TORONTO (AP) — Think of Tom Hardy and what likely first comes to mind is his stout physical presence: his muscled mixed-martial arts fighter in "Warrior" or his hulking Batman villain, Bane, in "The Dark Knight Rises."
But Hardy is, first and foremost, a talker. As he's developed as an actor, it's become increasingly clear how much voice plays a central role for Hardy. His characters are a richly varied assortment of vocalization. In two films this year, his verbal virtuosity is especially on display: the New York crime film "The Drop," which opens Friday, and the earlier-released "Locke," a drama almost entirely composed of Hardy talking on the phone while driving.
One is a mumbling mutterer, the other speaks with methodical precision. They couldn't sound more different, but in both cases, their speech entirely informs their character.
"The voice is a key silhouette, an audio silhouette," Hardy said in an interview shortly after "The Drop" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Hardy, himself, is a theatrical torrent of words, a London-native who speaks with a colorful, refined accent that fluctuates in pitch and often breaks into hearty chuckles or squeals. "I'm full of beans!" a chipper and caffeinated Hardy greets a reporter.
"I'm actually not a big, muscly guy," the 36-year-old actor explains. "I'm only 150 pounds, wet through, bricks in my pocket. But it's funny. Like Bane or Bronson (the title-character criminal of his 2008 breakthrough), that's so not who I am. The articulation of sensitivity is closer to who I am."
Articulation and its many forms have dotted Hardy's movies, often with very specific inspirations. For his masked, elaborately articulate Bane, he drew from the Irish bare-knuckle brawler Barley Gorman, who was documented in a 1995 film, "King of the Gypsies."
In Steven Wright's "Locke," now out on video, Hardy plays construction foreman Ivan Locke, who calls his wife to admit he once cheated on her, and that on that night, the woman he slept with is having his baby. Simultaneously, he's directing the biggest concrete pour of his career — all over the phone.
It's a remarkable feat of dramatization almost purely through audio. Locke faces his problems head on with meticulousness. Though the film is about the fallout from confessing a marriage-ruining indiscretion, Locke is heroic, in a way: "He's brave enough to say it," says Hardy.
Hardy based him on a Welshman who guided him on a 2011 visit to Afghanistan.
"When we were in certain places, he was calm," says Hardy. "That's what you want to hear. You want to be with someone who says, 'It's OK. It's all (expletive), but it's going to be OK.' No matter how bad it gets, there's always a practical solution."
Adapted from a Dennis Lehane short story, "The Drop" is about a Brooklyn bar used as a money-laundering bank. Hardy plays a seemingly meek and innocent bartender named Bob who keeps his head down while bigger players — his boss (James Gandolfini, in his final performance), a police detective (John Ortiz), a neighborhood thug (Matthias Schoenaerts) — overlook him.
"We're dealing with low wisps of eliciting information without giving away where the fire is," Hardy says of Bob's speech. "In order to survive, you must be invisible. Bob is finding his voice."
It's a thick Brooklyn accent of almost monosyllabic, "Neanderthal sounds," says Hardy.
"What he can do with his voice is incredible," says director Michael Roskam. "The first time I heard Bob's voice was the first day on set."
Hardy will soon start shooting Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "The Revenant," a gritty thriller set on the 1820s frontier.
"I play characters that I am not, that I am frightened of," says Hardy. "It's easier to mimic that which frightens me than it is that which comforts me. As I get older, people like Locke are more enticing because I feel safe enough to try that. I'm allowed to be here, as an actor. I've made inroads, certainly, to say: 'Now can I play something else?'"
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP