The star of Mad Max: Fury Road on his crazy past, getting Mel Gibson's blessing, and why he doesn't watch movies. By John Hiscock

For someone who earns an excellent living as an actor, Tom Hardy has surprisingly little interest in the film industry. In fact, he says, he'd rather not see films or talk about them.

He's bitten the bullet and travelled to Cannes to help promote his latest movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, but, he says: "I normally avoid film festivals because I feel a bit awkward and feel I don't belong around people who love film because I don't have much to talk about.

"I don't really watch a lot of films. Maybe I should but it just doesn't work for me."

Tom Hardy has never hesitated to speak his mind. And if it's not what the listener wants to hear, then too bad.

A former juvenile delinquent and drug addict, he has tackled Hollywood on his own terms. In doing so has become a charasmatic leading man while still being able to pass unnoticed on the street.

We talk in a film production studio on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. As usual Hardy is unrecognisable, with a shorn head and bushy beard which he has grown for The Revenant, the Western revenge movie he is currently making with Leonardo DiCaprio for Oscar-winning Birdman director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Hardy in The Man Of Mode, at The National Theatre in 2007 Credit: Johan Persson

He is wearing a red T-shirt, a hoodie and his bare arms are covered in tattoos. "I've got lots of tattoos on me and you always know when I'm going through a change because I'll have a new tattoo and no hair," he says semi-seriously. "It's time to move forward and so the tattoos are sort of my tales about where I've been and who I know and what I've been through and what I've learned."

Interviewing Tom Hardy is not an entirely comfortable experience; although he is friendly and cheerful, one cannot help being slightly wary about what he might say or do next.

George Miller, who directed him in Mad Max: Fury Road sums him up:  “On the one hand, there’s extraordinary attractiveness; on the other, you know there’s something unpredictable and dangerous at the same time. He's tough yet vulnerable. These are essentials of a movie star.”

'Tough yet vulnerable': Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road Credit: Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Films/Jasin Boland

It is 36 years since Miller brought the first Mad Max to the screen. An unknown Mel Gibson, armoured in black leather and rage, created an iconic hero in what became a cult classic that would change the action genre forever.

Miller made two more Mad Max films, The Road Warrior and Beyond the Thunderdome and then moved on to other projects. Then in 2000 a new Mad Max idea came to him but because of various setbacks it wasn't until 2009 when Mel Gibson was 53, tainted by scandal and no longer a viable Max, that Miller was able to press ahead and look for a new star.

He had seen Hardy as the ferocious tough guy Bronson in the movie of the same name and also as the chemically-enhanced muscleman Bane in Christopher Nolan's Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and he saw a connection between the 37-year-old Hardy and Gibson. "They both have a darker, dangerous side. With that tension, there is a sense of unpredictability," he says.

Tom Hardy in Bronson Credit: Rex

But he had heard that Hardy could be combative and "difficult" on movie sets so he contacted Chris Nolan, whom Hardy had worked for on both Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, and Nolan reassured Miller than the actor was a total professional.

"I knew he checked my background with other directors to see what it was like to work with me and then he offered me the role," says Hardy. "When I got over the initial jubilation and excitement I suddenly realised that Mad Max is synonymous with Mel Gibson. If it's not Mel it's not Mad Max, and that was a little bit daunting and possibly people were going to dislike the change.  

"So I thought the right thing to do was go and meet Mel Gibson because he's part of the Mad Max family and it's like I'm the new wife who has to go and meet the old wife."

Gibson, he says, gave him his blessing and Mad Max: Fury Road was filmed over five months in the Namibian desert and in Australia at a cost of £100 million.

Set in the post-apocalyptic future where there is no rule of law, no water and no power grids, the movie sees Max being swept up with a group fleeing across the wasteland in a War Rig driven by the androgynous warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron). They are escaping a Citadel terrorised by a warlord who marshals his gangs to pursue them in the high octane road war that follows.

"Max just wants to go home but there is no home," says Hardy. "There's nothing but silence, pain and destruction. He lives in a place where there's no humanity yet he still yearns for it. But relationships cost in this world."

Hardy himself has a solid relationship with his wife, the actress Charlotte Riley whom he met on the set of Wuthering Heights and married last year. He has a son Louis from a previous relationship.

Life may be good for Tom Hardy now, but he has known some very bad times. The only child of Cambridge-educated writer Edward "Chips" Hardy and artist mother Anne, Hardy grew up in East Sheen, London. He started drinking at 13, became addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine, periodically spent nights in jail for disorderly conduct and was once arrested for stealing a car and gun possession.

Nevertheless at 19 he entered and won The Big Breakfast’s Find Me a Supermodel competition and briefly had a modeling contract. He studied Method Acting at the Drama Centre in central London but cut his studies short when he landed a role in the TV miniseries Band of Brothers followed by roles in Black Hawk Down and Star Trek: Nemesis.

His drinking and drug-taking contributed to the breakdown of his first marriage and he finally checked himself into rehab and cleaned himself up in 2003 after he said he collapsed on Soho’s Old Compton Street and woke up to find himself covered in blood and vomit.

He says: “I wanted my dad to be proud of me and I fell into acting because there wasn’t anything else I could do. In it I found a discipline that I wanted to keep coming back to, that I love and I learn about every day.”

A supporting role as a sleazy street thug in the crime thriller The Killing Gene was the start of a run of gritty roles in which he brought texture and depth to unsavoury characters: Bill Sikes in the BBC version of Oliver Twist, a gay gangster in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla and then Bronson.

“Nobody paid any attention career-wise to me in America until Bronson," he says. "It gave me a calling card and passage into America where I’d always wanted to work.”

'The old wife': Hardy with Mel Gibson at the LA premiere of Fury Road Credit: 2015 Getty Images/Kevin Winter

Since then he has worked steadily and his roles have included an in-dream shape-shifter in Inception, Ricki Tarr in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a mixed martial arts fighter in Warrior and last year he starred in both Locke and The Drop.

He recently finished London Road, about the murders of five women in Ipswich, and Legend, in which he has a double role as the gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray.

"Ninety-eight per cent of actors are unemployed so I come from a background of not expecting to always work," he says. "If somebody offers me a job then I will gladly accept it. However, I've been doing it for about 13 years, possibly more now, so I don't just take any job. I like to pursue the craft of acting and try my hand at many different characters. I don't have a method of acting. I just... you know.... I do a job.