Tom Hardy. A private individual, Hardy keeps a lot about his past close to his chest, but what he does reveal paints a picture that isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. Maybe the dark characters he plays come from somewhere real.
1. He Had Artistic Beginnings
Both of Hardy’s parents created works that delved into dark subject matter. His mom, Anne, is an artist and painter whose works deal with isolation and the surreal. Hardy's dad, Edward “Chips” Hardy, is a novelist and writer whose work includes exploring the corruption and gangs of 19th century London. His parents evidently passed their artistic genes down to Hardy, but it wasn’t obvious from the beginning.
2. He Looked For Trouble
Hardy grew up in East Sheen in London, but trouble lurked in the dark corners of this affluent neighborhood. Constantly looking for a way to break out the dull cycle of his quiet, suburban life, Hardy searched his neighborhood for anything that could keep him entertained. Describing East Sheen as a place with “a lot of demons,” Hardy soon dived head-first into the dark, but exciting life he was looking for.
3. He Became An Addict
Only one thing really calmed this adventurous child down. At the young age of 13, Hardy discovered drinking. He recalled in an interview that “When I found drinking at 13…I felt calm. I thought this must be how everyone else feels, and I wanted more of it.” Completely hooked, Hardy soon spent all of his nights looking for his next drink—and when he wasn’t drinking, he found trouble in other ways.
4. They Expelled Him
His parents enrolled him into Reed’s School, an ancient private school for young boys. While this fancy school provided him with the very best in education, Hardy quickly grew bored with the student life. Not too long after his enrollment, things took a turn for the worse—the school expelled him for stealing. Expulsion didn’t teach him a lesson though, because somehow, things got worse.
5. The Authorities Hated Him
As if landing in hot water with school wasn’t enough, Hardy soon found himself on the wrong side of the law. At age 15, authorities caught him red-handed—he stole a Mercedes and went on a wild joyride through town with it, all while in possession of a firearm. This may have been the end for most young men, but Hardy, after his release, seemingly brushed off this “minor” setback and made a shocking career move.
6. He Became A Model
In 1998, a 21-year-old Hardy joined a modeling competition, making his first television appearance in The Big Breakfast’s "Find Me a Supermodel." He ended up winning the competition, which got him a check (awesome!) and strangely…a toolbox. More importantly, he received a short contract with Models 1 agency, but modeling didn’t hold his attention for long. Hardy had his sights set on movie stardom.
7. His School Was Harsh
In the middle of his short-lived modeling career, Hardy enrolled at the Drama Centre London. This was no ordinary acting school—as Hardy described it, “When other schools would be doing…thirty hours [of study], we were doing sixty. And we'd be doing stuff that would prepare you in a very different way.” This included some very intense training that led to him being taken in by a very disturbing mentor.
8. Hannibal Lecter Trained Him
At the Drama Centre, a teacher named Christopher Fettes taught both Anthony Hopkins and Hardy. In later years, Hopkins modeled his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, a sociopathic cannibal, after Fettes, so you can probably picture what sort of mentor Fettes was to Hardy! Yet Fettes wasn’t the only intense actor he met—Hardy soon met someone whose acting inspired him for years to come.
9. Fassbender Inspired Him
Enrolled at the same time as Hardy was Michael Fassbender, famous for playing the supervillain Magneto in the X-Men series. Hardy looked up to Fassbender and his extreme method acting. In one play, Fassbender played a man who used a wheelchair, and he didn’t come out of character for the entire day. This kind of dedication to acting lit a fire in Hardy, and it helped land him his first big role.
10. He Entered With A Splash
Hardy, along with his role model Fassbender, soon got a role in the drama miniseries, Band of Brothers. He only appeared in one episode, but he made sure his entrance was unforgettable. Playing a character named Private John A. Janovec, Hardy’s first scene as the character had him appearing in just his birthday suit, in the middle of a secret tryst.
It was a bombastic way to make his first appearance, and it led him directly to his next role.
11. They Blew Him Up
Hardy next appeared in the film Black Hawk Down as the character Lance Twombly. Although the role was a small one, his character exited in a big way—they blew him up. And Hardy made no secret of how much that excited him, saying, “I begged them to blow me up…Any time that anyone wants to blow me up—I’d do it again, it was great.”
