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'Locke' casts Tom Hardy in ordinary role, but shooting was extraordinary

Director Steven Knight poses in Toronto while promoting his new film

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Director Steven Knight poses in Toronto while promoting his new film "Locke" on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

TORONTO - As writer and director of the new thriller "Locke," Steven Knight says he wanted to "break most of the rules of filmmaking."

Well, it was star Tom Hardy who was sentenced to solitary confinement. Portraying a resolvedly banal family man — bearded and be-sweatered — hitting the highway to face the consequences of his life's one major mistake, Hardy spends the film's entire 85-minute running time behind the wheel of a BMW as an array of disappointed dependents (employers, employees, his spouse and kids) chatter away on his hands-free phone. Only Hardy ever appears onscreen.

Wedging a quickie shoot into Hardy's movie-star schedule wasn't easy. The cast and crew spent five days rehearsing, then shot the film in six days. Over each of those half-dozen nights, Hardy would sit in a car mounted to the back of a trailer with his director and perform the film from beginning to end, with his co-stars contributing their vocal takes from a nearby hotel through a phone line directly connected to the car.

Most nights, they would finish the piece, take a short break and then perform the film from start to finish a second time.

For Knight, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "Eastern Promises" and "Dirty Pretty Things," the process was less stressful than "exhilarating."

"Because no matter what the hardship, you know it's all over soon," said Knight in a recent promotional visit to Toronto. "Everyone knows, so everyone brings everything to every hour of the night or day. Because you can collapse at the end of it, and you don't have those lulls and sags and irritations that you get along the shoot.

"You just buzz with excitement the entire time," he added. "(It means) not much sleep, but you sort of don't care. Because you just want to do the next thing."

He can rest easy now that the reviews have rolled in.

Though "Locke" opens Friday in Canada, it's already opened in other markets to near-universal acclaim. Variety termed the film an "exceptional one-man show," the Hollywood Reporter trumpeted its "virtuoso narrative," and Rolling Stone declared it a "powerhouse of claustrophobic suspense and fierce emotion."

The resoundingly positive reviews were a great relief to Knight, who acknowledged that "man sits in car for 90 minutes" isn't necessarily a log line likely to send frenzied viewers to the cinema.

"It lived or died by the responses, really — by word of mouth," said Knight, who also directed Jason Statham in "Redemption."

"Because it is a different experience."

Of course, it helps that the one man in the one-man show is the chameleonic, handsome Hardy, who has assembled quite the following through a series of buzzy roles in films including "Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Warrior."

Knight wrote the role specifically for the 36-year-old actor after a chance meeting regarding a different film. Portraying an emotionally repressed construction manager (whose specialty, concrete, was chosen specifically for its banality) might seem more of a stretch for Hardy than the showier roles on his resume, including most famously the mush-mouthed terror Bane in the last Batman film. But he brings a taut intensity and sad-eyed sensitivity to the role.

For what it's worth, Knight never doubted that Hardy was the right fit to drive his unorthodox film.

"I knew it was going to be one person on the screen for 90 minutes. If you're going to do that, you've gotta make sure it's somebody good, and I think Tom Hardy is the best we have," Knight said.

"He's just so great at becoming people. But he said himself, this is his first straight role — because he's not becoming a monster or madman. He's becoming a very ordinary man.

"But he absolutely nails it perfectly."

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