British actor pushes limits with riveting portrayal

Americans think of Charles Bronson as the badass star of “Death Wish.” For the Brits, however, Bronson is the nom de guerre of notoriously violent prisoner Michael Peterson, whose legendary outbursts have kept him in headlines and behind bars for more than 30 years.

Actor Tom Hardy has the tabloid press to thank for landing the role in “Bronson,” a showcase of growling aggression and charisma that debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Though the London-born thesp helped develop the project, director Nicolas Winding Refn wasn’t keen on casting him until stories claiming Bronson felt personally dissed popped up in the press.

“I’m a face puller. I wear tights and makeup. Why would I want to start a fight with Britain’s most dangerous prisoner?” says Hardy, who arranged an intimidating in-person meeting with the con.

Hardy bulked up and stripped down to play Bronson — though the actor insists he felt more exposed as Handsome Bob (a character closer to himself) in Guy Ritchie’s “RocknRolla.” “That’s the first time I’ve gone (emotionally) naked into a part. I didn’t act, I just went with what I had on a daily basis,” he says.

According to Hardy, “Bronson” was a cake walk compared to the physical demands of “Stuart: A Life Backwards” (he slimmed down to play a heroin addict with muscular dystrophy) and the upcoming “Warrior” (as a cage fighter), though it helped land him an ensemble role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in director Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

He’s enjoyed such heat in his career before, leaving drama school a year early to appear in 2001’s “Band of Brothers,” followed by back-to-back bookings in such pics as “Black Hawk Down” and “Star Trek: Nemesis” (playing Jean-Luc Picard’s evil clone).

“I came back from ‘Star Trek,’ and I didn’t have any work, and I panicked,” recalls Hardy, who turned to the stage. That first brush with stardom may have given him a sense of humor about the process, but it hasn’t curbed Hardy’s ambition.

“I desperately want to be establishment, part of the heritage of solid actors that come out of the U.K.,” he says.


Lucky Break: “Getting into drama school, but I didn’t get into the one I wanted (RADA). With my physique and bow legs, I ended up going to the Drama Center, which is full of characters and dysfunctional types.”

Favorite Film: “‘Downfall’ was an amazing portrayal of Hitler. ‘Gandhi’ with Ben Kingsley, though Bronson is not Gandhi by any stretch of the imagination.”

Five Years From Now, I Will Be…: “A better dad. Having my son stripped away so much unnecessary baggage.”

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