Taboo's anti-hero is a man of his times

Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo.
Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo. Contributed

WHETHER he's portraying a hero or a villain, Tom Hardy's performances are always grounded in the grey areas between good and bad, right and wrong.

His latest character, James Delaney, in Taboo is no different. What makes Delaney special is the fact that he is Hardy's own creation.

The Oscar nominee co-creates, produces and stars in the eight-part drama.

Hardy, best known for his roles in The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dark Knight Rises, brought in Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight to help flesh out the idea he conceived with the help of his father, Chips Hardy.

"It was an idea that Tom had had for a while, and it was as simple as someone who returns from Africa with rumours about him," Knight tells The Guide.

"Originally the idea was it would be set in the 19th century and be more of a Jack The Ripper story, but when we talked about it, I didn't want to go there."

Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo. Supplied by BBC Australia.
Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo. Supplied by BBC Australia.

Instead, they settled on the year 1814.

"There were so many different things going on," he says. "Britain was at war with France and the United States, the King was mad. I wanted to create a character who becomes involved in the politics of the day."

When viewers first meet Delaney he is a dark and dangerous man who returns home after the death of his father.

"I wanted to create a character that is complex and I quite enjoy thinking up characters who are hard to redeem and then trying to redeem them," Steven says.

Stephen Graham and Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo.
Stephen Graham and Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo. Contributed

"He is also a man of his times; they were pretty violent and brutal times in 1814, and I think he is a product of that society.

"He's a person who has experienced some terrible things, and he could just as easily be dead, but he's not. He looks at life in a way where there's no risk. If he's killed then it doesn't matter to him. He's got no real emotional connection to anyone."

Delaney claims he can communicate with the dead and there are rumours he has supernatural abilities.

"My idea is that when James was a boy he heard voices and he thought he heard dead people singing to him from the river," he says.

"Then he goes away to Africa, where he was healed, if you like. Those things he had were interpreted not as an illness but powers, and when he comes back he's much more at ease with himself."

Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo.
Tom Hardy in a scene from the TV series Taboo. Contributed

Delaney returns home after the death of his father to rebuild his family's shipping empire, but both the government and his biggest competitor want his inheritance at any cost.

"He decides to take on the biggest powers on Earth at that time: the British Crown, the East India Company and the fledgling United States," Knight says. "It's quite a task and he knows it, but he pursues it with single-mindedness."

Knight is currently writing season two of Taboo, which has been renewed by the BBC and America's FX channel.

"The great thing about doing TV rather than film is it gives you time to set up a character of a certain sort, and to see if you can bring him around," he says.

"Initially people think he's there for revenge for his father but it's a much bigger picture than that. He has global ambitions. He's got a plan and the plan is the thing that propels him.

"It's an exploration of do you take your demons with you or can you escape?"

Taboo premieres on Foxtel's BBC First channel on Monday, July 17 at 9.30pm.

Topics:  bbc first peaky blinders television

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