British imports Michael Fassbender, Rhys Ifans and Tom Hardy all have unconventional indie film cred, but this summer they're starring in a trio of major studio tent pole movies: "Prometheus," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight Rises." A clue about their big-paycheck break-out roles? None of them plays the hero.
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)Michael Fassbender: Fassbender, 35, takes on the android role in "Prometheus" (in theaters now). He owns the "Lawrence of Arabia" loving, flip-flop-wearing genius, David, who walks in the hallowed footprints of Data in "Star Trek: Next Generation." Sure, last year Fassbender had a big part as the young Magneto in "X-Men: First Class," but he got recognized and courted awards for his full-frontal sexaholic in Steve McQueen's festival fave "Shame." In 2011, the German-born Irishman also played Rochester to Mia Wasikowska's governess in "Jane Eyre" — a must rent — and a repressed Carl Jung opposite Viggo Mortensen's Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method." He even joined the ensemble in Steven Soderbergh's action film, "Haywire." Up next? Back-to-back projects with Brad Pitt. His trademark: smoldering sexiness, with or without repression.
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)Rhys Ifans: The Welsh scene-stealer, 43, squares off as creepy Dr. Curt Connors aka The Lizard in "The Amazing Spider-Man" (July 3). His character lures Andrew Garfield's pretty Peter Parker into dark territory with promises of revealing the secret of Spider-Man's parents' disappearance. You'll recognize the ubiquitous Brit's face: He's played high Shakespearean period in "Anonymous," the other man in "The Five Year Engagement," Puff in the Michel Gondry-Charlie Kaufman collaboration "Human Nature," and Spike in "Notting Hill." He even did a one-off in the Potter franchise, as Xenophilius Lovegood. I adored him as Ben Stiller's best friend in Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg," a role that deserved its own, good-hearted spinoff. Up next? He's got a supporting spot to A-listers Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in the Depression drama "Serena." His trademark: eccentric fast talkers who may, or may not, have hearts of gold.
(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)Tom Hardy: If you're not quite sure who Hardy is, that's going to change this summer when he plays the uber-beefy villain Bane to Christian Bale's Batman in Chris Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" (July 20). He already logged time with Nolan in "Inception," but he's made the biggest impression on the indie circuit. Last year, he had a key role as a lovesick spy in the exquisite, Oscar-nominated espionage thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." He deserved more attention for his battered, battling younger brother in the mixed martial arts sibling rivalry film "Warrior." But anyone who has ever seen "Bronson," Nicolas Winding Refn's 2008 hard-boiled true crime prison film based on an Englishman who went to prison for seven years and ended up spending thirty in solitary, knows Hardy, 34, can play tough and crazy. He's a coiled muscle that entire movie, shocking and seductive at the same time. Up next? He plays a Prohibition bootlegger in the hot indie crime drama "Lawless" opposite Shia LaBeouf in August, a movie that's hoping to cash in on his celeb status post-Batman, and the "Mad Max" reboot. His trademark: Pure muscular masculinity — his characters tend to speak few words and make them count with the force of a grenade launcher.
These great British actors -- Fassbender, Ifans and Hardy -- will raise their celebrity Q-ratings (and asking price) with Hollywood franchise films this summer. But they're already well-established on the independent circuit and they're more than ready for splashy roles in the majors.
Watch Fassbender, Ifans and Hardy in their respective summer movies: