Tom HardyEXCLUSIVE: Tom Hardy is in early talks to star in Everest for Sony Pictures. He will play George Mallory, the climber who tried three times in the 1920s to become the first man to scale the world’s highest mountain. Doug Liman will direct the film after he completes All You Need Is Kill at Warner Bros with Tom Cruise. An adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s book Paths Of Glory, Everest has been adapted by Sheldon Turner (Up In The Air). Jennifer Klein is producing, and Dave Bartis, Liman’s partner at Hypnotic, will also be a producer.

Liman, the Bourne Identity and Mr. And Mrs. Smith helmer who is himself an avid climber and fan of the Mallory story, has an actor who is a strong match for the intensity that burned in Mallory to get to the top of the mountain and beat another great climber, Australian George Finch (the grandfather of actor Peter Finch). Everest has been scaled many times since, but it is still dangerous–there are plenty of bodies near the final summit of those who got close but failed–but in Mallory’s time, it was like trying to become the first man on the moon.

At the time, Great Britain had been decimated by WWI, poverty and angst was rampant and the nation craved a hero. Mallory tried hard to fill that bill, even though he was caught short in his first two attempts to summit the mountain, in 1921 and 1922. A devoted husband and father, he was torn between adventure and the simple fact his family wanted him with them. He refused to use oxygen to aid him in high altitude in thin air the first two times. On the final climb, he and climbing partner Sandy Irvine used the oxygen and were last glimpsed in 1924 as they made their final assault near the top. They disappeared into the clouds and Mallory wasn’t seen again until they were discovered by climber Conrad Anker in 1999. That the discovery in 1999 was the basis for the rather incredible Anthony Geffen-directed docu The Wildest Dream. The big question is whether Mallory died after he completed the unprecedented summit. Some feel he became the first man to climb the mountain: Mallory took with him a photo of his wife, which he had vowed to place atop Everest. It was not found in his possessions. The first successful climb in which the men returned to tell the tale didn’t come until 1953, when New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali sherpa climber Tenzing Norgay got to the top and came back down.

Hardy takes the job after opening this year in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless. The chameleon actor is currently playing the title character in the George Miller-directed Mad Max: Fury Road. I thought his performance in the Gavin O’Connor-directed Warrior was going to at least get him an Oscar nomination, but no go. Maybe he’ll climb over that obstacle with Everest. Hardy’s repped by CAA and United Agents.