Events: Legend press conference

Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston and director Brian Helgeland answer questions about their new film.

Legend tells the story of the rise and fall of London’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie and Ron Kray, both portrayed by Tom Hardy. Ahead of its UK release, Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston and director Brian Helgeland were in town to promote the film, and role research, the challenges of two Tom Hardy’s and the victimisation of women on screen were among the topics of discussion. It’s all been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.

When did you first hear about the Krays?

Brian Helgeland: I can tell you it was in 1988. I had been asked to go on tour with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. I heard about them then from a guy who was involved with the band, he told me some stories about them. I was very interested, because when I first heard Krays I thought it was like a wild animal. I didn’t know what a Kray was but I quickly learned. It was such a fascinating thing. I didn’t think I wanted to make a film about them until I was contacted by Working Title many years later but that’s the first time I ever heard of them.

Tom Hardy: I think as a kid you see the books in the True Crime section. Well, I did anyway. I had a brief interest in True Crime when I was like fifteen, going on holiday, or whatever, and grabbing a book. So, that’s when they first came across my horizon or atmosphere [laughs]. They are as familiar as a red telephone box in many aspects. That was then. Playing them was a question of going back and looking at all the source material available. And there’s a lot of source material on The Krays.

Emily Browning: I honestly had never heard of them till I read the script. And that’s my whole story! [laughs]

Christopher Eccleston: When I was a teenage boy like Tom, I think you become obsessed. There’s a point where teenage boys get very interested in gothic violence, and I also remember going to the true crime section a lot – and I would have been around the same age, about 14. And I have twin brothers, so I was particularly interested in them.

Tom – how did you get into the mindset of playing a gangster who was also gay?

Tom Hardy: You know what, I didn’t even think about it. It just is what it is. I don’t think it needs playing. Does that make sense? If I thought about it, then that would give me sort of pause to think and I had to do something so I had to get on with doing what I was doing. It’s my job. Ronnie was gay and that’s it. It’s all good. I think if you start playing anything then you’ve kind of missed the point about what it is that you’re there to do. What was complicated was that we don’t know whether Reggie was gay or not. That’s questionable. So when approaching the roles, I had to look at Legend as its own separate entity. Within this entity Reggie is heterosexual, Ronnie’s gay. Crack on.

The film touches on the glamour of the time – Joan Collins is in the club, Barbara Windsor gets a mention as well. I just wondered if that carries on even today and we don’t know about it…

Brian Helgeland: It’s a funny business because you always meet people you could never meet otherwise. In Hollywood, there’s arms merchants or something like that. They have a lot of money that they want to…launder it [laughs]. Yeah, you meet interesting characters that you couldn’t ever meet if you had a normal job.

Tom Hardy: You can access all areas of society in our job very easily. We’re in the entertainment part of it and they’re not…necessarily.

Why did you choose the book that you chose to adapt, how much of the film is anecdotal and how much is fantasy?

Brian Helgeland: There is a book called The Profession of Violence that the producers had options of at the beginning which I looked at which was great. I felt obligated to try to cover as much of everything as I could. So I read a lot of books, met some people they knew when they were adults, and read a lot of bad stuff. What I thought was interesting was it’s so extreme, whether they were helping old ladies cross the street or nailing people to the floor. I’d never come across such an extreme kind of mythology. I don’t know what the truth is but I thought to find something in the middle of all of that would be the trustiest thing I could do and I was interested in humanising them in a way.

What research did you do for your roles?

Tom Hardy: There’s always a question about research isn’t there, sort of ‘have you done your homework?’ No, I didn’t know what I was doing [laughs]. To a certain degree that’s true and you have to let it be. It is what it is, but there is actually a plethora of research that one can do on The Krays. I even had Reggie’s watch which he died in on my wrist and we had various members of the world come out, talk to us, and have private meetings. There was only one visual source material, primary source on the BBC speaking for a minute but you can’t really take a lot from that because they were on show so you can’t tell if that is their true voice or true mannerisms. There’s lots of photos but it’s mainly people’s legend or mythic tales which are usually circulated by people who didn’t know them – you get a lot of them come out. It forms patterns of stories and anecdotes that seem to reappear a lot. Also, I had lots of diaries as well and footage from a Panorama documentary. So yeah, I did loads of research. I did my homework!

Emily Browning: There’s really not as much information available about Frances as there is about The Krays themselves which is actually kind of nice for me. I didn’t feel like there was as much pressure on me. People don’t have as much of a strong idea of who Frances is as they do about the Krays. You know, I had little bits and pieces and Brian actually got me a few letters that Frances had written to Reggie. That was kind of my lighthouse. That was sort of what I held on to and built her around that. I’m not very good at doing my homework either, so a lot of my research was the accent or learning about the time and the place, but otherwise I just sort of did it.

Christopher Eccleston: To quote David Bowie, I threw my homework on the fire! [laughs] I think there’s a load of bollocks spoken about research. It is make believe and I felt what Brian had written sent a very clear message to me about what he wanted, and so I relied entirely on what was in the script and what happened on the set. Me and Brian did have a number of conversations on what kind of a dog Nipper Read might be. I think we decided on a bloodhound because apparently a bloodhound, according to Brian Helgeland, and this may be complete fantasy, will run until it dies. The dog will chase a criminal or its prey or whatever until its heart bursts. So, we had a bloodhound and I threw in Malvolio from Twelfth Night because we thought of Nipper Read as absolutely puritanical. A man of the 50’s and a man who did not want the 60’s to happen, who did not want the Krays to have sex and fun, who didn’t not want The Rolling Stones to have fun. He was the man from the previous ten – twenty years. So no homework – just drugs with Brian Helgeland.

