Tom Hardy stars in final Gandolfini film

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Tom Hardy (right) and the late James Gandolfini in a scene from “The Drop,” Gandolfini’s final film performance.

In “The Drop,” Tom Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a lonely guy who works as the bartender in a seedy Brooklyn, New York bar, managed by his Cousin Marv — who formerly owned the joint, until it was taken from him by a vicious gang of Chechan mobsters. The title of the movie refers to bars or restaurants where illegal money from gang activities is “dropped” as it’s moved around — since that cash can’t exactly be deposited in a bank.

Hardy phoned recently to talk about the film, the surprising twists to his character and the experience of working with James Gandolfini — who portrays Cousin Marv — in what would be the great actor’s final performance. “The Drop” opens Friday.

Q: What was it about Bob Saginowski you enjoyed playing?

A: I loved the ‘still waters run deep’ aspect of him. The unexpected things that he does. I loved the underestimated part of him — by the people around him. There’s a slow burn to him that was very intriguing to play.

Q: After playing a guy like that, does it make you look at people walking by on the street and wonder, ‘What’s he really like?’ or ‘What’s she really like?’

A: Yes. We often immediately jump to conclusions about people, and that’s one of the wonderful things about this film. Bob reminds me of the hare and the tortoise story, in that it’s slowly, slowly you win the race. Never underestimate or judge a book by it’s cover, as they say. This film makes that extremely clear!

RICHARD ROEPER:Acting of quiet brilliance by Hardy, Gandolfini in ‘The Drop’

Q: What was the biggest challenge in playing him?

A: He was so layered. So much going on with him under the surface. As an actor, it was a bit tricky to take on playing a guy who technically has committed a crime, so there’s a moral and ethical issue there with Bob. So to ethically justify the man’s actions is the trick. I really like Bob. Basically he’s a terrifically good guy. I enjoyed him, and I want people to enjoy him too.

Q: Of course loneliness is an important theme here, isn’t it?

A: Oh yes, exactly. For much of the film you clearly get the sense of how lonely Bob is. In fact, all of the principal characters in the film are wounded and lonely in a sense. That goes for Noomi [Rapace’s] character of Nadia and Jimmmy Gandolfini’s Cousin Marv.

Then, of course, there’s the puppy, the dog that Bob finds and adopts. He represents the injured puppy that’s really inside all of these characters, if you get my drift.

Q: Speaking of your cast here, of course, we have to ask how was to work with James Gandolfini — who clearly we lost far too soon. His performance here is superb.

A: Yeah, it was incredibly special. It’s hard to talk about it in a sense. We’re obviously promoting a film here, but it almost pales to insignificance when you compare it to the loss of someone as lovely and talented and gifted as James. So, on the one hand it’s lovely to have such a lovely film, but at the same time the loss is there. He was so talented, wickedly funny and just makes me incredibly sad that he’s not here anymore.

Q: Brooklyn really is another character in this story, don’t you think?

A: I do. New York, and Brooklyn in particular is full of so many different ethnicities and cultures — and many lonely people struggling to get by. Often, those people get lost in the overall scheme of things. What I like here, is that they are examined under the microscope of this film and you get some insight into what those lives are really like.

Speaking of Brooklyn, I want to mention that the setting was so important to [director] Michael [Roskam] and [screenwriter] Dennis Lehane. They really wanted this to take us back to the kind of filmmaking done in the 1970s and infuse our film with that sensibility.

Q: The dog Rocco — the little injured pit bull that you find in the trash can — and adopt in the film. Did you bond with those puppies they used to portray Rocco? I know they had to use several dogs for filmmaking purposes.

A: I love dogs. So that was great. I really, really love dogs. I have two of my own. Both I found in America. Two American dogs. For the film, the dog represents having a heart. They represent ultimate loyalty.

Q: I know you’ve spent time in Chicago. Your thoughts about our city?

A: I love Chicago! I can’t wait to come back. I was at the Goodman [Theatre] there several years ago [in 2010] in ‘The Long Red Road’ directed by [Philip Seymour Hoffman]. Tragically, that’s another great actor and artist we’ve lost way too soon. I also worked there shooting ‘The Dark Knight’ [Hardy played the villian, Bane]. Chicago is great. Can’t wait to come back.

Q: On a much lighter note, you looked very natural playing a bartender. Did that come easily for you?

A: I used to be a bartender! When I was a kid in London I worked in pubs. So I got the badge, as it were!

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