Tom Hardy has defined his career by playing very distinct and willfully hard-as-nails men. His breakthrough came in portraying a sociopathic prison inmate in “Bronson,” then came a flamboyant dream criminal in “Inception,” a taciturn bootlegger in “Lawless,” an intractable UFC pugilist in “Warrior,” a dogmatic terrorist in “The Dark Knight Rises” and he’s about to play the iconic wasteland traveler that Mel Gibson made famous in “Mad Max: Fury Road” next year.
But before that, this week he hits theaters as Ivan Locke in “Locke.” Directed and written by Steven Knight (the screenwriter behind David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises”), “Locke” is about an ordinary man in largely ordinary circumstances. Ivan Locke is a man in crisis, but it’s not extraordinary like you see in most movies. And so “Locke” shouldn’t work for several reasons.
For one, Tom Hardy is the only character on screen and he’s stuck in a car for 90 minutes trying to manage and micromanage the various crises of his soon-to-be crumbling life. If it sounds like a stunt or a gimmick, well, it only is on the surface. And if it sounds boring or painful, it’s not. Hardy is such a commanding performer, that for 90 minutes you are literally transfixed and riveted with Locke (read our review here). Co-starring Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels and Tom Holland – but only as disembodied voices on the phone – like “127 Hours,” “All Is Lost” or “Castaway,” Knight’s latest drama is a one man show (see our recent feature on this genre too). No doubt an experiment, a huge risk and a film that could have ended up as folly, “Locke” is a mesmerizing portrait of a man, his need for control, while his life collapses around him and the choices he makes to attempt to survive it all.
“Locke” opens in limited release this weekend via A24 Films, and we sat down with Knight and Hardy earlier this week to discuss this bold and formalistic gamble.
On so many levels this movie shouldn’t work. It almost reads like it's uncinematic on the surface, but it's the exact opposite, really. How did you come up with such a difficult challenge for yourself? Did you even think of it as such?
Steven Knight: I'd just come off making a much more conventional film [“Hummingbird” with Jason Statham] and wondered is there, you know going right back to basics of what's the job. The job is to get in the room, turn off the lights and have them look at a screen for 90 minutes. Is there another way of doing that? At the same time I'd seen the test footage that we'd shot with digital cameras from a moving vehicle on a motor way, which we'd done to test the cameras' sensitivity. I thought it just looked hypnotic and thought, well, is it possible to make that move and energy into a theater? Put an actor in there and shoot a play?
So that was the basic idea. I wanted to do something about an ordinary man, who isn't Jason Bourne or James Bond. He's a very ordinary man and he's made a mistake. Just to watch in that real time journey, watch someone's life go from that to that. From everything to nothing and what would cause that. So, naively hoping that Tom would do it – I think he's the best actor we've got, and if you're going to be up there for 90 minutes it's got to be somebody good. So we were meeting about something else and mentioned the idea and told him we would write the script and then we shot it.
Tom Hardy: It's not often you get to make a student film, but when you're not a student. Do you know? And you've got the full assets of a professional world. Because you know we're going to do something which is ultimately massively experimental, you don't really get the freedom to do things like that since you probably were a student, but with the assets of having x amount of years in the professional environment to play with. So it’s a proper bit of fun but with everybody knowing what they were doing and doing something out of their comfort zone.
Knight: And we kept getting the best people to say yes as well, which is really weird. But they're actors in the U.K. that are as good as it gets. The crew were great, the DP was fantastic.
Hardy: It was like a shotgun wedding.
Knight: It's a quick burst, shot in one week, bang, and everybody puts everything into it.
Hardy: One week, what can we do with a week? It's pretty cool, right? Did we set out to make a movie? No, it's like we set out to test ourselves and our limitations and embrace and celebrate those limitations and create a structure and do an experiment. And I think we stepped up into taking on a new responsibility as well. It all comes down to the script and vision and team and then getting on with it, ticking the boxes.
So, for me it was really exciting, really invigorating in a world of industry whereby boxes are ticked because they're formulaic and that's what works. Then you have art-house films, independent, struggling to get made. Theater and the screen and stage plays, there's a world out there to play with, if you just take it by the hands, take the opportunity and go look, we've got the opportunity to make something off the sum of those parts, and then go for it really.