PHOTOS: Rosie Matheson
TALENT: Ben Hardy
VIDEOGRAPHY: Rodney Rico
STYLING: Emily Tighe
GROOMING: Nathalie Eleni at Adrenalin Photographic
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: Flossie Hughes
STYLIST ASSISTANTS: OLIVIA RODNEY & Alfred Humphries
LOCATION: The Portobello Hotel
INTERVIEW: Gwilym Lee
PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: CLD Communications & DDA PR
This feature is taken from Grumpy Magazine’s ISSUE NO.17, available soon in digital and print worldwide
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Even though Ben Hardy is one of British’s talented and charismatic established actors, he doesn’t take his accomplishments for granted. Since graduating from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, the actor from Dorset has spent years crafting his resume with a carefully chosen collection of varied roles. He started his career on stage in two West End plays, before making a major impression in the long-running BBC soap opera EastEnders, and eventually taking on Hollywood. Ambitious, soft-spoken and polite, Ben Hardy seems as though he is constantly focused on looking ahead and reaching new levels of fulfillment.
Ben Hardy and Gwilym Lee may have been fellow band members in the 2018 award-winning Queen biopic, but their friendship went beyond the big screen. Ben sat down with his former co-star to break down his first steps in the acting industry and his variety of performances through the years, including his work on EastEnders, X-Men: Apocalypse and Bohemian Rhapsody. His next project, The Girl Before, a four-part series which premiered on BBC One and will land on HBO Max next year, inspired the actor to take on new challenges. For Gwilym, his friend hadn’t been as passionate about a job in a long time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Check out some extracts below.
On meeting each other back in 2017…
GWILYM LEE: Hi Ben! Thanks for asking me to do this. I’m very honored that you chose me. I know some friends of ours that would be quite upset that you didn’t choose them
BEN HARDY: Hi Gwil! Perhaps, but you were the first person I thought of.
GL: Bless you. So, we first met in 2017 when we were about to start filming Bohemian Rhapsody. We’ve remained good friends since then, and I’m very excited at the prospect of this interview because often when we have conversations, you’re very charming and disarming. I’d be asking you lots of questions and you would say, “Enough about me, what about you?” You always deflect so I hope you are prepared for going deep today.
BH: It’s probably easier to ask questions and receive information, you’re less exposed.
GL: You’re a very good listener and attentive. I’m always impressed [because] not only do you listen, you remember stuff. It’s one of your greatest qualities.
BH: That’s very kind of you. I think I do it because once someone told me, “You never listen, man.” It was actually an older actor in a play I was doing.
GL: Because I’m taking this very seriously, I made notes. Let’s start with the most important question I think people really want to know. What was your first impression of me when I walked into that room back in 2017?
BH: I was expecting a Welsh man, based upon the name. The accent wasn’t what I expected.
GL: Do you want to explain that little insult to the readers?
BH: Gwil is Welsh but was raised in Sutton Coldfield, in Birmingham. So, he has a very, very, very subtle accent, but let’s face it, largely just RP.
GL: What you’re trying to say is that I’m a phony plastic Welsh man, right?
BH: Yes, basically.
On growing up in Dorset and first steps in acting…
GL: Tell me all about your childhood.
BH: I grew up in Dorset [where] there was very little knowledge of how to get into the acting industry, and I didn’t know what drama school was [until] I started doing amateur dramatics when I was 15. The first thing I did was West Side Story, I played Riff. Before that, I thought I was going to be a rugby legend.
GL: You wouldn’t have stood a chance, mate. Because I was quite a successful rugby player in my days, we’ve talked before about who would have won a contest on the pitch. Why did you pick drama? Why wasn’t it another hobby?
BH: I had broken my leg playing rugby, so I had a lot more time on my hands, that’s when I got into [acting]. There was also the fact that I was the only teenager and there was attractive girls at the drama club. But then, I’ve always been obsessive, almost too obsessive. We were doing the school play where I thought I was a method actor — my teacher was trying to talk to me, and I was like, “Ben isn’t my name!” [Laughs] I think at that age, you’re still figuring yourself out. If you like a certain identity, you’re going to try and play that identity.
On leaving EastEnders and always looking for the next thing…
GL: There could be some snobbery around soap operas and soap actors, but you managed to break that barrier and take on Hollywood. You conquered Hollywood.
BH: I wish I conquered Hollywood, but I was aware that there would be a stigma attached to being in EastEnders in the UK. I already had a US agent before I left EastEnders, so I was auditioning for a lot of US projects. I was never expecting in a million years that [X-Men] would have been my first job coming out of EastEnders. I was absolutely over the moon and still to this day, I’m a big fan of comic book franchises.
GL: You had quite an ambitious vision. You were in EastEnders and you felt yourself possibly getting a little bit stagnant, and then you thought, “Right I’m going to get an American agent.” Has that evolved through your career and even as a kid? Were you like, “I want to do big Hollywood blockbuster movies and I know that I can do it”?
BH: I don’t know if I had that level of confidence. I think coming out of drama school, I probably did EastEnders [because when] you get offered a job, you take it. I was definitely ambitious, but I don’t think I really knew what to expect or what I was going to get. I think my expectations were surprised quite a few times. But I do find whenever you achieve one goal, you’re happy for a moment, but then, what’s next?
On The Girl Before…
GL: I really want to know about The Girl Before. I was chatting to you while you were filming it, and we played a lot of tennis during the time you were filming it. […] You were very excited about it. I saw you animated about your work, I haven’t seen you like that in a long time. Tell us about it.
BH: Absolutely. It’s a psychological thriller based on a New York Times bestseller by J.P. Delaney that was released in 2017. It’s set across two timelines, we’re coming into the story with a woman called Jane [Gugu Mbatha-Raw] moving into this absolutely opulent, minimalist house. But you have to play by certain rules [to live in this] — you have to fill out a questionnaire, you can only bring one bag with you… Whilst [Jane] is there, she learns fairly early on that the previous tenant actually died in her house three years ago, and then, we, as an audience, go into finding out what happened through Jane’s eyes.
GL: I get the impression that there is a lot of spoilers that you can’t really reveal here.
BH: It was very vague but that’s the best I can offer.
GL: What was it like for you playing that character?
BH: It was really interesting. My character [Simon] is obsessed with his girlfriend — the girl before who died three years ago — that was a kind of obsessive, toxic love. She’s his everything and she kind of validates his very existence. He pretends to play an alpha male, within his own relationship, with his friends, but especially with his partner. Even though it seems like he’s a beta, he can’t really accept that.
THE GIRL BEFORE IS NOW STREAMING ON BBC IPLAYER AND COMING TO HBO MAX NEXT YEAR
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