The Kray twins are among the most legendary figures to have ever lived in London, for their wealth, status, and power. Tom Hardy stars as London’s two most notorious gangsters in Brian Helgeland’s new film Legend.
For Brits Tom Hardy and Christopher Eccleston, the Krays have always been a part of their lives in one way or another. “I think they’re about as familiar as a red telephone box” explained Hardy. For all the wrong reasons the Krays have gone down in British history, and literature written about them is extensive. “Who are the Krays?” joked Eccleston, “As a teenage boy like Tom I think you become obsessed, there’s a point teenage boys get very interested in gothic violence and I remember going to the true crime section a lot”.
For American director Brian Helgeland and Australian actress Emily Browning their introduction to the Krays was somewhat different. “Yeah, when I first heard about the Krays I thought it was like a wild animal” Helgeland said, “I didn’t know what it was, but I quickly learned and it was just a fascinating thing”. For Browning who plays Reggie’s love interest, she explained, “I honestly had never heard of them until I read the script”.
Although the Krays may have been very familiar to some of the cast, there was still extensive research to be done about the men themselves. Hardy had clearly made the effort to be as well informed about the twins as possible: “There’s always a question about research like ‘have you done your homework?’…no! I didn’t know what I was doing. To a certain degree that’s true, and sort of let it be, but there is in fact a plethora of research that one can do on the Krays.” Hardy explained his use of books, photos, and diaries which he used to learn about the twins. There’s even a BBC interview with the twins speaking. He also wore the watch that Reggie died in whilst they were filming. Hardy explained that all of this “forms patterns of stories and anecdotes that seem to reappear a lot”, and this helped him to form his representation of the Krays.
Eccleston seemed to have a different opinion on the idea of research for a role: “I think there’s a load of bollocks spoken about research, I think it’s make believe, and I felt what Brian had written had sent a very clear message to me about what he’d wanted, and so I relied entirely on what was in the script”. However this did not stop him from thinking extensively about Nipper Read’s character: “Me and Brian did have a number of conversations about what kind of a dog Nipper Read might be. I think we decided on a bloodhound, because apparently a bloodhound, according to Brian Helgeland…will run until it dies, will chase a criminal or its prey until its heart bursts.”
Emily Browning also had a different experience in her preparation for the role: “There’s really not as much information available about Frances as there is about the Krays themselves, which was actually kind of nice for me. I didn’t feel like there was maybe as much pressure on me.” Browning was very limited in her primary sources about Frances, “I had little bits and pieces and Brian actually got me a few letters that Frances had written to Reggie, and that was sort of my lighthouse. That’s sort of what I held on to and built her around that.”
Each of the actors took enjoyment in playing their roles in their own ways. For Hardy he had the opportunity to play two characters within the same film that possess completely different characteristics. “From a technical point of view Ron is predictably unpredictable, so for a performer it’s fun to play… you’ve got multiple options and you can pull the rug on anybody you want at any given time, so it’s a free ball character.” Eccleston also had a strong idea about who Nipper Read is, “I think Nipper was obsessive generally… and he was humiliated on numerous occasions as shown in the film by Ron and Reg and he didn’t forget that.”
Browning was faced with quite a challenge in playing a character where very little is known about her, but she is clear on who she believes Frances to be in the film. “I don’t see Frances as a victim really… I just think that the way Brian wrote her and the way that I wanted to play her as a human being, I think she’s complex… I think she’s also quite ballsy and she has the guts to kind of stand up to the boys when I don’t know if very many people would have had that strength.”
The experience of acting opposite two characters played by the same actor was a unique one for all involved, and Hardy’s fellow actors praised his ability to make the transition so effortlessly. Hardy explained “It was more a sort of mental puzzle that needed to be unpacked and then breathe life into it from my perspective.”
Legend (2015), directed by Brian Helgeland, is distributed in the UK by Studiocanal UK, Certificate 18.