I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Around the time the 2012 Prohibition-era crime drama Lawless was being filmed, a peculiarly unsettling whisper floated to me upon the smoggy internet air. Rumor had it that Shia LaBeouf not only fist-fought Tom Hardy on the movie’s set — he stone-cold knocked him unconscious.
Ninety percent of this felt entirely plausible. Two actors with storied, loose-cannon mythologies plus a set full of moonshine were ideal conditions for some howling, Category 5 male bullshit. And yet, here are some things I also know to be true: 2012 was the same year, nay, the same summer, when the already-imposing Hardy bulked up nearly to the point of hyperbole to play Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. And there is not a single law of physics in our sweet, cuckoo world that supports a reality wherein the kid from Holes knocks Bane on his ass.
I soothed myself with the balm of reason: This was surely some case of Hollywood publicists stirring the junket pot for headlines. So I waited. And yet the clear logic of “absolutely not, we all have eyes” was steadily pasted over with scraps of anecdotal evidence, as the film’s director and even Hardy himself seemed to confirm that yes, the kid from Even Stevens cold-cocked Mad Max. In one interview, Hardy even described their encounter in detail: “I got knocked out by Shia LaBeouf,” he said. “Out cold. He’s a bad, bad boy. He is. He’s quite intimidating as well. He’s a scary dude.” It’s worth noting that even the assembled press and publicists found this notion so ridiculous, they burst into laughter. It’s also worth noting that no one recanted, even as the better part of a decade dripped away.
Instead, everyone seemingly just agreed to agree that it happened. That seemed crazy to me, like how one would feel if the whole world suddenly agreed that Cats was a super good movie best viewed sober.
I processed my grief in my version of the traditional stages: denial, anger, rewatching Tom Hardy in Peaky Blinders, and rewatching Tom Hardy in The Revenant (for which he earned an Oscar nod for playing John Fitzgerald, but honestly would have been even more believable as the bear). But no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get to the final stage: acceptance. Because we aren’t talking about two rando actors engaging in fisticuffs. We are talking about Tom Hardy, a human dire wolf held together with ill-advised tattoos, grunts and an inordinate volume of trapezius muscle, being knocked unconscious by Shia LaBeouf, a man who … once sat in a theater for 24 hours straight as performance art?
The world moved on. To the naked eye, I did too, starting a family, furthering my career, attending dinner parties … and leaving said dinner parties early to watch Tom Hardy movies in my sweatpants. But inside, the legend of the punch haunted me. If this could be true, what else could be true? Was reality a construct? Were muscles just pretty lies? How drunk, on moonshine or otherwise, does a person have to be to look at Tom Hardy and think “hitting this person in their face seems like a good strategic move”? For seven years, I had endless questions and no answers. It’s fair to say I thought about this at least once a day for seven years. You know, like a very normal person would.
Then, last September, I awoke to find a little gift from my “Shia LaBeouf Tom Hardy fistfight” Google Alert. In an appearance on Hot Ones, the glorious talk show dedicated to celebrity interviews over spicy chicken wings, Shia admitted that Tom had spread the story for laughs after the pair naked-wrestled for giggles. “For the rest of shoot, he told everybody I knocked him out,” he said, “but that wasn’t the case, we were havin’ some kind of weird, like, cutie wrestlin’ match.” A “cutie wrestlin’ match”? Would Bronson and Indiana Jones’s tween sidekick throw their career reputations and on-set insurability cautions to the wind for the sake of a nude grapple just for kicks? The answer is, of course, 110 percent yes.
It still doesn’t explain why the director and others confirmed an on-set altercation that never happened, or why the actors felt fans would find a fistfight more entertaining than impromptu, nude Wrestlemania. But for me, it was enough. I could finally rest. And by rest, I mean cancel plans, stay in and watch Tom knock out anyone who tries it in Venom.