Tom HardyIf you were one of the several million people who spent your hard-earned cash watching 'Inception' this summer, chances are you may have noticed a certain dapper British gentleman spouting such iconic lines as, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling," and pretty much stealing the show from many of his more established co-stars.

That gentleman, fair reader, is Tom Hardy, and if you weren't familiar with him before this summer, you'd better get comfortable with that unforgettable face, because you're going to be seeing a whole lot more of it in the coming year. And while 'Inception' is likely the first memorable taste of Hardy for U.S. moviegoers, the versatile actor has steadily been working his way up the ranks in his native Britain for the past 10 years, and is widely considered to be one of the U.K.'s fastest rising stars.

Join us after the jump as we consider five reasons why Tom Hardy is Hollywood's Next Big Thing. (It's not just because he's ridiculously attractive, we promise!)
Tom HardyIf you were one of the several million people who spent your hard-earned cash watching 'Inception' this summer, chances are you may have noticed a certain dapper British gentleman spouting such iconic lines as, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling," and pretty much stealing the show from many of his more established co-stars.

That gentleman, fair reader, is Tom Hardy, and if you weren't familiar with him before this summer, you'd better get comfortable with that unforgettable face, because you're going to be seeing a whole lot more of it in the coming year. And while 'Inception' is likely the first memorable taste of Hardy for U.S. moviegoers, the versatile actor has steadily been working his way up the ranks in his native Britain for the past 10 years, and is widely considered to be one of the U.K.'s fastest rising stars.

So who is Tom Hardy, you may ask? Allow us to enlighten you: The 32-year-old hails from East Sheen, a middle-class suburb of London, where he was born to an artist mother and a father who writes comedies and commercials. In his formative years, Hardy was expelled from his posh boarding school for stealing, then arrested at the tender age of 15 for taking a joyride in a stolen Mercedes, and now speaks openly of his past battles with alcoholism and drug addiction.

He's been sober for about seven years, and though his past exploits make Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton sound like nuns in comparison, his tumultuous history has in no way impaired his undeniable talent on-screen -- if anything, that life experience only seems to have honed Hardy's skill.

Tom Hardy in 'Inception'He takes roles that others would shy away from, characters who range from pathetic or unsympathetic to downright sociopathic, thieves and vagabonds and addicts alike. He's drawn comparisons to Ewan McGregor, a similarly eclectic British star, but to me, Hardy seems far more reminiscent of another iconic character actor known specifically for playing against type: Johnny Depp.

High praise, indeed, but we believe that it's well-earned. Similarly blessed with striking looks, Depp learned early in his career that the best way to avoid being pigeonholed as just another pretty-boy actor was to take roles where he could transform himself entirely, until his features would be the last thing on an audience's collective mind.

Hardy seems to have taken that example to heart; 'Inception' director Christopher Nolan was full of effusive praise for the performer, noting that, "Tom Hardy is an actor who can absolutely jump into the skin of a character and inhabit a role." We're inclined to agree -- anyone familiar with Hardy's diverse resume would be hard-pressed to say that the Brit is nothing more than a pretty face, which brings us to the first reason we think he'll be the Next Big Thing ...

1. He'll do anything for a role
Sure, we'd all like to shed a few pounds now and then, but Hardy makes transforming his body into an art form. In 2007, Hardy was cast as Stuart Shorter, a homeless, alcoholic heroin addict with muscular dystrophy in the heartbreaking BBC/HBO TV adaptation of 'Stuart: A Life Backwards,' and his hunched, emaciated frame could certainly give Christian Bale's 'Machinist' makeover a run for its money. Then, in 2009, Hardy gained 35 pounds to portray the legendary criminal Charles Bronson, dubbed Britain's most violent prison inmate, in the indie film 'Bronson'. Bald and sporting a mustache that would make Tom Selleck jealous, Hardy was practically unrecognizable in the part, effortlessly switching between moments of theatrical levity to foaming, unprovoked violence at the drop of a hat.



