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Paul BettanyBluntly Speaking: Paul Bettany
an emily blunt interview

 

 

 

Paul Bettany is a still-rising meteoric force of talent. His next match is aside the perky-yet-talented Kirsten Dunst in a film called Wimbledon. It's an unapologetic romantic comedy.

Paul leaps around film genres like a fancy footed taller Alan Cummings, each time delivering a solid performance that makes one say, "Oy, who's that fancy bit of yum then?" Nowadays, we in-the-know dance with glee when a Bettany film doth cometh our way. We scurried to that scurvy Master and Commander. Winced as we watched Willem DeFoe contort in the oddest of fashion, beside a manly man-of-the-cloth Paul in The Reckoning (a sadly unseen film of intrigue set in Mediaeval times). We sat through gads of disturbing violence in the brilliant Gangster #1. And alas shared him as the world fell smitten with his talent in A Beautiful Mind.

And let us forgive the man's blemish in a string of exceptional works, that filmatic faux pas known as A Knight's Tale, — in which even with the donkey dung around him, our fair faced friend shined and saved us all from therapy-from-viewing. It was that bad.

Paul's genuinely funny, viciously handsome - just ask his stunning bride Jennifer Connelly (whom he swept up on A Beautiful Mind) - and a genuine giggle to interview. He's not, shall we say, tainted by the buckets of money and wads of cash he's now making. He's still very real - a bloke.

Enough idle chatter let us get to it:

Emily: Nice to see you again - and see your getting this "leading man " role stuff.

Paul: Thanks! You as well.

Emily: The buzz is this film will make you the next British leading man in a Hugh Grantish way. How do you feel about that?

Paul: I think that Hugh Grant is also British! [laughter]… and there the similarities probably end. I think that he does something that I can't quite do and I think he does a kind of Cary Grant thing beautifully. I watched a lot of those movies before doing this one and he's brilliant at being charming; doing that sort of elegant fluff. And I mean that in no sort of patronizing way. I think it's wonderful to watch Fred Astaire manipulate a top hat and a cane. There's an aesthetic pleasure you can receive from watching that and I think he's brilliant at it. I don't know what it feels like to be Hugh Grant so I have no frame of reference as to whether I'm becoming him. Maybe I am. My wife would be shocked [laughter] or maybe pleased. Hmm.

Emily: Can you talk about working on the romantic comedy genre for you?

Paul: I sort of can. I approach everything in much the same way. I try to tell a story as honestly as I can. Now, having done it, it's much more difficult to play somebody who is really straight and nice, you know. Mess tends to give you something to really hold on to when you are playing somebody else. If they've got mess in their life and they've got problems, it's much easier in front of the camera to say 'my mother's dead', than say 'you want to go down to the pub?'. It's easier to hold on to. So, playing nice people is really difficult, I found. Who did it? Sir John Mills was brilliant at playing kind, uncomplicated people.

Emily: On the physical logistics of shooting this film, were you hitting a real tennis ball or were they always imaginary (CGI)?

Ah, PaulPaul: All the serves are real! How it works is the serves have to be real because you are handling the ball and that's impossible to do on computers. The serves are real and if the camera is just on me or just on Kirsten or on Austin Nichols then you're hitting a real ball. The moment that there are two players in frame at the same time, after the serve it becomes a computer ball. It has to be because we tried, even with professional tennis players to repeat - every point is meticulously choreographed and you cannot hit the ball and repeat that choreography endlessly all day for coverage from other cameras.

Emily: Confess any stray balls-gone-wild? Tennis balls...

Paul: [laughter] I hit the cameraman three times. He was very sweet about it. He made Knight's Tale and we knew each other very well. Two of the times they were just glancing blows and the third time I bought him a bottle of scotch because I really hit him in the head. Mostly, things went pretty smoothly except for a fractured rib and a torn up chin and so on.

Emily: You got a fractured rib doing this?

Paul: Yeah, I had a fractured rib because I stupidly asked for a mat to be put down because I'd done this dive so many times. At this point I was beginning to get sore. So, they put a mat down for me and I sort of half missed the mat and busted up my rib on the floor. Usually you put your hand down... but I saw a big fluffy mattress and I didn't put my hands down and I fractured a rib. Slightly stupid of me. [laughter]

Emily: That was real audience in one of the Champion scenes. So, What was it like to step out on Center Court at Wimbledon?Wimbleton

Paul: It was as close to how I imagined being a rock star feels. You walk on and everybody is screaming your name. I sat down to take my racquet out and a remember thinking 'I'm so pleased that I don't actually have to play a match because I can't walk.' There's actually a photograph somewhere of Austin Nichols carrying me or helping me walk off Center Court because, literally, my legs were like jelly.

