Tom Hardy has had a break-out few years, pulling himself out of the ensemble obscurity he found himself in even in larger movies (don’t pretend you picked him out of the line up in Black Hawk Down). Sure, he was solid in the Guy Ritchie and Guy-Ritchie-like films, but it wasn’t until Bronson that he really emerged as a major force in the film fan world. That’s when he became a household name in households that have Terry Gilliam-signed Brazil quads hanging in their foyers.

Fortunately, he was able to translate that insider appeal into broad-based worship by stealing scenes in Inception and becoming the man that broke the bat in The Dark Knight Rises (which, ironically, means a giant part of the movie-going world still doesn’t know what he looks like).

He’s proven himself fearless, and like many actors, he’s had an unusual road to get to the top. In a way, he’s a That Guy character actor who’s become a leading man, so let’s take a short, strange trip into the roles of his rising career. It begins in the ancient time of 2001.

Twombly in Black Hawk Down

Tom Hardy Black Hawk Down

To his credit, it would have been impossible for anyone to steal the spotlight from the giant collection of excellent actors populating Black Hawk Down, but Hardy nails down the fresh-faced supporting role here. It’s not exactly a strange part, but it’s still a curiosity to know that he got his start here, buried deep in a massive cast listing.

Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis

In this fantasy drama, Hardy plays a villain who was born into a prison-like pit where he grew up thanks to a protector, learning to hate humanity, developing a strange facial malformity, and then escaping to lead a band of terrorists against civilization. No, not Talia from The Dark Knight Rises. It’s Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis.

Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it, but it’s mind-melting material. Hardy was Patrick Stewart’s clone in the last Star Trek movie before the Abrams reboot. To be honest, this right here was the catalyst for the article because…what? Tom Hardy was in what? Playing who? This is just one of those times when you press pause on the credits to make sure you’re reading the name right. It’s one of the added benefits of watching movies from the 90s and early 00s – weird early appearances from the now-famous.

Clearly Trekkers had an upper hand when it came to discovering Hardy (this was only his third film role), and director Stuart Baird had a keen eye for a rising talent that would go on to incredible things.

Matt the Animal Activist in LD 50: Lethal Dose

Consider this the dues-paying moment. After appearing in two solid films (The Reckoning and Dot the I), Hardy joined the not-good horror flick about a team of animal activists who are chased around an experimental compound by an invisible electricity monster.

However, if you’ve ever wanted to see him with his face clearly visible, spouting off bad dialogue and being chased by nothing in particular, this is definitely a rental to seek out.

Raumont in Marie Antoinette

Tom Hardy Marie Antoinette

If you had given me money for it, I couldn’t have guessed Hardy was in Marie Antionette without looking at his IMDB profile. That’s mostly because the movie caused everyone in my theater to fall asleep at regular intervals, but it did give us yet another Hardy supporting role featuring a weird head-piece. Speaking of which, that wig has nothing on the one they gave him for the recent Wuthering Heights adaptation.

Of course, before this, Hardy appeared in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake and shined, although it’s arguable that Daniel Craig was the real emerging star since he took on Bond just two years after. Plus, Hardy’s role in it is far less absurd than in Sofia Coppola’s punk rock, Let Them Eat Cake. The wig plays.

Bronson in Bronson

Tom Hardy in Bronson

Hardy appeared in a few more ungood horror and thriller flicks, and he was in RocknRolla as the much name-dropped Handsome Bob, but this right here was his sick-minded shining moment. Nicholas Winding Refn‘s violent tone poem of a biopic was effectively Hardy grabbing audiences by the ears, punching them in the throat and leaving his name imprinted where their windpipe used to be. He ripped the phrase “tour de force” down from its pedestal and stomped on it for good measure.

It was doubtless after this that he (and Refn) would start playing at a higher level. It was also doubtless that Hardy liked making himself look really, really weird for his roles. In fact, the title of this piece was almost “The Strange Facial Appendages of Tom Hardy’s Career.” No lie. The mustache plays.

Given this amazing performance, it was no surprise when he got on Christopher Nolan’s radar and landed a role in Inception. That, of course, led to…

Bane in The Dark Knight Rises

Bane in Dark Knight Rises

As it turns out, only when you star in two prestige pieces and a generic romantic comedy do you have permission to dive into a role like Bane, but it makes complete sense now. No one else could have played him. For one, there’s a bizarre face-blocking mask involved. For two, it’s the evolution of the villainous character he began his leading career with, only there’s no Captain Picard to kick him around anymore.

What’s amazing is that Hardy already has a huge resume to go back through and discover. Some of it is definitely questionable, but his intensity and instinct as an actor is difficult to deny, and fortunately, he’s got a lot more work to look forward to. Maybe we’ll even get to see his face one day.


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