While not a surprising reaction for such an adrenaline-seeker, the movie revealed a soft side to him as well.
12. He Respected His Character
In a somber twist, Lance Twombly was a real person who went through the very real horrors of combat. After the movie finished filming, Hardy made the surprising move of going to visit him in Montana, striving to ensure that he respected his story as much as possible. Despite his relatively small role in the movie, Hardy put his heart and soul into the character.
His career still failed to take off, however, and he soon made another big mistake.
13. They Expelled Him (Again!)
Despite all the figures at the Drama Centre who inspired him, Hardy just wasn’t the type to sit quietly with his head down, working diligently away at his studies. By this time, Hardy wasn’t just a thrill-seeker with a penchant for drinking—he used illicit substances heavily too. His behavior was so out of control that the school eventually kicked him to the curb.
He was a hot mess, to put it lightly, which probably explains his next sudden career change.
14. He Tried Rapping
1999 saw Hardy making a strange career move—he went into rap and hip-hop with his friend, Edward Tracey. Their stage names? “Tommy No 1” (way to be humble), and “Eddie Too Tall.” They went so far as to record a mixtape together, but eventually just decided to drop the idea altogether. The mixtape made waves when it resurfaced in 2018, and as Vice put it: “Tom Hardy’s rap mixtape from 1999 is actually kind of fire.”
While his rap career hit a dead end, his love life blossomed.
15. He Fast-Tracked His Marriage
Hardy met producer Sarah Ward in 1999. Ward preferred to keep a low profile, but her relationship with Hardy dragged her into the limelight, which wasn’t exactly what she wanted. Still, the two must have had some serious chemistry with each other, because they married within three weeks of knowing each other.
A couple of years after this highlight in his personal life, Hardy got the biggest role of his career so far—with the help of another important person in his life.
16. His Agent Was His Champion
Lindy King, an acting agent, was with Hardy from the very beginning, but things turned around when he made her a radical promise—if she got him into Hollywood, he would tattoo her name onto the inside of his arm. After a string of smaller acting gigs, King did eventually get him into Hollywood, and he made good on his promise to get her name tattooed onto him.
Unfortunately, the role petrified him.
17. He Hit The Big Time… And It Terrified Him
In 2002, Hardy excited Trekkies everywhere when he played Reman Praetor Shinzon, the evil clone of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in Star Trek: Nemesis. Hardy found the process “absolutely terrifying.” Not only did he have to please a notoriously passionate fanbase, but he had to act alongside many seasoned actors to boot. Although the movie ended up flopping critically, the critics praised Hardy’s performance as Shinzon.
The good times didn’t last, though—he was about to hit the lowest point of his life.
18. He Collapsed In The Streets
Sadly, Hardy’s ongoing addictions to substances and drinking hovered over his life and career like an invisible ghost. In 2003, in a horrible turn of events, Hardy collapsed on Soho’s Old Compton Street in London after a wild binge. After a night in the cold streets, he woke up in a pool of his own blood and vomit. The event shook him to his core, and he checked himself into rehab.
Yet somehow, Hardy still didn’t realize that he truly had a problem.
19. He Was In Denial
Hardy didn’t take rehab seriously at first. “I went in thinking I’d do it for a little bit until I can go out and drink and people [would] forgive me,” he recalled. However, Hardy listened to the stories of the people who attended rehab with him and gradually came to the realization that he really did have a huge problem. He turned over a new leaf, and he broke out of his vicious cycle of addiction.
Unfortunately, some things just couldn’t be salvaged.
20. It Destroyed His Marriage
By the time Hardy finally woke up and faced his inner demons, his five-year relationship with Ward was going downhill. Between Hardy’s busy life, his addictions, and his neglect of their relationship, Ward had had enough and filed for divorce. The two parted ways, with Ward going back to living a quiet life, while Hardy did his best to pick up the pieces.
He went back into acting, but what happened next only added insult to injury.
21. He Was Too Ugly
It may be hard to believe, but Hollywood rejected Hardy for not being attractive enough! In 2005, Hardy auditioned to be the dashing Mr. Darcy in an adaption of Pride and Prejudice, but a studio head turned him away, saying, “Babe, every woman in the world has an impression of who Darcy is and you’re just not it.” The words cut Hardy deep, but he didn’t give up on playing heartthrobs on screen.
