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Tom Hardy: My Taboo character James Delaney is based on Oliver’s Bill Sykes

Tom Hardy speaking on stage at the TCA winter press tour
Tom Hardy speaking on stage about Taboo at the TCA winter press tour

Tom Hardy says his character James Keziah Delany in FX’s new show Taboo was based on a conversation he had with his dad about Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist.

The actor says the idea came about when he and his father Edward “Chips” Hardy asked each other: “Wouldn’t it be great to take Bill Sykes and put him in a gentleman’s body?”

After the pair talked about flipping the social status of the iconic Charles Dickens character, blending both the upper and tougher lower classes of London, Hardy says he went straight to his Peaky Blinders producer/creator Steven Knight to flesh out the story for Taboo.

Hardy was speaking at the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour, alongside Knight, director Kristoffer Nyholm, and fellow stars David Hayman, Michael Kelly, and Oona Chaplin.

Hardy as his character James Keziah Delaney in the FX series

Asked if he had to work hard at being bowlegged, like his character is in the series, Hardy said: “I am genuinely bowlegged. I had rickets as a child.”

He also revealed how he had enjoyed playing a dual role, both creating and starring in the series. He said: “I’ve been acting for almost 20 years now. I always wanted to act in my own projects.”

In the series Delaney is an Englishman who returns to 1814 London after 10 years living in Africa to reclaim a birthright he is left by his late father, the circumstances of which are mysterious and laced with danger.

He assembles what he calls his “league of the damned”, as an unexpected arrival threatens to disrupt his plans. This spurs him to take action to protect himself from enemies known and unknown.

He is subsequently blackmailed into a dangerous mission, whilst bad blood between the Crown and East India Company escalates to a new level.

The setting is bleak, shrouded, and visually foreshadows the underlying “taboo” story between Hardy’s Delaney and his half-sister Zilpha Gear (Chaplin), the times, and the life he lead in Africa.

Producer Knight told the TCA press tour: “Victorian morality wasn’t there yet in 1815 — there was decadence, sex, drugs. We wanted to show that.”

He added that Taboo is set apart from other British dramas because it looks at society through “the prism of commerce, not class”.

And he said the only thing he needed to sell him on the series was when he heard: “Tom Hardy’s had an idea…”

Hardy said he wants to create a mythology with the show that can grow, and he will make time to shoot more seasons.

He said: “It’s a slow start, a gothic horror vibe…please stick with it.”

Taboo airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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