Before the mask: Tom Hardy’s early work

Tom Hardy at the 2002 premiere of "Star Trek: Nemesis." (Dave Benett/Getty Images)

No one cared who he was until he put on the mask! But thanks to Tom Hardy's Bat-breaking turn as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," the English actor is now enjoying some serious face time with the public -- something his masked big-screen appearance didn't allow much of.

Hardy's newfound popularity has renewed interest in the 34-year-old actor's early career. Though he'd been working since his early twenties and had a number of high-profile roles before "The Dark Knight Rises," Hardy first really caught the attention of Hollywood back in 2008 for his ultraviolent role in Nicolas Winding Refn's film "Bronson." The "Drive" director's English language debut told the story of Charles Bronson (Hardy), one of Britain's most dangerous criminals. Hardy's disturbing performance as the violent convict was as off-the-wall as it was brilliant.

Watch the trailer for "Bronson" below.

See more: Tom Hardy knew nothing of his role before signing on to 'The Dark Knight Rises'

The actor followed up his star-making turn in "Bronson" with supporting roles in "The Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan's "Inception," the British spy thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and starring roles in the mixed martial arts drama "Warrior" and the action-comedy "This Means War" opposite "Star Trek's" Chris Pine.

See also: Learn more about Tom Hardy

Speaking of "Star Trek," think Bane was the first time Hardy had played a bald villain? There's one role of Hardy's the often gets overlooked: his part in 2002's "Star Trek: Nemesis." The then 24-year-old actor played Shinzon, an evil clone of Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard, and had the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with Sir Patrick Stewart in top acting form. "Nemesis" was a huge box office flop that heralded the end of the Picard and the next generation's big-screen adventures, but Hardy proved himself an extremely capable young actor with the role of Shinzon.

Watch Tom Hardy's screen test for "Star Trek: Nemesis" opposite Patrick Stewart.

Save for the haircut, Hardy's appearance in "Nemesis" is a far cry from of Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises." It's a demonstration of Hardy's dedication to his craft that he can transform from himself from the slim well spoken schemer in "Star Trek" into the muzzled behemoth in Nolan's third Batman movie.

See also: Was Heath Ledger's Joker inspired by this 1979 Tom Waits interview?

Despite all the love that Hardy is getting for "Rises," one of the major complaints has been that Bane was difficult to understand, due to the mask covering his mouth. The character might have been even harder to understand had the director chosen not to modify his voice for the final film. Hardy may have been brought in to re-record most of Bane's dialogue after audiences reacted poorly to his muffled voice in the IMAX prologue for "The Dark Knight Rises" that accompanied "Mission: Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol."

Listen to the difference between Bane's voice from the "M:I 4" prologue and the finished film below.

The future is looking bright (and sounding much clearer) for Hardy. The actor will next be seen in John Hillcoat's prohibition era crime movie "Lawless" opposite his "Dark Knight Rises" co-star Gary Oldman and Shia LeBeouf, and is currently filming the post-apocalyptic action-adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road," playing the role made famous by Mel Gibson.