Tom Hardy may look tough on the cover of Esquire, but don't let his buff shirtless body fool you: he's got insecurities just like everyone else. "I have always been frightened with men," he says in the May 2014 issue, "to the point where I couldn't go into a gym because of the testosterone and I felt weak."
Seriously? "I don't feel very manly," the 36-year-old action star insists. "I don't feel rugged and strong and capable in real life, not how I imagine a man ought to be. So I seek it, to mimic it and maybe understand it, or maybe to draw it into my own reality. People who are scary, they terrify me, but I can imitate them. I'm not a fighter. I'm a petite little bourgeois boy from London. I don't fight, I mimic."
And yet, the Locke star looks like a natural on the big screen. What's Hardy's secret?
"There are two types of acting: there's convincing and not convincing. That's it, right? If you are going to convince people, then put it in the real world," he says. "Can you get your passport back? If you needed to get your passport back to get out of a country that you were in danger in, can you do that? Because you will need that skill. And that's how your character is going to need to be convincing."
Hardy then asks himself two questions. "No. 1: Can you hustle? In the real world, have you got the asset to get whatever it is that you need by any means necessary without putting your hands on somebody?" he asks. "No. 2: camouflage. Can you dress yourself up to look like somebody that you're not? Can you speak another language? Can you do the hustle but in different languages? That's it."
The Brit—known for his roles in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, This Means War and The Dark Knight Rises—also opens up about his past drug and alcohol abuse in the magazine's wide-ranging cover story.
"I was a shameful suburban statistic. I was told very clearly, 'You go down that road, Tom, you won't come back. That's it. All you need to know.' And that message stayed with me very clearly for the rest of my days. The beginning, really, of a new life. I couldn't value life until I risk losing something worth more to me than my behavior. I am f--king lucky to be here, to be honest," the star admits. "Any near-death experience—if you're lucky enough to f--king realize that it is one—is going to leave an indelible mark on you. And then you add shame and guilt and fear into that, it's a recipe for awareness if you have the ability to become aware from it. And good things can come back into your life."