Tom Hardy, Spitfire Pilot in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’: “I’m Still Getting Goosebumps”

by Tina Jøhnk Christensen July 18, 2017
Actor Tom Hardy at the 'Dunkirk' premier in London, July 2017

Tom Hardy at the Dunkirk premiere in London, July 2017.

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Dunkirk is Tom Hardy’s third collaboration with director Christopher Nolan. Following their successful work on Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), they team up again on the director’s World War II drama Dunkirk in which Hardy plays a spitfire pilot. “He has done a thorough interpretation of his depiction of what happened at Dunkirk in the Nolan style,” says Hardy about the director, who also wrote the script. “I am really excited about it, and when I saw the trailer, I got goosebumps. I am so excited for that movie.  I think he has done a brilliant job.”

Dunkirk is a drama based around the 1940 British evacuation of Allied troops from the enemy-surrounded coast of northern France.  “It is a true story,” explains Tom Hardy. “It is his take on what happened at Dunkirk, when five hundred thousand men were stuck on a beach and needed to get off it. It was very difficult to get them off and they could have been wiped out.” Aside from Hardy, the cast of Dunkirk includes Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and former One Direction singer Harry Styles. The terrifying events, in which thousands of men gave their lives in the evacuation process, are told through three perspectives: from land, sea and air.

“It was a turning point strategically in the Second World War which he depicts in multiple storylines in a classic framework that is very typical to Nolan’s particular style.”, says Hardy. “I couldn’t really speak for him, because I am a very small part of that film and that world.” But Hardy was as always impressed by the fellow Brit’s set.  “What I saw again was another Chris Nolan classic set and his classic way of working. He is a joy to work with and he is awesome.”

The so-called Operation Dynamo, which included a rescue plan for several hundred thousand allied troops, was a crucial moment during World War II. Great Britain could have been forced to capitulate, if the evacuation had not been a success.  “It feels like a classic movie in some ways. He is going back to The Battle of Britain (1943, dir.Frank Capra and Anthony Weller), like an older movie from the postwar, but with modern opportunities such as he has got an IMAX camera.”

Hardy is also cast in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode 8, and the star of movies such as Golden Globe nominee Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Golden Globe winner The Revenant (2015) is eager to be part of this big Hollywood project. The British star actually admits to loving Hollywood. “Yeah…. I love it here,” he says. “ This is the playground. This is where the work is at for TV and film - in Hollywood.”

Even though Tom Hardy is still based in London, he feels very much part of the Hollywood industry. “Yes, very much so. I don’t feel like an outsider,” he says, adding that he  considers Hollywood an education. “There are all sorts of people and types that meet in this university - in the Hollywood school of the work - if that makes sense. And maybe I am a certain type of child in the class, but I am in the class.  I want to be in the class.”

In person, there is nothing scary about Tom Hardy. As mercurial, volatile and dangerous as he comes across in many movies – just think of him in Bronson (2008), Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant and Dark Knight Rises - he is as friendly and soft-spoken in real life. “I am a human being, so of course I have history and family and people I love and connections and sensuality and softness. I think it’s interesting when you meet people face to face and then you sit down with them and you go: This isn’t who I thought they were.  And so I can see, because I do the job for a living, I can’t imagine that who I am on film or television or rumors, they are not real. It’s not real.”

Hardy is good at playing the dangerous characters because he has observed them closely and because they scare him. “So to me, I can’t get my head around the fact that I would be the characters that I play. And so it’s bizarre when people say: ‘Oh he has a soft side.’  I think what is interesting is that if you are sensitive, you pick up things and you know how to mimic them maybe.  I couldn’t explain it. I am not my characters, they are characters I play.  And I know I can create them and I have an active imagination and if I wanted to be one of my characters in real life, I am sure I could go around being one.  But it’s not me.”