NEW YORK — “It will be over quickly,” Steven Knight told Tom Hardy. The writer-director remembers saying that to his prospective star as a way of convincing him to take part in his experimental project, “Locke,” a film that takes place in real time as the title character makes a fateful 85-minute drive. “You’ll only feel a tiny prick,” Hardy chimes in playfully.

Knight and Hardy met for the first time in November 2012 to discuss another film, but by February of the following year, they were filming “Locke.” “Tom loves theater and challenges and mad ideas, so I went and wrote it with Tom in mind,” Knight says.

The “mad idea” was making a film consisting solely of a man fielding phone calls while driving. Save for some exterior shots, the camera would remain focused on Hardy’s face. “There’s something about phone calls where people are saying one thing but their faces are saying something else, which is such a gift,” Knight enthuses. “It makes you look clever. Just trying to imitate the surreal way that people talk and the way that they jumble everything up and then just one line of poetry and then jumble everything up again and say the opposite of what they mean.”

Hardy first caught Knight’s (and most of the country’s) attention as Eames, the quick-witted forger with a biting sense of humor in the 2010 sci-fi thriller “Inception,” which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. “I was terrified because it was Leo. You can’t battle against somebody like that for screen time,” Hardy recalls. “I thought, I’m just going to give him whatever he needs, and it took a lot of a load off.” He learned that the more an actor gives of himself to other actors and the audience, the better he looks. He extrapolates that thought to life itself. “The more generous a person is in any environment, the more there is to be received.”

Hardy puffs an e-cigarette as he speaks, while sporting a T-shirt that exposes his several tattoos. He also regularly flashes a boyish grin, and he draws on this duality of hard and soft to craft characters that are difficult to ignore. “There’s no particular formula or process for me. I do like to mix some ‘Taxi Driver’ with Disney World,” the 36-year-old English actor says of his process. He has particular disdain for the word “thespian,” and the idea of method acting bores him, though he is known to deeply inhabit some of his roles.

During a press junket for 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hardy remembers slipping into his villainous character of Bane to respond to an inane question about whether he could play a character with both intellectual and thuggish qualities. “All I can think right now, all I hear is you calling me an idiot,” he says, re-enacting the encounter in his regally British Bane accent. “I want to come across the table, grab you by the throat, and throw you through the (expletive) window, but I’m not going to do it, and I think that answers your question.” It was a brilliant and sharp retort, albeit one the actor ended up apologizing for.

“That’s the thing, though, when you ask someone to have no skin and be an ambassador as well,” he says of that moment. “In acting, nothing’s sacred. You say and think whatever, but when it comes to interviews, it’s like ‘Let’s just talk like how we should sound.’ ”

Words are particularly important to Ivan Locke, Hardy’s latest character. He’s the foreman of a building site that’s about to receive an important concrete pour when viewers first meet him. We soon learn that he’s also dealing with an unraveling marriage.

“It is the end of the world for him, but he doesn’t have a superhero suit, and he’s screwed,” Hardy relates. It’s clear he has a lot of empathy for Locke, whom he chose to portray with a Welsh accent to emphasize the care and calm of the words he hopes will get him through his journey. “You have to get from A to B. You have to put out a lot of fires, and you’re not allowed to lose your mind. You have to be really normal because this is an everyday man’s crisis.”

There’s a moment when Locke quips that he’s “waiting for Godot,” and Knight’s writing conjures the spare and existential space Becket toiled in. The film inevitably will draw comparisons to the theater because of its intimate focus, but “Locke” is uniquely cinematic.

Light figures prominently, punctuating dialogue with bright flashes and mellow hues that convey mood as it seeps into the viewer’s psyche. Knight wanted to make a film “where you could get rid of the sound and just watch it,” and he credits director of photography Haris Zambarloukos for realizing this vision. “He is a hero. He rediscovered a reflective device that hasn’t been used since the ’50s to enhance the amount of reflection we’d get on the screen.”

The floodlights in his face forced Hardy to focus more intently on the script, which was projected on a screen in front of him. “That’s the closest I’ve ever been to a writer’s absolute word,” he says. “Right up to the letter, to the full stops.” Instead of feeling restricted though, Hardy (who has a background in theater and was directed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Brett C. Leonard’s “The Long Red Road” at the Goodman Theatre) relished the experience and the sleight-of-hand elements that made everything come together: He was reading the script while pretending to drive a car that’s rigged to a truck, the driver of which is on the road while Hardy follows the script and takes phone calls from the other actors, who are situated in a nearby hotel room – artificial elements that meld together to produce searing realism.

Or as Hardy puts it, “No one left the script; no one left the road. No acting required.”