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How Tom Hardy became Capone for his latest film - Exclusive

You might've seen Al Capone in a movie before, but you've never seen him quite like this.

In Josh Trank's Capone, Tom Hardy plays an older version of the notorious criminal, one whose mind has been ravaged by a 25-year case of syphilis. This isn't the fearsome gangster you might remember. Hardy's Capone flits in and out of reality, making it difficult to tell what's true and what's not. He slurs his words, launches into impromptu sing-alongs, mumbles, and soils himself regularly.

It's a bold, absurd, and unabashedly weird performance, and it's the kind of thing only Hardy could pull off. Trank agrees. While the controversial writer-director says he didn't have any particular actor in mind when he wrote Capone, it soon became clear that Hardy was the only man for the job.

"He's the only actor I know of who can command such power while at the same time simultaneously catapult himself into these childish theatrics and these absurd places, and then just walk right back down to earth," Trank tells Looper during an exclusive interview. "I had all those things in my mind. I was just like, 'This would be great for Tom Hardy.'"

Hardy felt the same. Trank says that the Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage star read the script in a day, and called the director the next: "We were on the phone for upwards of six hours. It was an entire day long conversation. We hit it off instantly." In Hardy, Trank found a kindred spirit. "Great guy. So sweet. So interesting and smart. Just intellectual, and artistic, and philosophical," Trank says of Hardy. "I love to think about making art in the way that Tom loves to think about it."

Capone's take on its titular character largely came from the script, Trank explains, but the director and actor did spend a fair amount of time discussing the role and hashing out the specifics. "I was flown out to London to spend a week and a half hanging with [Hardy]. And right away, we got into the sort of playful mode of walking around, talking about the scenes," shares Trank. "It was a very organic molding of this character."

Some makeup tests followed, and then, a year and a half later, cameras started rolling on Capone. The rest? Well, you can see that for yourself.

How Tom Hardy came up with Capone's unique voice

Tom Hardy is known for giving his characters bizarre, hard-to-understand accents, and his turn in Capone is no exception. Throughout the film, Capone speaks in a low, raspy voice that sounds kind of like a very, very drunk Donald Duck.

It's impossible to tell how accurate the impersonation is. As Trank notes, no vocal recordings of the actual Capone's voice survive, meaning the filmmaker and the actor had to improvise. He tells Looper, "Instead, I tried to look for what recordings exist of somebody who is from that neighborhood, born around the same time."

"I landed on Jimmy Durante. The funny singer, with the funny voice, and the big nose," Trank continues. Yes, that's kind of a surprising choice. While Al Capone was the ruthless leader of a sprawling criminal syndicate, Durante was a vaudeville and Broadway star known for novelty songs like "Inka Dinka Doo" and comedic appearances in movies and, later, television shows.

There's a method to Trank and Hardy's madness, though. Like Capone, Durante was "was Italian, he's from Park Slope, Brooklyn, and was pretty much born within five years of when Al Capone was born," Trank says. Thus, "that was a guide for what the accent would actually sound like." (Capone is usually associated with Chicago, but he was actually born and raised in Brooklyn — he only moved west when asked by his boss, Johnny "The Fox" Torrio.)

Obviously, Durante was only a starting point, and Trank and Hardy worked together to make sure that Capone's voice stood alone. "It was very much a collaboration that started with the character in the script, and then just naturally took on a life of its own when the cameras were rolling," Trank says. Still, whatever you think of the results, you can't deny that their work paid off. Hardy's Capone is a one-of-a-kind character, and not one you're likely to forget any time soon.

Capone, which is distributed by Vertical Entertainment, is available to stream on all major video-on-demand services.