2 He's not afraid to play the villain
When actors are first attempting to establish themselves, they often seem wary of playing too many unsympathetic roles for fear of typecasting. Most men want to be seen as the stoic John Wayne or the dashing Han Solo type, but Hardy went to the other end of the spectrum entirely. One of his earliest parts saw him take on the crew of the legendary Starship Enterprise as the evil clone of Captain Picard in 'Star Trek: Nemesis,' and Hardy followed that up with downright nasty characters such as Bill Sikes in 'Oliver Twist' and a homicidal London gangster in 'The Take'.

While building his career on the other side of the pond, it seemed that Hardy was going out of his way to play the characters you'd love to hate; even when starring in a love story, he was drawn towards one of the most belligerent romantic antiheroes in literary history -- the tormented Heathcliff in 'Wuthering Heights'. Jack Dawson, he ain't. It's a testament to his skill, then, that no matter how abhorrent his character's actions may be, Hardy always manages to imbue his roles with genuine pathos and a surprising amount of humanity, even when he's smashing someone's face into a wall.

Tom Hardy in 'Bronson'3. He's an actor's actor
Hardy trained at he Drama Centre in London, an acting school that has gained notoriety for being tougher on its students than many other establishments (Hardy was expelled from there, too, for being "a little sh*t", as he's said in previous interviews). His mentor, Christopher Fettes, also trained Anthony Hopkins, and was allegedly the inspiration for Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter -- we're not surprised that the school is so feared and revered in acting circles.

In an early interview with IGN, Hardy described the Centre's methods of teaching (and terrifying) students by forcing them to examine themselves very honestly, a form of method acting that has undoubtedly given Hardy great self-awareness when it comes to tackling roles. Hardy often seems drawn to damaged characters who wrestle with similar issues of self-esteem and addiction that he has faced in his own life, which enables him to add a believable layer of subtext to every performance. Add to that the actor's prolific theater work and genuine passion for his craft, and it's clear that Hardy isn't searching for stardom so much as the for opportunity to continue playing challenging roles, just for the joy of it.

4. Hollywood sees it too
While audiences are just starting to sit up and take notice of Hardy post-'Inception,' Hollywood has had its eye on the actor since 'Bronson,' and Hardy had a number of high-profile roles lined up before the Christopher Nolan blockbuster even bowed. Early next year, he will appear in 'Warrior' -- another stunning physical metamorphosis that saw him gain 28 pounds of muscle to portray an ex-Marine turned cage-fighter to escape a debt.

He's also set to star in a reboot of the 'Mad Max' franchise, since it's safe to say that Mel Gibson won't be headlining many blockbusters any time soon. The film is being helmed by the original's director, George Miller, and Hardy's first leading action role promises to launch the actor's career into the stratosphere. And if Hardy wasn't busy enough, he's also landed a part in a rom-com (we know!) opposite Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon, called 'This Means War,' and will reportedly replace Michael Fassbender in the adaptation of the spy novel 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' alongside Gary Oldman. (Edited to add: on Oct. 13, it was announced that Hardy will also play a "lead role" in 'Inception' director Christopher Nolan's upcoming 'Batman 3' -- thereby cementing his soon-to-be superstar status). See what we mean about getting comfortable with that pretty face? And speaking of that pretty face ...

Tom Hardy in 'Warrior'5. He really is ridiculously good looking
Allow us to be shallow for just a moment -- we know that there were a lot of lust-worthy guys in 'Inception,' but something about Hardy's roguish, James Bond-esque vagabond Eames stole our attention far more deftly than Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cillian Murphy combined; we just love an accent and a suave attitude. Perhaps it was because Hardy seemed to be the only one truly having fun in Nolan's outlandish heist flick, but watching him instruct Gordon-Levitt on the finer points of handling a gun made us distinctly weak in the knees. And wait until you see how buff he is in 'Warrior' ...


Have we convinced you, 'fone fans? For those familiar with Hardy's filmography, do you think he deserves the praise we're heaping on him? And for those who aren't -- we recommend you add 'Bronson,' 'Stuart: A Life Backwards' and 'RocknRolla' to your Netflix queue, just to get an idea of how versatile this talented thespian truly is. We have a feeling that Hardy won't be the next big thing for long; he's coming soon to an Oscar ceremony near you.

[Follow Laura on Twitter @LauinLA.]
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