22. Acting Led To Love
Hardy landed himself a role as Robert Dudley, the childhood friend of Elizabeth I, in the BBC mini-series The Virgin Queen. Dudley was allegedly a handsome man, and Elizabeth I’s favorite member of the court. Hardy must have been super convincing in his role, because it was on this set that he met his next love, Rachael Speed, the assistant director.
Hardy’s declarations of love weren’t just words either—he backed them up with his actions.
23. He Got Some Questionable Tattoos
When Speed became pregnant with his child, Hardy got a star tattooed onto his left shoulder, where it joined the collection of tattoos he was slowly amassing on his body. Other notable tattoos include the phrase “padre fiero,” meaning “proud father” (aww), “figlio mio bellissimo,” meaning “my beautiful son” (aww!!), and… “Till I die SW,” with “SW” referring to his ex-wife, Sarah Ward (oof!).
He never got that tattoo covered up, however. No matter what happens, they're a part of his past, and Hardy always finds a way to use his past to his advantage.
24. He Didn’t Leave His Past Behind
In 2007, Hardy landed the lead role as Stuart Shorter in Stuart: A Life Backwards. The role was perfect for him. Sadly, Stuart Shorter was a real person who constantly found himself in trouble with the law—something Hardy was no stranger to. Drawing on his past experiences of addiction, trauma, and fights with the authorities, Hardy brought Shorter to life in a way that no one else could.
This wasn’t the only dark role he took on, though. His next role was even more twisted.
25. A Prisoner Admired Him
Hardy next played Charles Bronson in the film Bronson. Like Shorter, Bronson was also a real person, best known for being “the most violent prisoner in Britain.” Chillingly, Hardy played the role so well that the real Bronson, once he saw the movie, stated that Hardy was the only person who could have played him. On top of that, Hardy didn’t just step into Bronson’s shoes mentally—he did it physically as well.
26. He Transformed His Body
At the time he was cast, Hardy was markedly scrawnier than Bronson. Other actors might have buffed up a little bit, but Hardy took his transformation to the next level. Going the extra mile, Hardy spent months eating chocolate and pizza, shaved his head, and grew a mustache. By the end, he gained 42 pounds, transforming his body to better fit the role.
Physically, he was a mess after Bronson, but at least the role got him critical acclaim. Talk about dedication!
27. He Lost One Love, And Gained Another
After four years together, Speed and Hardy separated amicably, but Hardy didn’t stay single for long. Like something out of a fairy tale, Hardy met Charlotte Riley on the set of Wuthering Heights. Hardy played the character Heathcliff, who fell in love with Cathy, his childhood friend. Who played Cathy? None other than Riley herself. Hardy and Riley eventually tied the knot…but not in a conventional way.
28. They Married In Secret
When Hardy and Riley decided to marry, they knew that their fame would cause the paparazzi to swarm the venue. Amazingly, the two somehow managed to keep everything hush-hush so well that most tabloids didn’t realize that they had wed until two months later, when Hardy started calling Riley his “wife.” As one article put it: “That’s impressive work in celeb land.”
Keeping to his reputation as a private individual, Hardy kept Riley’s eventual pregnancy a secret as well. When she finally gave birth, he warned off the paparazzi with an ominous threat.
29. He Will Let No One Mess With His Kids
Despite his own fame and his wife’s fame, Hardy is adamant about his kids having their own private lives—and he has no issues threatening people bodily if they dare to snap photos of them. He stated clearly in an interview that, “If someone takes a photo of my kids, all bets are off. I will take the camera off of you and beat…you.”
Vicious ultimatums aside, Hardy continued to win the love of movie-goers everywhere, and his next film cemented him as a Hollywood icon.
30. He Acted With Superstars
Inception released in 2010 to critical and commercial success, becoming nothing less than a cultural phenomenon. Its director, Christopher Nolan, chose to cast Hardy alongside big names like Leonardo DiCaprio and Elliot Page, helping Hardy to gain more mainstream recognition. Hardy became known for playing Eames, the smooth-talking flirt in the film.
Amazingly, Hardy almost didn’t get the role for a very strange reason.
31. He Almost Lost His Role
When Hardy arrived on set, he quickly found out that he needed to learn a new skill—how to ski. Given that the climax of the movie involved him skiing, Hardy needed to learn how—and fast. Hardy ended up having to learn while on set, and at one point, the crew strapped him to the back of a ski-doo while in his skis to complete his action scenes. This wouldn’t be the only time he pushed himself physically for a role either.
32. He Became An Athletic Powerhouse
Hardy's involvement in the film Warrior saw him putting on yet more muscle for his role as a mixed martial artist. His workout was not for the faint of heart. For eight weeks straight, Hardy had two hours of boxing, two hours of Muay Thai, two hours of Jiu-Jitsu, two hours of choreography, and two hours of weightlifting. Every. Single. Day.
He became an intimidating and downright gritty presence in the film—making the tears he shed on set even more heartbreaking.
33. He Was Sentimental
Warrior proved that Hardy wasn’t just all physical presence on the screen—he had some serious acting chops to go along with it. When he had to cry on set, Hardy had to dig deep to bring on the waterworks, saying, “I find crying difficult…and I won’t know what will send me [to tears]. If my son tells me he loves me, that will make me cry…Bambi would probably do me. Or Shrek.”
Surprisingly sentimental, the raw emotion he displayed on screen made him decide that maybe he should try acting in other genres…to disastrous results.
34. This Movie Ruined Rom-Coms For Him
Hardy became one of the leading men in This Means War, across from Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon. Wanting to do something he had never done before, Hardy jumped headfirst into the rom-com with high hopes. In a miserable turn of events, Hardy felt so out of his depth that he declared he “probably won’t do a romantic comedy again.” The absolutely roasting the movie got from critics didn't help either.
Being the hero of a rom-com just wasn't his thing—what he really wanted to do was to be the villain.
35. He Got The Role Of A Lifetime
Anyone growing up with superheroes has their favorite, and for Hardy, it was Batman. So when Nolan invited him to play the villain Bane in his next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy was ecstatic! He bulked up for this role too, just like he did in Bronson and Warrior, but today, at 43 years old, Hardy admits the extreme workouts took their toll on his body.
As he puts it, “I probably damaged my body too much.” To make things even more frustrating, he still wasn’t big enough for the role.
36. He Was Too Short
Standing at 5 feet 9 inches, Hardy isn't short by any stretch of the imagination, but his co-stars in The Dark Knight Rises absolutely dwarfed him. In order to make Bane seem more physically intimidating, Hardy donned three-inch lifts and filmed all his action scenes while balancing in those monster heels. Luckily, Hardy had a lot of respect for Nolan’s creative decisions, so he put the shoes on without much complaint.
37. He Started A Strange Habit
Hardy was on the highway while filming the movie Lawless when something small darted in front of his car. Slamming on the brakes, he realized a small dog was running around in traffic! Thinking quickly, he leaped out of the car and chased the dog down. When he grabbed the young pup, their eyes met—and it was love at first sight.
Naming the pup “Woody,” Hardy took the dog home, starting a lifelong habit of rescuing dogs whenever he traveled for a shoot.
38. He Acted For Eight Nights Straight
Hardy’s on-set discipline came in handy when it came to filming the movie Locke. In the film, Hardy is the only actor to appear on screen, so the pressure was on for him to get everything right. Amazingly, filming took place over just eight straight nights. The crew only got a break when it was time to change out the camera’s memory cards! As sleep-deprived as Hardy was, he turned in a stand-out performance.
39. He Played Two Characters… At The Same Time
The film Legend saw Hardy making a bit of a narcissistic move—he took on both of the lead roles, effectively co-starring with himself! The film was about real-life twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, and the roles were originally going to two different actors. Hardy convinced the director to give him both parts by offering to play one of the roles for free.
In order to give both parts their own distinct personalities, Hardy started meeting up with a very dangerous man.
40. He Met A Hitman
In a chilling turn of events, the real-life Ronnie and Reggie Kray employed a hitman, who Hardy met on multiple occasions to make sure he got the characters right. The hitman, Freddie Foreman, really wanted to make sure that Hardy portrayed his former employers correctly. He must have been a great teacher, because Hardy nailed down the Kray brothers’ mannerisms perfectly.
Hardy ended up terrifying Foreman when he spoke to him in-character.
41. He Took A Role Because Of His Son
Hardy was never a huge fan of playing the hero, finding villains much more interesting. However, he made a bit of an exception for the movie Venom, where he played the titular anti-hero. He actually did so as a sweet gesture towards his son, who was a huge fan of Venom. Hardy may have a history of playing less-than-reputable characters, but in real life, he's a family man, through and through.
42. He Received An Honor
For his contributions to drama, Hardy received a prestigious honor of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from Prince Charles himself. Of course, this barely scratches the surface of what Hardy has used his fame for. With about a half a dozen more charitable causes under his belt, Hardy proved that, despite all the villainous roles he took on, he had a heart of gold.
43. He Was An Actual Superhero
In April 2017, Hardy was minding his own business in the streets of London when a moped thief zoomed past him, trying to make his getaway. When the thief crashed the moped and took off running, Hardy took off after him, vaulting over fences in hot pursuit. He eventually caught the thief and held him down until the proper authorities arrived.
44. He Was Overwhelmed
After years of speculation, Hardy landed the titular role in Mad Max: Fury Road, alongside actress Charlize Theron. The movie ended up being a critical triumph, but making it was a different story. Everything about the production process rubbed him the wrong way, from how little control he had during the shoots, to how much they had to process all at once, to the blind trust he had to put into his crew members.
The director, George Miller, ended up on the receiving end of Hardy’s frustration more than once, but he wasn’t the only one who Hardy lashed out at.
45. He Should Have Been Kinder
As the two main leads, the pressure on Hardy and Theron to carry the movie was unbelievably high, leading to the two clashing on set. When the shoot wrapped up and Hardy had time to clear his head, he realized he should have treated Theron more kindly, saying, “What she needed was a better, perhaps more experienced, partner in me...I’d like to think that now that I’m older and uglier, I could rise to that occasion.”
Still, his behavior definitely turned some heads. While everyone agreed the nightmarish filming conditions made the whole crew act a little crazy, nearly every cast member noted Hardy's abusive actions, with Zoe Kravitz calling it a "bummer."
46. He Threatened Directors
After starring with him in Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio forced Hardy to read the script for The Revenant and take on the role of the conniving John Fitzgerald. Filming started years later, and...didn’t go well. During filming, he ended up disagreeing with the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, so badly that Hardy later created a t-shirt featuring an image of Fitzgerald putting Iñárritu in a chokehold.
Despite the problems on set, critics received the movie warmly—but shockingly, this caused a problem for Hardy.
47. He Lost A Bet
While filming The Revenant, DiCaprio and Hardy made a truly ridiculous bet: If Hardy got an Oscar nomination for his role in The Revenant, Leo would get a tattoo of his choice inked onto Hardy. Hardy didn’t think a nomination would come his way—until the 2016 Oscar ceremonies proved him wrong. True to his word, Hardy followed through and got the words “Leo Knows All” tattooed onto his arm, taking the loss with a healthy dose of good humor.
48. He Fought With Actors
Hardy garnered a bit of a reputation for having high expectations on set, and it led to a violent altercation between himself and Shia LeBoeuf on the set of Lawless. In order to get into character, LaBeouf got absolutely loaded on moonshine, which probably didn’t sit well with Hardy, considering his rocky past with drinking.
Tensions rose between the two, leading to a violent turn of events—a drunken LaBeouf ended up punching Hardy and knocking him out. Then, when Hardy recovered, he made a shocking move.
49. He Forgave Him
In a move that really showed how much Hardy matured since his early days, Hardy held no hard feelings towards LaBoeuf. In an interview, he pointed out that “a performer is asked to do two things: To be disciplined and accountable, communicative and a pleasure to worth with. And then, within a split second, they’re asked to be a psychopath. Authentically.”
He understood the psychological strain on LaBoeuf, so it was all water under the bridge for these two…right?
50. Shia Told A Different Story
Years later, LaBoeuf revealed what really happened that day, with a story so strange it was hard to believe. While filming Lawless, LaBoeuf stayed at Hardy’s home, where the two often took part in friendly wrestling matches. On the day that Hardy was allegedly knocked out, Hardy had actually broken into LaBoeuf’s room, yanked the sleepy (and undressed) actor out of bed, and started wrestling with him.
The two got a little too close to the stairs during their little “fight,” causing Hardy to take a hard tumble down the steps. After that, a mischievous Hardy told everyone that LaBoeuf knocked him out in a fight. We may never know the true story.