The actor tells PEOPLE he and costar Jennifer Lopez bonded over their "humble beginnings" and their shared athleticism
The Power actor stars alongside Lopez in the The Mother, a brutal action movie about how far a mom will go to protect her child that attracted major viewership on Netflix during its Mother's Day weekend debut. The film, from director Niki Caro (Mulan), accounted for the biggest movie premiere for the streaming service so far this year and was No. 1 in 84 countries.
Hardwick — who plays Agent William Cruise, Lopez's potential love interest and companion to help stop the bad guys — tells PEOPLE he and Lopez bonded on their similarities, from their backgrounds to their indisputable athleticism.
"In rehearsals, Jen and I really started to feel how in many ways similar we were and highly focused, very much athletes, she being from the dancer side but definitely a freaking athlete, and I come from sports," says Hardwick, 49. "So it was a love language, if you will, that was built on coming from humble beginnings, knowing that nothing in life is going to be necessarily granted to you, if not at all granted or given to you."
Lopez, of course, is famously "Jenny from the Block" and grew up in New York City's Bronx borough before hitting it big with music and acting. Hardwick, meanwhile, was raised outside Atlanta in Decatur, Georgia. He went on to play college football before living out of his car, at one point, as he fought to make his acting dreams come true.
"We came at each other from that place of non-entitlement and non-expectancy," he adds. "It's easier said for me to be in that motion than it is for her; she's been a giant for a long time in terms of the machine and the star she is."
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Hardwick says it was "nice" for Lopez, 53, to be his "introduction to this next graduation of star that my career will experience."
"She was a perfect humble force of a woman to be around," he says, adding that "sometimes we would just grab each other's hands and ground each other and make sure that each other felt each other's presence before the camera rolled again, which is super cool."
The actor says he counts Lopez as a friend now after making the globe-trotting action movie with her. What surprised him most about working with the superstar, who was also a producer on the film?
"I think I thought the phone would've been in a hand a lot," he admits. "Being a machine, you can't get to where she got without delegation. ... I thought it was super dope and maybe a bit surprising that she was so down in when we were ready to work and when the cameras were being set up and before action she was already there. That was really nice to see."
The Mother is now streaming on Netflix.
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