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Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as James Delaney in FX’s new period drama Taboo. Set in 1814, Delaney, long thought dead, returns from Africa to take over his father’s shipping empire and rebuild a life for himself. But he soon discovers a dark family mystery unfolding, where he is encircled by enemies, murder and betrayal.
Tom Hardy co-created the series with Steven Knight and Chips Hardy. Both Steven and Tom serve as Executive Producers on the show.
We heard from Tom and Steven at the TV Critics tour where they introduce their new drama, which began its run on FX and BBC this month.
Taboo - Tom Hardy
Taboo – James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) ©2017 FX Networks, photo by Robert Viglasky

What did you see in the material that made you want to be the lead and the producer of it?

Tom Hardy: It started off with a conversation that I had with my father about nine years ago. I’d finished playing Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist, and I really enjoyed playing that. I thought, ’Dad, wouldn’t it be great to take somebody like Bill Sikes, who is kind of a villain, but then put him inside a gentleman’s body.

Mix the two together and create a hero in a classic period drama that could transcend all classes between the splendorous, opulent world of the upper classes, and also the underworld? And wouldn’t it be great also that maybe he could have a bit of Jack the Ripper?’‘

He (said), ‘Tom, that’s an awful lot of people to put into a story. Do you have a story?’ I said, ‘No. I just want to play this character.’ ‘Tom, will you just close the door on your way out? I’d like to finish my novel.’

Then about a year later, he presented a treatment to me. It was really good. So that’s what got me interested in producing and playing the character.

Why is it set in 1814?

Steven Knight: The reasons for 1814 are many. One of them is that in that year, Britain was at war with the United States, and with France, and with other people, and within London, which was the capital of the world at the time. The Crown was at war with the East India Company.

Taboo premiere - Steven Knight
Steven Knight at the Taboo premiere ©2017 FX Networks

So there were all of these conflicts, and the idea was to get this strong character, this almost unbreakable character, and throw him into that explosion. And, as this unfolds, you will see James Delaney is at the center of an international, political situation that’s developing at the time for real.

Taboo - Tom Hardy
Taboo – Murderer-for-hire Atticus (Stephen Graham) and James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) ©2017 FX Networks, photo by Robert Viglasky/Scott Free Prods

Can you talk about the style of the show? It’s got a very distinctive and a wonderful look.

Steven Knight: In terms of the look, it is determined by the period. We were very anxious to look at that period, 1814. We wanted to reflect accurately the actual nature of the city of London at the time, and the people and the behavior, not see it through the prism of Victorian morality, because Victorian morality wasn’t there.

Victorian morality was a response to what it was like in this period when there was a lot of hedonism, decadence and promiscuity. We wanted to show that, the murder and the blood. It’s not because we want to shock people. That’s how it was.

Taboo - Tom Hardy
Taboo – Murderer-for-hire Atticus (Stephen Graham) and James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) ©2017 FX Networks, photo by Robert Viglasky/Scott Free Prods

The impression I got was that Delaney is kind of stomping around London in the way I don’t think of a gentleman’s movement. Is this because he’s been away for so long?

Tom: He’s a bristly pig. This is a man who horse rides, so he’s bowlegged. He’s a man who has probably got very achy joints, and he stomps about because it’s muddy and slippery. There’s not a lot of grip on shoes. It’s a physical, brutal terrain.

I think he does do a fair amount of mincing around the court if he has to. Those boots didn’t allow for one to soft shoe it around in an elegant and sophisticated manner.

Also, to throw up a direct flagrant and brazen disassociation with social etiquette was an essential element, because he is the fly in the ointment, as it were. The gait is somewhat brash, thug-like and primal.

Did you have to work at being bowlegged?

Tom: No. I am genuinely bowlegged. I had rickets as a child. Thank you for pointing that out. (he laughs)

Taboo - Tom Hardy
Taboo – James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) ©2017 FX Networks, photo by Robert Viglasky

Tom, I wonder, because you seem to be so busy with upcoming projects and movies, is this the kind of TV show that you see yourself involved with for five years?

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. The point of setting up and working on Taboo over the last couple of years and developing it was creating a mythology of a vehicle that I would like to fully immerse in, and also to grow.

To have a home base where I can go to, yeah, I would love that.

Taboo - Tom Hardy
Taboo – James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) ©2017 FX Networks