Tom Hardy is now a martial arts champion. The 45-year-old actor quietly entered the 2022 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open Championships in Milton Keynes this Saturday, beat all of his opponents and returned home victorious. Better yet, one of his competitors told the media that Hardy was “probably one of the toughest competitors I’ve had”.
This, make no mistake, is how you do it. Hardy’s jiu-jitsu debut is absolutely note perfect. Think of all the ways that this could have gone wrong. Hardy could have tried to monetise his hobby, by making a BBC Three documentary series called Tom Hardy: My Fighting Journey. He could have hyped the competition on social media, flooding the venue with fans and making the entire tournament all about him. He could have sought out sponsorship, and arrived in a gi daubed in logos for Coca-Cola or Chicken Tonight.
But no. He just quietly turned up to a secondary school sports hall on a Saturday morning, without drawing any unnecessary attention to himself, and went about kicking everyone’s butt into smithereens. And this, you suspect, is what will endear Hardy to people more than anything else. It isn’t necessarily that he won, although the fact that he did will only help to shore up his hard-man credentials, but the sheer mundanity of the event. This is Bane we’re talking about. It’s Venom. Hardy has flown in Spitfires for Christopher Nolan, yet here he is, going all the way to Milton Keynes just to win a certificate.
The same thing goes for Brad Pitt who, without drawing any attention to himself, unveiled a new side career as a sculptor this week. Again, he could have done this with a documentary, or a starry exhibition in the heart of Hollywood. And yet he instead chose to off-handedly make his debut in a Finnish art gallery, 110 miles north of Helsinki. And, like Hardy, he seems to be very accomplished at what he does, with Jonathan Jones calling him “an extremely impressive artist”.
What’s so refreshing is that, in a world where every celebrity imaginable is desperate to hurl their interests into a Goop-style megabrand, Hardy and Pitt appear to be doing this purely for the love of it. They have taken themselves away and focused on getting very good at something you might not have expected from them.
Smartly, they’ve both chosen something relatively career-adjacent to focus on, relying on either physical prowess or creative expression. This is important because, when stars diversify too far from their brands, they may never fully recover. It’s hard to square 1970s sex god Rod Stewart with the model railway enthusiast he has become, for example, and it takes quite a lot of mental aerobics to deal with the fact that Mike Tyson is also a secret pigeon fancier.
The potential for ridicule is always there, in short. Actor Jim Broadbent, for example, possibly regrets his decision to take his hobby public in 2015. This is because his hobby involves crudely carving life-sized human beings out of wood, then dressing them and putting them in wigs. Individually, the statues are all rather distinct and impressive. But when he posed in front of them all for a photoshoot, it did look a little like every bad dream you’ve ever had come harrowingly to life.
But this is still better than the alternative, which would be to embark on a hobby too noisily, as a means to an end. You see stars do this all the time, and it’s almost as if the hobby has been chosen arbitrarily, purely for its return on investment. Anyone can slap their name on a product for money, and the floods of celebrity alcohol brands and book clubs and beauty products on the market seem to suggest that most people do.
Interestingly, both Pitt and Hardy have been burned by this before. In 2013 Tom Hardy made a documentary – Poaching Wars – that was apparently motivated by his love of animals, but lacked any real authority, and Brad Pitt was recently sued after his noisy post-Katrina “I’m an architect now!” proclamation resulted in New Orleans residents living in defective homes.
So maybe this is the best way forward. If you’re a celebrity with an interest, then keep it as quiet as you can. Show your work in deepest Finland. Go to sports halls in Milton Keynes. If Brad Pitt and Tom Hardy are any indication, this is the best possible way to stay popular.