It started as a conversation between Tom Hardy and his father, Chips.
Nine years ago, Hardy was fresh off playing Sikes in a production of “Oliver Twist.” “I said I wanted to take Sikes and put him in a gentleman’s body,” Hardy told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. But he didn’t want to stop there, adding: “‘And what if you put a bit of Marlow in “Heart of Darkness” in there? And maybe, ‘also he could have some Jack the Ripper.’ And my father said, ‘Tom, will you just close the door on your way out, I’m trying to finish my novel.'”
A year later, the elder Hardy presented his son with a basic treatment for the story of a character that fit that description.
Thus was born “Taboo,” FX’s new period drama that debuted Tuesday night. That period is the early 1800s, in an England still reeling from the results of the American Revolution and War of 1812. The Hardys took the treatment to Steven Knight, who turned it into the muddy, bloody, dark, and darkly funny affair it is today — after Knight persuaded Hardy to appear on “Peaky Blinders” in return.
While the first several episodes take place in England, and concern primarily English characters, Hardy and Knight describe the story as quintessentially American.
Hardy’s James is a haunted man who has returned from the (presumed) dead, a bristly warthog in human form, but magnetic enough to attract a number of equally strange characters to his cause of inflicting grievous harm on the East India Company, and asserting control of a small island essential to a Chinese trade route, regardless of how important it is to the British Crown or Americans, both fighting over the land.
“Post- the French and American Revolution, it was almost as the individual as a modern person was beginning to take shape,” Knight said. “People were changing class, individuals were beginning to establish themselves. He’s the precursor to the industrialists of the Victorian era.” The people of that time were beginning to disengage from thinking of themselves solely as part of their community; those that emigrated to America, particularly, held this view.
Knight, Hardy and director Kristoffer Nyholm spend the first several episodes of the series building out a world and a set of characters that have the ability to carry the story beyond the borders of pre-Victorian Britain. “Whether they all survive the first season, they become an entity that go kind of west and can be whatever they want to be,” Hardy said.