Child 44: Tom Hardy Stars in Cold War Thriller

A period thriller about power, love, betrayal and murder, Child 44 is loosely based on the crimes of real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, aka “The Butcher of Rostov.” Chikatilo was convicted of murdering and mutilating 52 women and children in Soviet Russia in the early 1950s.

Novelist Tom Rob Smith’s fictionalized version of the grisly case met with resounding critical and popular acclaim upon publication in 1998. Winner of the Crime Writers Association’s CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award, and translated into 26 languages, Child 44 became the first in a trilogy that includes The Secret Speech and Agent 6.

“The great thing about detective stories and police investigations is they soak up a lot of the society in which they take place,” Smith says. “If you want to understand a world, take a look at the way the police work in that country.”

From Page to Screen

Excited by Child 44’s rich characterizations and epic scope, producer Ridley Scott arranged nine years ago to meet the novelist at his London headquarters. “It was slightly surreal,” recalls Smith. “I’d gone from having this project I thought might not even get published to talking to Ridley Scott in his office sitting next to a Gladiator sword and a prop from Alien. Ridley was full of incredible ideas for the project.”

Scott initially intended to direct Child 44 himself. Then he saw Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s 2010 crime thriller Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money). The highest-grossing movie in Swedish history, Snabba Cash showcased Espinosa’s inventively staged action sequences and stylish editing.

“Ridley liked the movie and invited me dinner,” recalls Espinosa. “Just getting a chance to sit down and talk about movies with a master filmmaker like Ridley Scott was a great thrill. Then we started talking about Child 44, which I had already read. I gave him my thoughts and Ridley asked if I wanted to direct the movie with him producing. That was a very cool moment for me.”

Once Espinosa signed on to direct, he recruited Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Price (The Color of MoneyThe Wanderers). While the specifics are rooted in a particular time and place, the story resonates as a universal commentary about the way totalitarian states in general can crush the human spirit. “In all my films, I like to look at characters who are undergoing some kind of transformation,” says Espinosa, who made his first Hollywood movie, the Denzel Washington blockbuster Safe House, before Child 44. “For me, the story of Child 44 is about a man who loses his illusions. The question then becomes: How does he keep going after everything he’s believed in, even his marriage, turns out to be based on lies?”

In Child 44, Espinosa blends visceral action sequences with psychologically nuanced character arcs against a rich historic tapestry. “Of course I love the high energy action aspects of the story but I also wanted to make this about the characters,” says Espinosa. “We wanted to explore the power dynamic between Leo and Raisa. For me, the story raises questions about trust, about what it means to love somebody in a society where everyone’s afraid to let down their guard.”

Tom Hardy: Unlikely Hero

To anchor an adventure of such grand historical scope, the filmmakers needed an actor capable of handling the script’s demanding emotional and physical range, from quiet dramatic moments to brutal action sequences. They also needed someone who could subtly express the protagonist’s inner conflicts as he struggles to find his humanity in an inhuman situation.

They found their Leo Demidov in British actor Tom Hardy. Regarded as one of the most charismatic talents of his generation, Hardy impressed moviegoers as a violent convict in Bronson, then broke through to a global audience with his portrayal of the evil Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

More recently Hardy earned both critical and popular acclaim for his role as a Brooklyn bartender with a dark secret in The Drop.

“I’ve been an admirer of Tom Hardy’s work for many years,” says Espinosa. “He’s one of those enormously talented and committed actors who becomes so subsumed into whatever role he plays that you forget it’s him and only see the character on the screen. I was thrilled when he agreed to play Leo, not just because he’s one of the most in-demand actors right now, but because I knew he would bring an intensity and honesty to the role that would propel the whole film.”

Hardy says he was attracted to the project by the moral complexity of his character—and the script as a whole: “I responded to the story. But at the same time I also really responded to the team making it. I had worked with Lionsgate with Warrior and had a great experience; I enjoyed that movie immensely,” Hardy explains.

“As for the story, Child 44 had a lot of action, but it’s also period drama – familiar, yet exciting territory for me, with a character-led naturalism to the whole.”

During production on Child 44, Hardy burnished his reputation for meticulous preparation and intense performance. “Tom came in the first day with a very clear idea of who Leo was,” says Espinosa. “He manages, with the subtlest expressions, to convey the inner emotions and uncertainty of a man who has been trained his whole life to avoid showing emotion or uncertainty, and who lives in a society where honesty can get you killed. And he does it all with a great Russian accent.”

Hardy was thrilled to reunite with his The Drop co-star Noomi Rapace, who plays his wife Raisa in this film. “Noomi is somebody who will find a project and then work her ass off to make it happen. And then once she’s on set, she will work 110% to bring it to life… She’s one of the finest actors I’ve ever met. If Noomi comes with a project, there’s no way I won’t look at it and take it seriously because I know that she loves the work as much as I do. She facilitated and created a relationship with Daniel Espinosa for Child 44 and then pushed and pushed and pushed to see it come to fruition. ”

“It’s a rich narrative,” Hardy continues. “You have a man who works for the MGB who was a war hero, a man who started out as an orphan and became the poster boy of Stalin’s Russia – and ultimately the poster boy for communism itself – who then finds that it’s failed him. He is forced to deny the murder of his best friend’s son and then face up to the fact that the woman who he’s deeply in love with (Noomi Rapace’s Raisa) doesn’t love him. That he’s seen as a monster by those that he cares about, and yet he can’t really do anything about it in the political environment that he not only lives in but that he represents the vanguard of as a member of the secret police.”