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Honestly, I Wasn’t Eager to Expose Myself

Ben Hardy knew he had to leave EastEnders. When he joined the popular soap opera in 2013, portraying Ian Beale’s troubled son, Peter, he initially planned to stay for just a year. However, plot twists ensued: Peter indirectly admitted to causing his best friend’s death, his sister Lucy was murdered, and his girlfriend became pregnant. Hardy’s one-year stint turned into two, pushing him towards becoming one of the show’s prominent stars. But the longer he stayed, the more he felt he was losing himself.

“I battled with myself for a year, trying to make things work,” says the 33-year-old, sitting across from me in a London skyscraper’s conference room. “I have immense respect for everyone on that show. [But] I felt myself getting lazy as an actor, constantly thinking, ‘This scene doesn’t work.’ I was trying to create a diamond out of something that couldn’t be one. That laziness scared me. I thought, ‘I have to get out of here.’” Hardy then leans forward to place a nicotine pouch under his top lip.

Only a few EastEnders stars successfully make the jump to Hollywood, but Hardy managed it. Within a year of leaving the soap in 2015, he played the villainous, metallic-winged Angel in X-Men: Apocalypse. He was also cast as Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor in the Oscar-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Additionally, in 2021, he appeared in the Prime Video erotic thriller The Voyeurs, where Sydney Sweeney’s character observed him engaging in intimate scenes with various models. His repertoire undeniably showcases his range.

Sitting in the room with Hardy, one can observe that range. Dressed in a white tank top with his jacket slung over the chair, he exudes both seriousness and playfulness, often snaring you off guard with a joke. He turns interviews into genuine conversations rather than one-sided interrogations.

We’re here to discuss Unicorns, a gritty British drama where Hardy plays Luke, a mechanic and single father struggling with his sexuality after falling for a drag performer named Ayesha, portrayed by an enchanting Jason Patel. On the surface, the two characters are stark contrasts. Luke is messy, blokey, and deeply lonely, while Ayesha is glamorous and bespangled, constantly battling prejudice as an Indian gay man with a secret personal life.

Luke’s struggle with his attraction to Ayesha reveals his internalized homophobia. Hardy explains that drawing from the culture of his teenage years was easy when performing this role. “I grew up in Dorset,” he reminisces. “It’s a beautiful place, but it wasn’t as progressive as London 20 to 30 years ago.” He adds, “I was never a homophobe, but homophobic slurs were commonplace. ‘That’s so gay’ was thrown around as a negative term a lot.”

He pauses to reflect deeply. “There were jokes I made that were completely inappropriate, which I wish I could take back. It’s part of cultural conditioning. It’s something we, as a society, need to change.” Hardy then beams, proud that his hometown of Sherborne just held its first-ever gay pride event. “C’mon baby!” he cheers, fist-pumping the air.

Hardy is immensely proud of Unicorns, calling it his “most creatively rewarding experience” to date. This pride is apparent when discussing his previous work, such as his Hollywood debut under Bryan Singer in both X-Men and Bohemian Rhapsody. Notably, Singer was dismissed from Bohemian Rhapsody due to “unreliable behavior” just three weeks before filming ended. Dexter Fletcher stepped in to complete the movie. Reports claimed Singer would often disappear from the set for days. Singer defended himself by stating 20th Century Fox denied him time off for personal health reasons.

Over the years, Singer has faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, which he vehemently denies. Several X-Men actors, including Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, and Alan Cumming, have publicly talked about the turmoil Singer created on set. However, Hardy’s experience was different. “Bryan’s behavior wasn’t acceptable,” Hardy admits, “but I didn’t know that.” He recalls, “X-Men was a smoothly running ship for me. I had a small part, and most of my action scenes didn’t involve Bryan. Often, he wasn’t there anyway.”

Things changed with Bohemian Rhapsody. “On the first day, Bryan’s behavior shocked everyone. I, naïvely, thought, ‘Isn’t this just how it works?’ It was an education. Looking back, I realize it was unacceptable.” Does he mean trauma bonding? “Yeah, exactly.” He adds, “Actors are conditioned to be grateful for any opportunity, regardless of the harm. With 92% of actors unemployed, there’s this notion of, ‘Don’t complain; you’re lucky to be here.’” Would he work with Singer again? “No, I wouldn’t,” he asserts. “I’m grateful to Bryan for giving me a chance, but his work ethic doesn’t align with my values.”

Hardy has felt this conflict about his work more than once. In 2012, he played the young lover of Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss, a David Hare play requiring full-frontal nudity. “I didn’t want to do it,” he admits, “but as a hungry young actor, the opportunity was too good to pass.” After performing the role, he found it liberating. “Now, I’m comfortable with my body. Nude scenes now feel like I’m just going for a swim in Brighton.”

Despite his success, Hardy still feels lonely between jobs. “I crave a work family,” he confides. “There are times when I’m not getting a job I want, and I think, ‘If I were still in EastEnders…’” He trails off.

Ideally, Hardy dreams of gathering his friends and family in a small seaside village. “We’d live in one village by the sea, with temperatures around 24 to 26 degrees Celsius,” he imagines, evoking a scene reminiscent of Albert Square, minus the weather.

‘Unicorns’ is now in cinemas

Source: The Independent