By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It is an understatement to say that actor Tom Hardy's star is rising fast.
Last year, the 33 year-old British actor earned Hollywood credibility as a member of Leonardo DiCaprio's dream traveling posse in "Inception." The film's director, Christopher Nolan, then cast Hardy in one of 2012's most coveted roles: the villain Bane in Batman flick, "The Dark Knight Returns."
On Friday his movie "Warrior," set in the world of mixed martial arts, debuts in U.S. theaters. It was filmed before "Inception" and it catches the actor at a time that will soon be rare -- a time when he was an relative unknown.
The actor plays a former wrestling prodigy-turned-marine who returns to the ring to fight for a $5 million prize, only to be pitted in the ring against his estranged brother played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton.
Hardy gained an additional 30 lbs. of muscle thanks to physical training and lived out a "Rocky"-esque fantasy in scenes where he waded through crowds of cheering fans on his way toward the fighting cage.
As convincing as he may look physically for the role on screen, Hardy harbors no notions that he could actually thrive as a fighter the MMA world.
"I'd get knocked out -- stone cold," said Hardy with certainty. "I'd probably trip on the stairs on my way up to the ring and knock my teeth out. So its a very short-lived moment of 'I can do this!' because I really can't."
Still, that doesn't stop him from taking on roles that might prove otherwise. Hardy put on over 40 lbs. to play the real-life U.K. prisoner Charles Bronson who spent most of his life in solitary confinement in the 2009 film "Bronson." His current weight as Batman rival Bane is 192 lbs. -- the most he's ever weighed.
"I feel heavy," he admitted. "This size is not real. I only feel strong in short stints of times. If I needed to get across the room and throw someone through a door, I could do that, but...as soon as I'm done shooting, I'm dropping the weight."
CAREER TWISTS AND TURNS
His role in "Dark Knight Returns" is a gig that landed on Hardy's plate unexpectedly. While in Canada shooting the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy "This Means War," Hardy was getting ready to head to Australia to spend a year shooting the new Mad Max movie, "Fury Road," taking over the role that made Mel Gibson an international superstar.
But Mother Nature had other plans. She flooded the Australian desert with torrential rains, wiping out the wasteland setting and canceling the shoot, despite the fact that sets already had been built.
Hardy was devastated -- until Nolan called about playing Batman's powerful foe. "Chris rings and says, 'I'm not sure if it's your sort of thing because it would mean wearing a mask. How do you feel about wearing a mask as an actor?'"
Hardy laughed when recalling the day that changed his career: "How do I feel about wearing a mask? I'd wear a plastic bag over my head for Chris! I'll do anything for him. I did not see that coming. I never, ever thought I'd be in Batman."
Things were about to get even better. "Mad Mad" director George Miller put "Fury Road" back on track and Hardy is now planning to shoot that film this April.
The rising career trajectory is something Hardy attributes to his longtime sobriety. As a young man, he said he drank, did drugs, carried firearms and stole cars. His record was so tarnished that he now has to check in with the American embassy in the U.K before coming to the United States.
"Even if I come here for a holiday, I have go to the embassy and ask," said Hardy. But he's the first to admit that, "I'm 10 years into being aware of my addictions and in those 10 years, my life has gotten fortuitously better and better."
That life also includes 3 year-old son Louis (with ex-girlfriend Rachel Speed) and fiancee Charlotte Riley.
"You learn from stuff and I think it's the same with addiction," said Hardy. "I can't use, I can't drink. So that means I can't go out and dance and be comfortable doing it because I feel stupid and embarrassed. And I'm embarrassed doing karaoke because I haven't had a beer. You win a few, you lose a few. I can't have beer, but I can have a fight with Batman. At the end of the day, who's complaining?"
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)