Entertainment

All of the Insane Things Tom Hardy Does on 'Taboo'

Tom Hardy, taboo
FX

Taboo, FX's bleak new period miniseries that premiered last night, is a showcase for star Tom Hardy's unapologetic weirdness. The eccentric 39-year-old English actor plays James Delaney, a mysterious figure who returns to London in 1814 following the death of his father and spends most of the first episode brooding and intimidating people. Like a gloomy reality-show contestant, Delaney is not here to make friends.

So what's Hardy there to do? Make grunts. And groans. And little mischievous twitches with his eyes. While this eight-episode costume drama can be dreary, slow, and gruesome, Hardy's performance is a thing to behold: It's a mystical combination of tough-guy charisma, antihero swagger, and cheeky goofball-ery. Most of the first episode consists of other characters either reacting to Delaney's bizarre behavior or talking shit about him behind his back. He's not just the star -- he's the weird, enigmatic sun the plot circles around.

The same actorly instincts that led to peculiar (and often brilliant) performances like Bane in TheDark Knight Rises, the mumbly enemy of Leo in The Revenant, and the taciturn hero of Mad Max: Fury Road guide him throughout this series, which he developed himself with his father Edward "Chips" Hardy and his frequent collaborator Steven Knight (Locke, Peaky Blinders). It's a performance that lets him go full-Hardy. How exactly does he do that? Let us count the ways.

Tom Hardy Taboo FX
FX

He wears a poncho and digs in the mud

When we meet James Delaney in the opening moments of the first episode, it's raining and he's got a scowl on his face that would scare most prim characters from 19th-century period dramas back to their moneyed estates. This guy doesn't wear a dinner jacket and a tuxedo -- he's sporting a stylish black poncho. He's all about utility. And scowling.

He crashes a funeral while dressed like a steampunk magician

"Dear God, there walks a dead man," says an older gentleman as Hardy waltzes into his father's in-progress funeral. Meanwhile, his half-sister gasps and his weaselly brother-in-law pouts in disgust. This guy knows how to make an entrance -- and he probably knows how to pull a coin from behind your ear. 

He sprinkles magic dust on his dad's coffin

You probably didn't understand the words Hardy said as he sprinkled a mysterious powder on his father's freshly dug grave, but you might recognize the marking he put on his face after he was done mumbling: That's the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt. Delaney may sport a modern-looking, Macklemore-ish haircut, but he's clearly a glam-rock fan. Hopefully, in future episodes, he will use his father's shipping company to transport valuable T. Rex albums across the Atlantic.

He tells his sister he's dead

In a brief post-funeral meeting, Hardy's sister says she thought he was dead and Hardy is all like, "I am," leading the audience to think… he's a zombie? He's a wizard who was resurrected through magic dust? He only speaks in cryptic metaphors?

tom hardy, taboo
FX

He says he heard his father calling him from across the world

The first episode of Taboo is filled with suggestive hints that Delaney, in addition to being a brooding, Clint Eastwood-style badass with a cool mustache, could also possess some supernatural abilities. When his dead father's smallpox-afflicted lawyer tells him his dear papa was the only person in London who thought he was alive, Hardy responds by saying he could hear his father calling to him across the ocean. Is this a father-son bonding thing? Or is he hiding an early radio-like device under his top hat? For real: What's under that top hat?

He declares his love for his half-sister

This wouldn't be an expensive prestige television drama if there wasn't some suggestive sexual shenanigans going on, and Taboo lives up to its title by clearly hinting that Delaney's relationship with his half-sister is, um, not exactly platonic.

He inspires some wild stories about mashed potatoes and bears

Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones) brings some of that signature High Sparrow villainy to his scenes as the leader of the East India Company, particularly as he leads a round-table discussion of just exactly how threatening Hardy's character is. As these pencil-pushing bureaucrats discuss how they're going to try to screw Delaney out of his father's land -- a sliver off the coast of Vancouver called Nootka Sound -- we hear wild tales of Delaney setting fire to a navy boat with an experiment involving "oil and mashed potatoes." But that's not all: We also hear he once fought a bear and led a "rebellion against the cooks for bad custard."

He has a flashback-like vision of Marilyn Manson

After enjoying a brandy with his butler, Delaney looks out a window and has a vision of a mysterious laughing figure with long black hair that I'm going to just go ahead and assume is shock-rock maestro Marilyn Manson. That's the theory I'm sticking with.

He kicks a table and threatens castration

As one does.

Tom Hardy Taboo FX
FX

He threatens the doctor who performs a post-burial surgery for him

Delaney does not suffer fools. When a doctor opens up his freshly dug-up father's gut, Delaney makes a point of making sure the old man gets placed back in the ground without any missing body parts. "You tell every member of your profession: I know things about the dead," he murmurs. Yikes.

He intimidates a bunch of stuffy British guys

Judging from the first episode, Taboo is heading toward a violent conflict regarding Nootka Sound: The Americans want it, the British want it, and, of course, crazy Tom Hardy won't let them have it without a fight. The first episode ends with Hardy delivering a verbal spanking to Pryce and his crew of sniveling bureaucrats. "I studied your methods in your school," he tells Pryce in their big showdown. "And I do know the evil that you do because I was once a part of it." Is he going to use that evil he learned against them? Uh, does Tom Hardy love puppies? (Yes, he does.)

He says "good day" in a really menacing way

Just a hint: When this dude says "good day," he does not want you to have a good day. In fact, he wants you to have a very bad day. He probably also wants to cut off your testicles and sprinkle magic pink dust on them. And maybe hide them under his top hat.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment and he has never fought a bear. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.