The Acting In Inception: Tom Hardy

“Whatever character you play, remember they are always doing something. They are not just talking. They are alive; going through a drama in which they will go through some sort of dramatic human experience. Keywords: Alive and Experience. It is your job to make them become so. Anthing you do on stage or film has a direct relation to something you have experienced in one form or another in real life. Use your imagination to exaggerate or lessen that sensation. Then, disguise it in characterization and don’t forget to make lots and lots of mistakes, and look like a complete asshole. You’ll do fine.”

That is the final paragraph of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and I couldn’t agree more. Just kidding. I found that quote from actor Tom Hardy (he with the illustrious stage career) on his IMDB page and had to pull it because it seems to capture for me the energy and verve he brought to portraying Earnes in Inception from Moment One on the screen. I said before I thought the film was “humorless”, and perhaps that was too much of a blanket statement – there were moments of humor, I suppose, vestiges of wit – but the tone overall was such that they didn’t make an impression. But Earnes, from the get-go, has a humorous energy. He’s intense, but not unremittingly so. He’s a bit more casual about it. Earnes, pulled into the project after it has begun, is a man with connections, perhaps shady connections, a guy who seems to know things.

His first scene in the film is in a crowded noisy bar in Mombasa, where he meets with DiCaprio. He is cocky, funny, assured, and looks around the room, assessing it in a moment’s glance, recognizing the dangers, who to trust, who not to trust. He doesn’t have much time to establish his character, you never do – you must appear as if fully-formed, especially if you have a smaller role – and Tom Hardy does that. Watch his behavior in that first scene. We have no idea who this guy is, but he’s wearing a sort of dandyish outfit, like a Catholic schoolboy gone horribly wrong, and his hair is slicked over to the side, and he’s not fazed by anything. He listens, he talks, he lolls back in his chair, his eyes flitting around the room at odd moments … He’s like a giant lion sleeping under a tree after a big meal: he seems relaxed, he seems satiated even – this is a man who enjoys life, he probably over-indulges on occasion, there’s a ruddiness in his face that suggests that- but at the same time, like that lion, there is a tension in him, an alertness, telegraphed to the audience subtly (it’s all behavioral).

It’s an electric first appearance. Tom Hardy lands. He also makes it look easy. He has been sitting in that upstairs bar for hours, maybe even days. I had no doubt of that. He does what is so difficult to do with these side-parts: convince the audience that he is who he says he is, he belongs there, and his life has gone on before the camera started rolling and will continue long afterwards. It’s all in his posture, the way his eyes roam the room, but how he never forgets to take in DiCaprio across the way, sometimes squinting his eyes at him in a calculating and assessing way.

I have not seen him before. But I will remember him.

His quote about acting that starts this post is very interesting, and also evidence that he is actually doing what he says he should be doing. He is always thinking, reacting, finding obstacles, reacting again. He is never “just talking”.

The second he appeared, my friend whispered intensely, “Who is that?”

Guy is a star. Mark my words.

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46 Responses to The Acting In Inception: Tom Hardy

  1. Erik says:

    He is most definitely a star. I wanted so much more of this man that I kept getting sad when he’d turn into Tom Berenger. Poor Tom Berenger.

  2. So this is your first acquaintance with Tom Hardy? You should definitely check out Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2008 film Bronson then! Hardy is practically a force of nature as the notoriously ruthless and brutal British prisoner Michael Peterson, who calls himself “Charles Bronson” and seems to do whatever he can to stay in prison. It’s an titanic performance in a film that, imo, is only partly worthy of it.

  3. sheila says:


  4. sheila says:

    Kenji – I had only heard of him through his stage performances, none of which I had seen. But yes, got some catching up to do. He’s amazing.

  5. sheila says:

    Erik – still laughing. “I am just so sad when you turn into Tom Berenger.” “Me too, man, me too.”

  6. Erik says:

    If I’m ever hired to dream-morph into anyone who used to be in the Major League movies, please let it be Corbin Bernson. Or Rene Russo.

  7. sheila says:


    “Oh shit, I have to morph into Tom Berenger. Just my luck.”

  8. Erik says:

    Sorry, Tom Berenger!

  9. Nicki says:

    I have been meaning to look him up since I saw the movie on opening night. He was so immediately captivating, but I didn’t recognize him from anything I’ve seen. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to do this!

