Tom Hardy, Brad Pitt and the quiet art of the successful celebrity side career | Film industry

Jom Hardy is now a martial arts champion. The 45-year-old actor quietly signed up for the 2022 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open Championships in Milton Keynes this Saturday, beat all his opponents and returned home victorious. Even better, one of his contestants told the media that Hardy was “probably one of the toughest contestants I’ve had.”

This, make no mistake, this is how you do it. Hardy’s debut in jiu-jitsu is absolutely perfect. Think of all the ways it could have gone wrong. Hardy could have tried to monetize his hobby by directing a BBC Three documentary series called Tom Hardy: My Fighting Journey. He could have been promoting the competition on social media, flooding the room with fans and making the whole tournament all about him. He could have sought sponsorship and arrived in a gi smeared with logos for Coca-Cola or Chicken Tonight.

But no. He quietly showed up at a high school gym on a Saturday morning, without drawing unnecessary attention to himself, and proceeded to kick everyone’s ass to bits. And this, you can imagine, is what will endear people to Hardy more than anything else. It’s not necessarily that he won, although the fact that he did will only reinforce his tough man credentials, but the sheer banality of the event. This is Bane we’re talking about. It’s Venom. Hardy flew in Spitfires for Christopher Nolan, but here he is, driving all the way to Milton Keynes just to earn a certificate.

Brad Pitt with Thomas Houseago and Nick Cave at the opening of their exhibition in Finland. Photography: Jussi Koivunen/Sara Hilden Art Museum/AFP/Getty Images

The same goes for Brad Pitt who, without being noticed, this week unveiled a new parallel career as a sculptor. Again, he could have done it with a documentary, or a star-studded show in the heart of Hollywood. And yet he chose instead to make his casual 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 “a hugely impressive performer”.

What’s so refreshing is that, in a world where every celebrity imaginable is desperate to splurge on a Goop-style megabrand, Hardy and Pitt seem to be doing it purely out of love. They walked away and focused on getting really good at something you might not have expected of them.

Cleverly, they both chose something relatively close to their careers to focus on, relying either on physical prowess or creative expression. This is important because when stars branch out too far from their brands, they may never fully recover. It’s hard to reconcile the sex god of the 1970s, Rod Stewart, with the model train enthusiast he has become, for example, and it takes a lot of mental aerobics to cope with the fact that Mike Tyson is also a secret fancier.

The potential for ridicule is still there, in short. Actor Jim Broadbent, for example, may regret his decision to go public with his hobby in 2015. Indeed, his hobby involves roughly carving life-size human beings out of wood, then dressing them and to put wigs on them. Individually, the statues are all rather distinct and impressive. But when he posed in front of them all for a photo op, it kinda sounded like all the bad dreams you’ve ever had.

Clooney at the 2015 launch of Cindy Crawford's book, Becoming, and her tequila Casamigos.
Clooney at the 2015 launch of Cindy Crawford’s book, Becoming, and her tequila Casamigos. Photography: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

But it’s still better than the alternative of jumping into a hobby too loudly as a means to an end. You see stars doing it all the time, and it’s almost as if the hobby was chosen arbitrarily, purely for its return on investment. Anyone can put their name on a product for money, and the floods of famous liquor brands, book clubs and beauty products on the market seem to suggest that most people do.

Interestingly, Pitt and Hardy have already been burned by this. In 2013, Tom Hardy made a documentary – Poaching Wars – which was apparently driven by his love of animals but lacked any real authority, and Brad Pitt was recently sued over his raucous post-Katrina “I’m an Architect now!” the proclamation led to residents of New Orleans living in defective homes.

So maybe that’s the best way to go. If you’re a celebrity with an interest, then keep it as quiet as possible. Show your work deep in Finland. Go to the gyms in Milton Keynes. If Brad Pitt and Tom Hardy are any indication, this is the best way to stay popular.

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