PITTSBURGH - It's never easy playing a villain on the big screen.  You have to avoid cliche's and over-the-top camp, but be memorable enough to raise the stakes for the film's hero. And, nine times out of 10 you end up getting killed at the end. Now, imagine how difficult Tom Hardy's shoes, er, mask is. In Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises," he's only following a legendary performance by the dearly departed Heath Ledger.

Speaking in-between set ups on the set of "Rises" in Pittsburgh last August, Hardy says he had no apprehension about taking the part of Bane in Nolan's "Dark Knight" follow up.

"That would be putting myself in a competition with somebody who's clearly brilliant," Hardy says.  "And it's not a question of whose talent is greater or whose work is greater. It's just trying to be the best that we can be. I'm not trying to be better than somebody else. What he did was amazing. That's that. I've got a part I've got to play, and I want to play my part."

Emma Thomas, producer of "Rises," thinks the dramatic differences between Bane and The Joker has make the comparison almost moot.

"We were obviously never going to revisit the Joker and you don’t want to be trying to chase that," Thomas says. "So, it’s fun to have a very different sort of villain in this and a different sort of challenge for Batman to meet, much more physical. It’s almost a more even match in some ways, you know, in a physical sense. You just don’t want to do the same thing again."

In Batman comic book lore, Bane is notorious for being the first villain to actually break the Caped Crusader, literally.  Bane breaks Batman's back and becoming the king of Gotham City's underworld. Like most comic characters, Bane is fantastical.  He is addicted to a venom compound that gives him superhuman strength and abilities. Nolan has tepidly veered into anything that unrealistic in his Batman series and Hardy says, "if Nolan grounds it in reality, then I'd have to follow suit."

Hardy, who has made a name for himself in dramatic roles in films such as "Bronson," "RocknRolla" and Nolan's own "Inception," admits he didn't know much about Bane or the Batman franchise before being offered the part. Still, Hardy has been down the road of massive genre expectations before. As an inexperienced 23-year-old actor, the Brit was cast as Patrick Stewart's clone in 2002's "Star Trek: Nemesis."  It's an experience he still appreciates to this day.

"Working on ‘Star Trek’ really opened me up," Hardy says. "I was a very young boy. I think I had only been working nine months when I got ‘Star Trek,’ and it was huge. It was very overwhelming. So, that opened my eyes a bit at an early age, kind of how not be frightened when walking into a responsibility of something like that. Like a Batman, or a ‘Hobbit,’ or whatever it is."

Hardy continues, "These characters belong to a large group of people who love them. And it's a huge responsibility to deliver something important to them. So, ‘Star Trek’ was a stepping stone towards this journey. I'm incredibly grateful to be playing the villain in a world which, if I really thought to hard about what I was doing, I would get very nervous about the size and the magnitude of the importance and responsibility of being a villain in the world of Batman."

The "Warrior" star, who received strong notices at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his role in John Hillcoat's "Lawless," didn't have much time to talk.  Bane was due to give a warbled speech in front of a football stadium of extras playing startled Gotham City citizens. The intimidating Hardy has performed in front of large crowds before, but laughs as he walks out saying, "I'm going to talk to 2,000 people. I'm a bit nervous."

We find that a tad hard to believe.

"The Dark Knight Rises" opens nationwide and in IMAX on July 20.