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'I play a psycho, it's difficult to do'

Tom Hardy has teamed up with his writer dad, Chips, for his latest project, a 19th century-set drama, Taboo

By Jeananne Craig

Tom Hardy might speak quickly - at times, in fact, it's hard to keep up with his rapid-fire musings - but he's perfectly happy to go slow when he needs to.

The star's latest project Taboo, a major drama series for BBC One, took seven years to come to fruition, after a chat at home with his father, Edward "Chips" Hardy, a writer.

"I played Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist (the 2007 TV series) and really enjoyed the character and I thought I would like to play more Bill Sikes, but as a lead," Tom recalls.

"Then I also thought I'd really like to play Doctor Faustus in Bill Sikes' body. And I'd also actually really like to play Hannibal Lecter there too. And Sherlock Holmes. And Marlow from Heart Of Darkness, we shouldn't forget him. And a little bit of Mr Darcy, but not too much, because that's really boring."

At first, Chips' reaction to his son's vision of this "can-do hero with a depth of depravity" seemed lukewarm, but he was actually very taken with the concept.

"It was a great brief for a kind of conflicted hero. It was also pretty damn impossible," admits the author and playwright, who has joined his son and his beloved dog, Woody, for our chat.

"I went away for a year and wrote on this, and tried to build a context, unbeknownst to Tom." The result, with the help of co-creator Steven Knight (who Tom's worked with before on the hit show Peaky Blinders and 2013 film Locke) and top producer Ridley Scott, is an eight-episode drama, set in 1814.

At its heart, is the dark, haunted and suitably complex James Keziah Delaney (played by Tom, who also executive produced the drama).

The plot follows James, who's been presumed dead, as he returns to London from Africa to rebuild his life, and inherit what remains of his father's shipping empire.

There are enemies lurking everywhere, however, and conspiracy, treachery and violence loom large. James' arrival threatens to upset the plans of his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and her husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall), and the political ambitions of the powerful East India Company, chaired by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce).

"He's a guy who is driven, but also he's got a past and it sounds like it's pretty ghastly. What he's trying to do is get some kind of closure, by coming back to this country and doing something with it," Chips says of James.

"You've got a very tough and violent man, with a kind of vulnerability that comes out every so often. You don't just think he's a psycho that's run away; you want to know what he's up to, and you hope that he gets through."

It's "a very difficult tightrope to walk for a performer", Chips admits. But if anyone can play such a character, it's muscle-clad, tattooed Tom, who has made his name playing tough guys, including notorious criminal Charles Bronson in 2008 movie Bronson, the terrifying Bane in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, plus both Kray twins in Legend (2015).

The historical period in which Taboo is set also fascinated the father and son.

"It was just before the birth of the modern world," notes Chips. "It was still a very turbulent time.

"We had republicans, we had people who wanted to kill the king, we were only 20 years after the French Revolution. Europe was a mess.

"Everybody in America was declaring independence, because of the European war, so everyone's scared about what's happening in the world, everyone's scared about their trade money, we've got a lot of poverty and fear, fear of foreigners. We've got a wonderful turmoil going on for drama." Plus, as Tom quips: "No one had Skype, no one had iPhones. You've got horses, fireplaces."

While they admit "not a lot has changed when it comes to power" since then, the pair are adamant the show is not intended to serve as an allegory for modern times.

"I think people will find their own parallels, but we're not writing a satire. We just wanted the historical context to play this out," says Chips.

And Tom, who'll appear later this year on the big screen in Christopher Nolan's Second World War film Dunkirk, says that while Taboo's budget wasn't blockbuster, the results are just as impressive, thanks to the UK's historical locations.

"We had lads in from the States - they throw a lot of money at their TV shows in America, we're all privy to those conversations because of the film world we come from as well. We said, 'We can do the same stuff on telly on less budget', and they were like, 'This is amazing, what you can achieve'.

"All of our locations were real. To find those classical, solid brick buildings we could actually play in was really special."

He's clearly proud of the end result, and hopes we'll be seeing more of James Keziah Delaney - though presumably he won't take another seven years to return.

Taboo, BBC One, today, 9.15pm

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