  10. talli says:

    YES!!! thank you sheila. It seems like nobody is noticing how alive he is and how nuanced his performance is in the movie. The tiniest inflections of the voice, facial ticks, its all there!!! Reminds me of Heath Ledger….in Parnassus, he filled up every minisecond with a tiny moment, it was incredible to watch.

    Are you an acting student?

  11. sheila says:

    Talli – I could barely find a picture of the guy from the film – the one I put in the post was the best one I could find. Strange – I thought he was really great.

    I was an acting student once upon a time. My background is in acting. Glad you liked!

  12. Erik says:

    Total sidenote: I LOVE the new layout of your blog. Everything about it.

  13. sheila says:

    Thanks, Erik! Hopefully it’s much easier to find stuff – and not so cluttered!

  14. sheila says:

    Just changed the photo for this post – found one online that portrayed the scene in Mombasa, his first entrance.

  15. sheila says:

    This post is now being linked to far and wide, and it’s great to come into contact with the already-existing community of people who love this actor. I love it when that happens!

  16. Brendan says:

    His lips deserve an Oscar.

  17. sheila says:

    I believe his nose does as well.

  18. Iris H says:

    I saw him as Heathcliff on TV earlier this year and HAD to imdb him right away… I’m glad he’s getting noticed…

  19. Kathy says:

    Oh, goody. You’re blogging about Inception! Yay! I’ve been dying to chat about it.

    Tom Hardy’s performance is absolutely wonderful. He reminds me—in a very non-obvious way, I’ll grant—of Brian Cox. He’s much sexier Brian Cox, of course (those lips! I would totally let him kiss me into next week if he wanted, happily married woman that I am.), but there is so much similarity in all those little things they both do to make a character tick. I loved the scene in the third level, where DiCaprio’s character is telling them they have to call it off, and Eames seems genuinely disappointed, like a little boy who has to leave story time at the library early, that he’s not going to find out how it was going to end. Given how much he’s in control of everything, like you pointed out, it’s so surprising that he’s invested in the ending. I think the natural assumption would be, given his jaded attitude, that he wouldn’t care, but he does.

    Also, just love the way he says, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” to JGL’s Arthur. So brilliant. I wonder if the “darling” was in the script, or if he added it on, because it would tweak Arthur.

    • Chele Belle says:

      Came across this interview via Tumblr. It’s available here:

      Matt Patches: I think you summed that up perfectly when you called Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “darling.”

      Tom Hardy: Yeah, yeah, I don’t think that was originally in the script.

      Matt Patches: Really? That’s amazing. I was curious about the lighter, comedic elements in the movie, most of which stem from your character. Was in the script or if there was a lot of improvisation?

      Tom Hardy: Mmm, ever so slightly. I would never stray from somebody’s script, absolutely not. Chris Nolan… every comma, punctuation mark, he designed it and it wasn’t for me to go in there and reshape it. It’s a very large piece of machinery. The “darling” part was accidental. I came out with “darling” and we kept it in because it was funny, but we did plenty of them without “darling.” I felt comfortable on set…we were having fun. It’s very kind of him to have kept it in. We were having fun.

  20. Rob says:

    His was, by far, my favorite character in the film. Inception is one of those films where I think less of it the more I reflect on it. Nolan’s Memento, which also had some bewildering moments, was much better. I still think about that one. The only thing I think I’ll remember about Inception in a year is that I saw it.

  21. sheila says:

    Chele Belle – comments like yours are why the Internet is so amazing sometimes. Thank you for that link – I love how it directly answered the question of another commenter in this thread. I love that he improvised that bit! It felt very natural.

  22. sheila says:

    Kathy – yes, there are three other posts below this one about different actors – and I have two more to go. Marion Cotillard and Cillian Murphy. Sadly, the only thing I have to say about Ken Watanabe, an actor I have liked before, is that I couldn’t understand a word he said. Oh well.

    Didn’t like the film, but found much to admire in the acting!

  23. sheila says:

    Rob – yes, I really liked Memento, and it also comes up in my mind quite a bit. What an intense and interesting film. I also liked quite a lot of Insomnia – and my favorite parts were how he made the struggle with insomnia so palpably real – with a little help from Al Pacino. I ACHED for him to get some sleep.

    I did not care for The Dark Knight, and this left me blah as well – although I have certainly thought about Paris folding in on itself quite a bit since I have seen it – and would love to try something like that myself. I’d like to fold Battery Park up over Chelsea and see what it all looked like.

  24. Maureen says:

    Has anyone mentioned Tom Hardy in The Virgin Queen with Anne-Marie Duff? He plays Robert Dudley, and oh my lordie is he good in that. Sexy, ambitious and you can totally see why Elizabeth I was so into him. He was also great in RocknRolla, a Guy Ritchie movie I found really enjoyable. I haven’t seen Inception, but I do find him mesmerizing whenever he is on the screen.

  25. Kathy says:

    I can understand about Ken Watanabe. He really didn’t have much to do, other than be the ruthless Japanese mogul. Kind of boring for him.

  26. sheila says:

    He actually had quite a bit to do – he was the linchpin to the whole thing. My problem with him wasn’t his acting – his performance was fine – it was his poor English. Couldn’t understand him. At all. He has important exposition lines (well, the entire film is exposition – everyone just keeps spouting exposition from beginning to end). But he had a lot to say. He explains what the whole heist is about and WHY. Garbled English. Not good enough.

  27. Sarah Salway says:

    Haven’t seen Inception yet, although it’s now out here, but I like that quote a lot. Particularly how it can apply to writing fiction as well. The words come alive when we can connect to some feeling within us that resonates. Also there are too many writers afraid to experiment in case they look like ‘complete assholes’, so they end up looking like… yep, but boring ones.

  28. Kathy says:

    Maybe I went a bit too far, claiming Ken didn’t have much to do. What I should have said was that what he had to do wasn’t all that interesting or a stretch for him. I agree that he’s a very good actor and has been wonderful in the past (he’s the only redeeming factor in ‘Last Samurai’, which I’ve watched more than I ever wanted to because the husband likes it and when it’s on tv, it’s his default. Ugh. Tom Cruise. Bleh.).

    Perhaps it’s just me, but, in terms of the bigger linguistic picture, I kind of like it when directors throw in actors for whom English is not their first language, and you can definitely tell they struggle with it. I think people—and this most definitely includes me—just need to get better at listening to what they’re saying. You can’t be passive when trying to listen to someone for whom English is their second, or perhaps third, tongue. ( I also hate it on tee vee shows when they subtitle someone who is perhaps Scottish or Irish—presuming people can’t understand their accents. It’s allows the audience to be very lazy.) English is becoming the most preeminent language in the world, and not everyone is going to speak it well. I want the language to spread, and if this is a little way to show people that it’s a great language, and they should learn how to speak it, by stating we don’t really care all that much about accents, well, it sure beats how the French act—they want their language to be preeminent, yet they don’t actually want people to speak it, because they don’t want anyone speaking the language who doesn’t do it well.

    Maybe this is just since I’ve moved to Austin, removed from my homogeneous little world in the Twin Cities, but I’m constantly bombarded with people who try so very hard to speak English, because they know it’s the key to their success, but who are only learning it on the fly, so perhaps they don’t speak the language as well as they could. They work so hard at it. I just want them to have a little encouragement.

    That said, I, too, had issues understanding him. :) At least he didn’t mix up his ‘l’s’ and ‘r’s’.

  29. Jen W. says:

    Glad I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t understand a word of what Watanabe said. To Hardy was fantastic- Eames was my favorite character in the movie.

  30. Rob says:

    “Rob – yes, I really liked Memento”

    “So how many rooms am I checked into in this sh*thole?”

    It’s my favorite line. I just loved that Nolan threw in that little detail about his disability. I still think about that and what led him to ask. It’s wonderful.

  31. sheila says:

    Kathy – I live in a strictly Spanish-speaking neighborhood, and I experience a similar thing – my next door neighbor is nearly incomprehensible, but we do pretty okay, through gestures, and hard intent listening.

    That just doesn’t fly, in my opinion, in movies – unless you are trying to make a point about their non-English-speaking status. If Watanabe played a silent heavy, and someone like Earnes is the one who had to deliver all that exposition – I wouldn’t have minded it. But the movie is so information-driven that you really can’t afford to have someone who can’t speak English well delivering important plot points. (This is also a problem with the script, which had to just keep explaining itself to us, ad nauseum, right up to the end!! Ugh!)

    I thought he was wonderful in Las Samurai, and thought Cruise was great, too. A pitch-perfect part for him.

  32. sheila says:

    Sarah – how nice of you to comment!! I love the writer’s perspective on that quote from Tom Hardy, I think it’s quite apt. I love what he says about connecting it to you, but then adding the characterization – never forgetting to let yourself make a big mess. Life is often like that, no?

  33. jean says:

    Oh my god – I said the same thing when I saw him, Sheila! “Who IS that?” A stud! Why does Tom Berenger look like such ass? He looks like he just crawled out of Joyce’s Pub in the middle of the day!

  34. sheila says:

    JOYCE’S PUB!!!!

    Jean, I am dying. That is so right on, so RI specific.

    To me he looked a taxidermist’s rendition of Mickey Rourke.

  35. dorkafork says:

    You mentioned the humorlessness of the film, and I felt the same way, particularly with one of Tom Hardy’s scenes. The scene where DiCaprio asks Hardy to stall his tail. I was disappointed, it’s like they wrote in the script “(Add humorous bit here later)” and then forgot. It’s especially striking due to Hardy’s great initial appearance. “Oh, I know this guy. He’s awesome. Real clever. This is going to be good.” Then it wasn’t.

  36. sheila says:

    Good observation there. Missed opportunity.

  37. Just_Curious says:

    Did you never see Star Trek: Nemesis? It was the one where the Romulans cloned Captain Picard (yes, I’m a Trekkie). This was the first film I remember seeing Tom Hardy in, and he was a great villain as Shinzon — totally held his own with Patrick Stewart, even though I think it was maybe his third job out of drama school or something like that. Watch it again, you’ll love it!

  38. Charlie O. says:

    I’m a little surprised to hear that so many people had a hard time understanding Watanabe. I personally had found the accent to give his character a more realistic feel, it was only during interviews when he was left having to speak it off the top of his head that I had difficulty following what he was saying.

  39. Cody says:

    This is great… until I read it, I didn’t quite understand why I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s performance so much, but it all makes perfect sense now. Thank you!

    I definitely have to agree with the humorous energy. The first time I watched Inception, I was too focused on the big picture to catch the little flashes of humor and thought it was really bland. Then I saw it a second time, and of course by then I knew that Tom Hardy was the best performance, so I spent all of his screen time specifically watching him. The result? The first time I came away from an intense action movie, the second time I felt like I spent a lot of the film laughing and I had this light, joyous, humorous feeling about it. Instead of going off adrenaline, I was actually quite entertained. I think that Tom Hardy was really the savior of Inception, because it was his acting that made it memorable. Although I’m sure Eames was intended to be a somewhat funny character (because I don’t want to believe it’s possible to purposefully write a script with so many humorless characters), he’s really set apart by the physicality and presence of his character rather than any dialogue. Without Eames the way he is, Inception would have been a pretty bland action movie, inflated only by the fact that it introduced a new conceptual world. And we don’t need another Avatar.

  40. sheila says:

    Cody – // (because I don’t want to believe it’s possible to purposefully write a script with so many humorless characters//

    I totally agree. And I agree with your thoughts about how he is set apart – by his humor, and also the fact that it seems like he’s actually alive, in the world, with spontaneous reactions to things (his improvisational “darling” is a perfect example of that). You could feel it the second he appeared. “Oooh, here’s a person … I have no idea what he will do next!”

  41. Ev says:

    Tom Hardy is a star in it’s late stage of birth. Pretty soon the light will be blinding. Loved every minute of his glow in Inception.

    I worry for him because the “dream a little bigger” scene might just be his pathway to being the next Bond! I dare say, we shouldn’t ruin such a fine actor by turning him into Bond – not that being Bond is bad. Tom Hardy is just so much ‘better’ than Bond!

  42. sheila says:

    Ev – ya think? If it’s good enough for Sean Connery, it should be good enough for someone else.

  43. Vitaliy says:

    guess who’s the next Batman villain :)

  44. sheila says:

    I’m not really interested in the Batman movies, but I’m glad he’s getting some recognition. He’s very good. Hopefully he’ll be offered material that is better than Inception, which was a piece of garbage. But he stood out.

  45. Fence says:

    Late to the post here, but have to comment anyways.

    Have you seen Warrior? Hardy is incredible in it. Joel Edgerton is pretty damn good too though. And I’d second the recommendation for Bronson. That is one awesome character piece.