Tom Hardy was criticised for ‘throwing away’ $2.5 million on dark Victorian drama Taboo, and he admits that a lot of what he does ‘terrifies’ him. But he says that risk taking is essential whoever you are, and that the upsides of backing in yourself to be successful far outweigh the downsides.
RISING You seem to be up for taking professional risks, but do you have to?
TOM HARDY ‘I think in any line of work, risk taking is essential. To be creative and to be ambitious we have to try new things, some more risky than others. That’s not just the job of an actor, or a musician, but everyone who wants to move forward and improve.’
RISING You took a big financial risk on Taboo – what else did you put on the line to realise your dream?
TH ‘I think the bigger risk with Taboo was whether people would relate to it. It’s not easy viewing in the sense of a traditional period drama, and I knew all along that people would either love it or hate it. I accepted that right from the start.’
RISING How do you measure success in a ‘Marmite’ project like that?
TH ‘I think when the critics look at something unexpected they like to build a back story around other parts of it, such as how much money has been put behind it. That shouldn’t really come into it – it’s about artistic reception, and from a personal perspective, this is an effort made in the right pursuit, I believe. It wasn’t made for financial gain so it shouldn’t be judged in those terms.’
‘You must be prepared to go out there alone and do something different, perhaps looking foolish’
RISING You’re known for taking on challenging roles – how do you choose them?
TH ‘I'm open to anything that has great writing and a character that I can feel intense about. I'm in a fortunate position where I don't have to work all the time. I can be more selective and only commit to something where I know I have to do the role. That's important to me.’
RISING Do you think ‘playing it safe’ is ever a viable strategy in life and work?
TH ‘For some, definitely, but not for me and not for many in this industry. I think just to be in any creative industry in the first place you must be someone who is prepared to go out there alone and do something different, perhaps looking foolish in the process.’
RISING Do you ever get a buzz out of just going for it and taking creative risks?
TH ‘I’ve said it before, but the thrill for me is challenging myself with the notion that something can’t be done. That’s usually enough to ensure I will go ahead and do it. Everyone who said I'd never make it made me believe in myself even more – it made we want it badly.’
RISING Taboo was the brainchild of you and your Dad, so you are massively personally invested in it. What was the biggest lesson you learned doing it?
TH ‘Always take your work seriously. I'm lucky to be where I am now after messing up things when I first arrived in Hollywood. I studied method acting (in London) but I don't really have a method when I'm working. I just go and do my job with whatever skills I have, but I never mess around these days.’
RISING Can you really predict how your audience will react or is every performance a calculated roll of the dice?
TH ‘Everything is a risk, although I guess there are things you can do to minimise that risk. For instance, I never try to play myself or play the same kind of person I've played before, which is often what it takes to become a star and maintain that image, so that the public looks for that in every film. I think of myself as a character actor who has been getting to play leads. I’d rather keep audiences guessing and change opinions than play the same character and get the same reception.’
RISING People are mentioning your name in the same breath as Brando or De Niro – do you take that seriously?
TH ‘Haha -– I have never believed in any of that talk. You're talking about legends whose careers are filled with great films and performances that are going to be talked about for decades to come. I haven't done anything near what they've accomplished. I'm proud of some of the work I've done but I don't think of myself in those terms.’
‘The thrill is in challenging myself with the notion that something can’t be done’
RISING You’re a Dad now – what effect has that had on you?
TH ‘It's the best thing that I could ever have wished for. I was very self-indulgent for a long, long time and I was only thinking about myself and my own stupid stuff. Having a child lifts you out of that selfish behaviour and when you're faced with that kind of responsibility it forces you to be a better man and live a healthy life. I have a boy I have to look after and that's more important than any small, petty concerns I might be worried about. Family is the biggest thing there is.’
RISING You had a rough life as a teenager. Does that make it all the more important for you to help your son in life?
TH ‘Being a father to Louis has given me the kind of purpose that makes you think more carefully about how you live your life. I made a lot of mistakes and I put my Mum and Dad through a lot because they were so worried for me. I take great pride in being a father and making sure I'm there for him, and help him as he makes his way in the world.’
RISING Risk taking seems key to what do you – but isn’t it a bit, well, scary?
TH ‘Of course a lot of what I do terrifies me, and so it should, but overcoming obstacles in any field is the thrill, and that feeling is unparalleled, and that’s what we do it for. Yes, there’s artistic pride and all that stuff, but that’s different to the feeling you get when you have believed in yourself and succeeded. That’s special. I’d recommend it to anyone.’
WHAT NEXT? A professional risk is hard to take, because you have a lot to lose – but without it you’re unlikely to be able to achieve your work goals. And even if your gambit doesn't succeed you’ll come across as confident, and learn from accepting the risk of failure. But look before you leap – assessing the odds first and doing your homework may not sound like risky behaviour but it will definitely improve your chances of success, helping you to embrace greater risk..