Unlocking Tom Hardy's Locke
By R. Kurt Osenlund
Though classically trained and palpably sensitive, Tom Hardy has a made a name for himself with his formidable physicality, playing hulking brutes in films as diverse as Bronson, Warrior, and The Dark Knight Rises (not even a voice-muffling mask and poor sound mix could botch his impact in the latter). Yet, in Locke, his new one-man motorist drama, Hardy needn't move from a single spot to deliver his densest, most nuanced work to date.
As Ivan Locke, a construction-site foreman on the brink of personal and professional upheaval (he’s also the movie’s sole on-screen character), Hardy deftly soldiers through a great spectrum of emotions, all while driving a car on a highway for the entirety of the film. Locke's gimmick is transcended by Hardy's gruff instincts, the sustained tension filmmaker Steven Knight commendably draws from human mundanity, and the essential details of Ivan's feature-length journey.
Meeting us for a chat at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Hardy shared hints, tidbits, and trivia about the making of his movie, highlighting what viewers should notice while being locked in a car with him—apart from the obvious, of course.
1. The Right Accessories
In addition to a wedding band and a watch, Ivan wears two bracelets linked to UK charities that Hardy himself champions: Help for Heroes and The Prince's Trust.
“Help for Heroes is a charity for service men and women, to support the wounded,” Hardy says. “It was something I wore to set, along with the Prince's Trust bracelet. They're all relevant. The Prince's Trust, in our country, helps people get work, and takes people from hard-to-reach areas, like teenagers, and brings them in and teaches them a trade, like music or building. A lot of plumbers and tradesman have affiliation with the Prince's Trust. It helps them find work and provide job placement. So that was a connection—I thought Ivan would be the type of person who would reach out. I draw sources from everywhere. There was another part of it where I wanted him to look like a submarine captain in Das Boot, hence the naval sweater. There he is in the boat—the car—in the middle of a storm, trying to hold it all together. You know, anybody can steer the ship in the calm, but it takes somebody quite specific to steer it in the storm. Everything was chosen. There was nothing extraneous in that car.”
Juggling a work emergency and a family crisis while speeding toward a moral obligation, Ivan is constantly fielding calls from unseen characters via his in-dash phone and GPS unit (the supporting, voice-only players include Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, and Andrew Scott). But there's more to the story.
“There's a lot of inauthentic, pretending to drive in the film,” Hardy says. “It would have been illegal to read the auto-cue and to drive at the same time. I'm reading the auto-cue, which is similar to watching the road, so I'm reading the script—I didn't know the lines. I got the script three days before we started shooting. So if you didn't notice that I was reading the lines, then that's a bonus. I'm following the script, then I've also got phone calls coming live-feed into my ear, like when Steve says, 'Ok, call [the next character] now.' Then the car phone goes off and I have to speak to my ensemble, who are in a hotel room calling me live, and then I have to react to them in real time, while being dragged by a loader down the [highway] watching the cars go past. So my life wasn't so dissimilar to Ivan Locke's at the time. It was experimental—the perfect hybrid of radio, a screenplay, and a stage play. We did a table read for five days, and then we shot for five days on the road. So you're neither shooting a rehearsal period nor a film; you're shooting a rehearsed reading, in a sense. You're somewhere in between.”
3. A Case of the Sniffles
If Ivan looks especially weary, and has a little Bane in his voice, that's partly because Hardy was sick throughout the shoot, nursing a cold while navigating Locke's drama.
“That's always the way, isn't it?” Hardy says. “You have to do something at the last minute and you get ill. Ivan has his box of medicine in the car because he has a cold, and I actually really did have a cold. That's also why Ivan has the handkerchief in his sleeve. There's nothing like trying to hold a sneeze in when you're having a very important business conversation—but of course, no one can see you doing that. No one knows where you are when you're on the phone...unless you're in a bathroom and there's an echo. Then someone knows. But I was trying to create that juxtaposition of reality. Here I am, trying to have this very important conversation, and someone's asking, 'Are you listening?' I am listening, I'm just trying to stop snot from flying out of my face.”
4. Rearview Mirrors and Father Figures
Some will find Locke's metaphors a bit too on the nose, with Ivan's literal journey representing his figurative transformation, and even his job—which is currently hinging on a crucial arrival of concrete—conveniently relating to his own foundational shifts. But most of these elements are inherent to the intimate setting, including the rearview mirror in which Ivan, a thickly-accented Welshman, talks to his late father, whose estranged nature and neglect the antihero refuses to repeat.
“For me, what was interesting about Locke, and what juxtaposed him against anything I'd played before, was this essence of containment,” Hardy says. “You don't have any physical exposition, and there's nothing bombastic or violent. But having said that, there's a huge amount of vengeance and aggression in Ivan, which is deeply rooted and connected to his father. There's compulsion for him to drive, and he's driving with a lot of anger. But it's all presented with containment, and a slow diffusion, and an understanding and deconstruction of his own psychology.
"I enjoyed playing this guy, particularly while trying a really dodgy Welsh accent. I listened to a lot of Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins for inspiration. There's something about that accent that's very gentle and kind, and yet that country's built on very harsh terrain. And a lot of tough men and women have come out of Wales. They work incredibly hard physically, but there's something calm about the sounds of their voices. What we hear from Ivan, and what the other people on the phone hear, needs to be a of calming influence. He has to sound like he's in control. [Welsh] seemed appropriate.”
5. The Road Ahead
In terms of characterization, Ivan is drawn with wonderfully problematic flaws, each pro of his personality matched with an indisputable con. Every good intention has an unsavory side effect, and every admirable choice has some kind of collateral damage. Naturally, Hardy relished this part of the project, which is represented by the fateful, nighttime drive his character is taking.
“Ivan is out to handle things on his own, literally,” Hardy says. “He's pioneering into the deconstruction of himself and the rebuilding of his new life; however, he's destroying an old one. He's always putting out fires, and he's very good at calming other people and being an anchor, even though he's in a personal place that's not solid. Everything goes horribly, horribly wrong for him. He finds himself in a place where he can't solve a problem, and it unlocks a floodgate of emotions and human paradoxes. He's terrified in a way, and ultimately, he breaks new ground for himself. I think, on that journey, he has a clean sheet by the end of it. He has the courage and the bravery to destruct his own self, and to leave himself naked. Whether you like it or not is irrelevant.”
Locke is currently playing in select theaters. Watch the trailer below: