When it comes to Hollywood transformations and body metamorphoses, there are few that can hold a torch to British film icon Tom Hardy, who has changed time and again for roles in The Dark Knight Rises, Warrior and Bronson. Christian Bale’s efforts are, of course, note-worthy; as is Chris Evans’ 10-year stint as Captain America. But it’s clear that few do it better than the 44-year-old from London.
While some may think of a young Tom Hardy as the baby-faced winner on The Big Breakfast’s Find Me a Supermodel competition, his ascension into Hollywood transformation lore — and, to the rest of the world — started with Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, where he played a stranded US Ranger on the streets of Mogadishu. Then came Layer Cake, Suckerpunch and RocknRolla, with Hardy beginning to cement his place as a strong and rogueish force in the film industry.
his was when Bronson came knocking. Albeit not literally. A biopic focusing on the life of notorious British criminal Charles Bronson, Hardy was tasked with the unenviable role of portraying the “most violent prisoner in Britain”. As a prisoner who has spent most of his life in solitary confinement, Hardy’s prep for the role saw him meeting Bronson on several occasions high-security psychiatric hospitals, shaving his head and, most notably, gaining three stone (19kg/42lbs) to play the high-profile British criminal.
Playing Britain’s most violent criminal took some work. Just as Bronson did, Hardy built muscle using bodyweight (and prison-friendly) exercises including punishing press-up complexes. If that wasn’t already impressive, Hardy had to shed 12.5kg only a year prior, to play a homeless drug addict in 2007’s Stuart: A Life Backwards.
“My approach was to do a lot of repetitions in order to send messages to my muscles: this helps them start to grow in a way that you can’t make them in the gym. To achieve dense muscle, you need a specific kind of training,” Hardy said to AskMen.
“I did non-specific exercises such as press-ups, push-ups, abs work and resistance training. To ‘become’ Charlie Bronson, I had to quickly put a lot of weight quickly on my forearms, chest and neck.” And it shows. The yo-yo weight-change (“pizza, Häagen-Dazs and Coca-Cola” played their parts, too) from Stuart: A Life Backwardsto Bronson was Hardy’s first step into blending muscle with method acting.
Warrior shortly followed in 2011, where Hardy needed to get into Octagon-ready shape to play the lean, wiry MMA fighter Tommy Conlon. For his lead role opposite Joel Edgerton, Hardy dropped 15 per cent body fat and packed on a whopping 20kg of muscle using the ‘signalling’ method, where his ex-US Marine trainer Patrick “Pnut” Monroe spread exercise and short workouts in bursts throughout the day. In theory, this encouraged Hardy’s body to adapt. “Tom Hardy is such a professional, said Monroe of Hardy’s efforts. “If he knows he absolutely has to do something, eventually he’ll just get down to it.
“Over time, technique wins over natural ability. People who work hard, with constant application, determination and tenacity – although they may not be as interesting, or have as much flair – will win,” said Hardy in a separate interview with Men’s Health. “Overall, they will achieve a goal.” That’s exactly what he did.
At this point, Hardy’s weight and physique had fluctuated so massively that he was becoming renowned for his chameleonic talent.
His next role as Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises would be his most recognisable and would cement him in Hollywood legend as an undeniable force of nature. To play the incomprehensible Gotham villain Bane — perhaps the only resident of the cursed city with the strength to match Bruce Wayne’s caped crusader — 5ft 10in Hardy gained a further two stone (13kg/30lbs) in weight, bringing him to a hefty 90 kilos.
“Compared to Christian Bale I’ve been by no means extreme in my body changes,” Hardy told The Daily Beast, when answering concerns for his well-being following Bane’s bulk-up. Hardy used a bulk-up “matrix” (above) to build muscle on to his chest, arms and shoulders. Using a descending ‘ladder’ format, Hardy would hit a four-round circuit, going from 10 reps in the first round, to seven, to five, then to three.
Lastly, Hardy’s outing as notorious American gangster Al Capone — the film focused on his final years, spent suffering from neurosyphilis — was widely discussed and received mixed reviews. To play the gangster in Capone, Hardy underwent hours and hours of prosthetic changes to portray the 48-year-old gangster living in Florida.
This article was originally published on Men’s Health US.