Tom – In the production notes it says you were drawn more to playing Ronnie than Reggie. Why was that the case?

Tom Hardy: From a technical point of view, Ron is predictably unpredictable. For a performer, it is fun to play because you’ve got everything on the smorgasbord you can use, you have multiple options and can pull the rug on anyone you want at any given time so it’s a freewill character. If you were playing Idi Amin, it would be the same thing to a certain extent. Whether you were naturalising that, or you were going for a full heightened reality, or art character – whatever you want to play – that character means you are free to run with anything. Whereas Reggie is constrained to boundaries and strict disciplines. He has to in a way go A, B, C, D and that’s kind of boring for me because I don’t want to go straight down the line. I want lateral choices, I want to have fun and so I was drawn initially, because I had a bit of a disco ball head, to Ronnie. There’s some options there, whereas with Reggie I know he’s going that way and I might want to take him that way.

Chris – At what point do you think Nipper Read becomes obsessed by the Krays?

Christopher Eccleston: I seized on the class theme that Brian presented that he believed that they were from similar backgrounds and that he felt a great deal of class shame about what they were doing. I think Nipper was obsessive generally, I think you probably have to be. I think what’s interesting about Nipper is surviving in the Metropolitan Police at the time as a Northern copper, that must have been difficult. I think he was a workaholic and he was obsessive, he was humiliated on numerous occasions as we show in the film by Ron and Reg and didn’t forget that. He got there in the end.

Emily – Looking at the characters you’ve played, including this one, I’ve realised that collectively they’ve been raped, abused, orphaned, lobotomised and killed. What do you see as the dangers and value in depicting the victimisation of women on screen?

Emily Browning: I’ve played in I think maybe seven films where my character has been in a mental institution. It’s not intentional, I don’t know how it has happened. I don’t have my career path planned out. When something comes along that makes me feel something then I go for it. I don’t see Frances as a victim. I think she could have easily been written differently, she could have been a bit wet and a bit sad and pathetic. I just think that the way Brian wrote her and the way that I wanted to play her was as a human being; she’s complex. She comes to a very tragic end and her story is quite sad but I think she’s ballsy and she has the guts to stand up to the boys. I don’t know if many people would have had that strength so I don’t see her as a tragic character by any means.

Brian – Was there any shot in particular that was a challenge when it came to having two Tom Hardy’s on screen?

Brian Helgeland: We tried to not make the camera too aware of what’s going on to try not to draw attention to what he was doing, so it was a lot of little things really. There were some things that we found out were just undoable as far as how much time they took up, motion shots and things like that. We had a couple of tricks and we used them over and over again without getting too fancy.

Tom Hardy: It was a question of how we were gonna do it. Once we started it was basic, there was no CGI because there was no budget for it. So it was back to old school, slightly basic drill. We were finding out for the first time how things worked, split screen, talking to Jacob, [Hardy’s doppelganger stunt and body double]. Ultimately there had to be another actor there, somebody who I could act opposite who would not only take note of what I was doing at the top of the day, but who could replicate it at the end of the day but also leave an opportunity for me to change it at the end of the day. It was more of a mental puzzle that needed to be unpacked, then breathe life into it from my perspective. At the same time, you have the rest of the cast there who in real time are having to deal with the fact that they have a split dynamic in the room. So it’s kind of mathematical, in a strange way, then you sort of let the bitch breathe as it were and then stop, start, turn it all around again then let the bitch breathe again. It was a mixtures of sums and geometric shapes and creative blagging. And a bit of homework then drugs with Nipper [laughs]. The more drugs we can give to Nipper, the better.

Emily and Chris – What’s it like acting opposite two Toms?

Tom Hardy: Awesome! [laughs]

Christopher Eccleston: A deeply humbling experience! [laughs] I’m not sure that I sadly experienced it. There was one sequence where Nipper is jammed between Ron and Reg but I don’t think we had time on the day. I don’t think I waited for you to change into either Ron or Reg. I think we did it with Jacob. 99% of my scenes were with Reg. I only had one scene with Ron and that was a revelation. Watching that really was very interesting because I only met Tom as Reg and, suddenly, there was Ron and they were completely different. As I said, I have twin brothers so that was very interesting to see what an actor was doing with one role and the other and I was jealous. [laughs]

Emily Browning: It wasn’t really an issue for me to be honest. I didn’t have to think about the mathematics of it, I just got to do everything twice. I mean Tom was there as Reggie then he went away for a bit and there was Ron. It was kind of a breeze for me to be honest.

Brian – The Krays Mother had quite a small role in this film but she is very influential. Was that a concern at all?

Brian Helgeland: Yeah, but I thought that we had Frances and her mum as a child and her mother relationship. I thought that was kind of enough for the film. So much has been done about the mum and the boys that I wanted to stay away from it in a way because that’s a thing that’s really been done to death. Within that, I think we have a very interesting scene with the three of them. Also, I know everyone talks about how close they were with their mum and all those things but every gangster story I know the boys are close with their mum. So I didn’t especially take it as a thing that was unique to them. Maybe that’s not true and that’s my own point of view but I thought that Frances and her Mum covered Mums and their kids in a way that I didn’t need to get into it again with them as their Mum.

Tom – some people admire the Krays, others are fascinated by them. What’s your opinion of the Krays?

Tom Hardy: I just have a healthy indifference, to be fair. It was sort of a thesis that I worked on for a bit. That’s my subject, that was my show and tell, under the Legend banner. I spent a bit of time researching and working with them in fantasy, in pretending, and that’s where I’ll leave it. At the end of the day, I got to do a bit of research and schooling as it were, but I am sort of healthily indifferent to anything really. So I can just invest in the next thing that comes along, and each experience is something under the belt to move forward in the training.

Legend is playing in UK cinemas now.