TORONTO — Not surprisingly, in “Legend” (opening Wednesday), Tom Hardy felt like “someone with a split personality … a bit like a male Sybil,” said the actor, making reference to Sally Field’s famed performance as a character with multiple personalities.
“Legend” is inspired by the lives of twin British gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray, who ruled London’s East End crime world with violent intensity in the 1960s. The reason for Hardy saying he felt “schizophrenic” making “Legend” was simple: He portrays both twins.
Since both Krays are dead, it seemed logical to ask the actor what he would have liked to learn from the men.
“I think the best thing to do would have been to simply hand them the script, hear them complain about it — because you know they would! — and then listen to whatever else they would have said about living in London at that time.
“Then I would say to them, ‘I’m only the middle man here. There’s no way I could put in the film exactly what you’d want.’
“I think, frankly, that would be the case with any biographical film you’d make. Most people don’t see themselves the way others see them, do they?”
While Ron Kray — the psychotic, gay, loose-cannon, tortured soul — would seem to be the more challenging of the two roles, the actor surprisingly said that was not the case.
“Reggie was harder for me to play initially, because until you get to the end of the film — for the first two-thirds of the movie — Reggie is a straight romantic lead in some aspects. Yes, it’s all set in the gangster world, but very specifically I saw him as kind of a Lancelot character.
“As for Ron, I much preferred to play him. He was a total nightmare of a man, but as an actor, those kinds of crazy, over-the-top characters are so much fun to play. … No, the subtler tones of Reggie was more challenging for me.”
For both Hardy and “Legend” director Brian Helgeland, who joined him for the interview, a major challenge was simply working on what they called the “choreography” of “Legend.” It was important for both men to achieve what Helgeland called “not ever, ever allowing the audience to be aware of our camera work and to realize that it’s Tom playing both men, even though they were identical twins.”
At one point the two brothers engaged in an epic fight at a nightclub they owned.
“That was really tough,” said Hardy, nodding, as his director explained, “That was very rehearsed. Tom worked on that fight sequence for weeks, just to make sure it made sense both for the story and for the two characters involved. Then, we had to adapt it all to the space we had to work in.
Hardy was very aware that “both of these guys were well-known amateur boxers in their day. They were total tough guys. I wanted to get across that not only were they terrific, confident fighters, but they were engaged in that particular fight in a familiar, dysfunctional environment. It was like a cat fight — a dysfunctional fight by members of a dysfunctional family.”
Before we parted company, Helgeland shared a story about the first time he ever heard about the Krays. “Yes, my first introduction to the Krays was listening to a lie! It was back in 1998 and I was joining Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on a world tour for a Led Zeppelin movie that ultimately never got made.
“Anyway, one night I met a guy who was part of the tour’s entourage and asked him how he had lost one of his fingers. He regaled me with how it had been cut off by the Krays. … But such was their mystique, their legend, so to speak. It just shows you how someone could get mileage — a weird kind of respect — out of being part of the Krays’ world, even if you were targeted by them!”
From that point, Helgeland became intrigued and began a journey that led to the making of “Legend.”
Hardy agreed the Krays were a difficult duo to pin down. “To get at their stories, you have to really sift through a lot of myths and lies,” he added with a smile.