Tom Hardy's Pudding, Chinese Food For Thought and Other Wisdom From the This Means War Team

It started with the pudding. Oh, not just any pudding: A perfect pool of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate-hazelnut goodness -- a confection so rich, so irresistible, that even Tom Hardy found himself drawn like a moth to a flame to the dessert table before the press conference for This Means War the other week in Beverly Hills. He grabbed a saucer and ambled over to a pack of bewildered journalists, offering an ebullient bon mot about The Woman in Black. “I’d have eaten through Daniel Radcliffe to get that part!” he raved, or so the story goes, before setting down his dish and disappearing once more into the back hallways of the Four Seasons.

I’d arrived two minute too late for the Hardy-Pudding Incident, but the room was still abuzz over the moment. So rarely does the talent walk among the press at these things that when they do -- especially when as scruffy-faced and so very normal looking as Hardy was that day, clad not in couture but in a military-style This Means War jacket – it can be strangely jarring.

Ditto when the film at hand is a Hollywood joint as slick and persona-driven as This Means War, the success of which will depend in great part on how many people out there want to see Reese Witherspoon wrestle with the tough choice of making out with the beautiful, manly Hardy or making out with the beautiful, manly Chris Pine. Decisions, decisions.

Given the nature of This Means War as an early-year studio rom-com, it was a curious thing to see how personality played out in the flesh with director McG and stars Hardy, Witherspoon, and Chelsea Handler taking questions together. (Pine was absent thanks to Star Trek 2 filming commitments.) Witherspoon proved predictably amiable, gamely answering queries about online dating, marriage, and shooting her co-stars in the junk with a paintball gun – an old pro at offsetting the tedium of junket questions while coming off as perfectly likeable.

McG, ever the showman, commanded the conference with his signature bombast -- for better and for worse. According to him, This Means War was never intended to be a terribly complicated or easily categorized kind of film. “Let's face it, this movie's not about the human condition,” he admitted. “This movie's about, ‘Hey, I can't put it into a box.’ I think that's one achievement of the picture is that you can go, ‘Hey, it is funny, there is some action, the girls are great, the guys are great.’ And it's not just like this or just like that. And if we're successful in doing that, we're certainly done what we set out to do.”

Uh, sure.

Over in the corner, meanwhile, Hardy hunched over his mic and avoided giving the usual run of the mill sound bites. Does Hardy ever have conflicts with friends? “I don't have any friends… I have a dog and a son. A dog couldn't do anything to upset me, you know, and neither could my son.” What does he think of social media? “I think online dating is a way of procuring people, you know what I mean? Like Facebook, Myspace. It's a way that people [use] to connect out. And procure small children and sometimes you know, dodgy relationships.”

If we’re talking big personalities in This Means War and its junket that day at the Four Seasons, though, Handler took the cake. Playing Witherspoon’s married best friend and confidante, the talk show host/author/comedienne runs away with the film’s funniest lines; word has it McG battled the ratings board over Handler’s risqué ad libs just to get it down to a PG-13 rating, but more than a few gems made it through. Handler, of course, reveled in her reputation for controversy-making. The self-described “horrible influence on everyone” described the real life reversal of her off-screen friendship with Witherspoon. “It's kind of the opposite. Because in real life, she has children, she's a mother and she's married. And I'm single, so it was kind of fun playing opposite roles. [Pause] I'm single and I sleep with a lot of men, so it's perfect.”

This Means War is pretty much exclusively composed of sexy fun and spy games, and its central actors are charismatic all, but something about it still nagged me. I asked McG to explain why his cast noticeably lacks diversity – all four leads (Pine, Hardy, Witherspoon, Handler) are Caucasian with blue eyes, while throwaway roles go to a few supporting actors, including Angela Bassett as a one-note police captain.

He answered by pointing to his own 2000 film, Charlie’s Angels.

“Listen, that's a huge concern for me,” he replied. “And I can answer that in good faith because I put Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels. I don't like lily-white movies with lily-white people bouncing around, but you’ve also just got to do what you got to do.”

McG continued. “In the spirit of Benetton [Rainbow Complex], you know, the most empowered character in the film is indeed a black woman. I enjoy that the most powerful person in Hollywood is indeed a black woman – Oprah Winfrey. And I'm hoping to just transcend beyond that. I love ethnic diversity all over the place, but I just felt like Chelsea was the right one. I had a singular vision for Tom Hardy, I chased him all the way over to London. And you're right, because I'm doing the color correction and I'm like, Jesus, everybody's eyes are popping off the screen, these interior-lit blue mongrels. And it's a bit of a concern, but you just got to do what's right.”

Without skipping a beat, Handler glanced in my direction and chimed in: “But we ate Chinese food throughout the whole filming.”

We ate Chinese food throughout the whole filming.” Immediately I wondered if she’d cracked the joke because of me — and if so, was I even offended by it? … Should I be? In the end I decided that I’d actually have more respect for Handler if she had intended to make a racial joke, in front of dozens of journalists, just to get a quip in; that’s the same kind of inappropriate quick-thinking that makes This Means War even remotely watchable, and the kind of boundary-smashing ballsiness that made me LOL at her E! talk show in the first place. If anything, I’m more offended by McG’s lazy excuse for making This Means War so “lily-white” while clinging to a progressive bit of casting he dared to pull off, once, over a decade ago.

So it’s more than a “bit of a concern,” all right. And needless to say, Hollywood’s glaring issue of ethnic underrepresentation is not going to be solved here, with an explosion-filled rom-com like This Means War, and maybe-accidental, probably-on purpose jokes in poor taste blurted out in moments of impromptu press conference stand-up. At least we'll always have pudding.

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