Emily: Okay - married guy bit aside - I am only human and Paul you looked especially buff in the movie. So tell the tale - was that the tennis or some workout of your own? There could be a book in it for you if this acting thing doesn't work out.

Paul: [laughter] Certainly not on my own! I'm not that driven. I get into a gym and there's heavy things to lift and I go, "I could do this or I could go home and read and book" and I'm out of the gym like that! [laughter] So, thankfully, Universal and Working Title paid this man called Mike Hood who is this toughie from Flatbush Avenue and who I was genuinely scared of- and he would say 'do it' and I would go [he whimpers as in scared mode] 'okay' and all the notion of reading books left. It's an incredibly thing really. At the gym where we were working at the time there was this poster that said 'Think less. Feel better' and I thought this is the most frightening sort of culture I'm getting into. That gym culture 'think less and feel better'. There is a certain truth to it. It's impossible to have a creative thought when you've got something really heavy about to fall on your head. [laughter] I can stand and wash up and an interesting thought can occur to me. Not once have I had an interesting thought while working out. And people lie, they say 'oh you get this sort of endorphin high' or 'when I'm running I get into this sort of trance-like state'. It's nonsense Emily. It's just painful. I can look at anybody with a good body and think that they are in pain at that moment which is a really nice thought. [laughter] Hey, if you go to Tibet, there are pictures of a rather rotund man with a big smile on his face, sitting down. You don't see statues of meditative joggers, you know what I mean? It's a complete fraudulent notion!

Emily: Not much into the whole work-out gig I guess. Me neither. Did all the paparazzi chasing these tennis players in the film seem familiar to you now that your on their "radar?"

Paul: Yes. I'm not that nice to paparazzi. I don't smile. It's a really difficult thing because the accusation level that actors, when they're a little shitty about paparazzi, is 'well, it's incredibly naïve if you didn't think that was going to happen to you'. Well that's absolutely true. That's the only thing I can be accused of is being entirely naïve. I never thought anybody would have any interest in what furniture I was buying for instance! And when they're taking pictures of your kids who didn't choose it, that's really irritating and, also, when I was at drama school for three years, I never once fantasized about that side of the job. I never did. I never fantasized about people taking your fucking picture when you might be having an argument with your best mate and there you are going, 'You wankin' f--k' [screws up his face while on an imaginary phone] and click, click. They are the same all over the world. They're really pond life, I suppose is the most polite thing I can say in print.

Emily: Yeah, that's err, sweet.

Paul: You stand there and they don't want you. I've got my wife and my family to just stand there and I said, "Go on. Take your pictures." They don't want that. They want the one where you don't know that they are following. It's like being hunted. They get so excited and they duck behind cars. It does make you feel incredibly aggressive when you've got your children with you.

Emily: When do you realize "Uh-oh" I'm prey? Was there a particular moment?

Paul: Yes. I did this really foolish thing of marrying a famous American and we sort of got together around her Oscar time. [laughter] We were chased by literally five cars. It's insane and boring. I remember ringing up somebody and saying, "What can I do?" And they said, "Well, look, it's very simple. If you don't mind getting photographed you can go out and, if you do, just stay indoors!" I went, "Those are my choices? Those are my two choices? I have to stay in?" So, that gets a bit irritating. But, it's fine if I do out on my own. I just get called 'naked guy' on occasion. [laughter]

Emily: Do you specialize in any one move? Um, tennis move?

Paul: Yes. My serve. I worked very hard on my serve and I remember, during filming, we went away for a weekend to this hotel and I went out to practice. I was out on the court on my own and there was this guy who I saw playing with his wife or something and he was clearly a really good amateur and I caught him checking out my serve and he finally came up to me and said 'I've been watching you serve and you look good. Do you want to have a set?' And I said 'no, thank you. I've got a shoulder injury'. And I went off because I knew my serve was truly shit-hot! But still, I didn't really want to put anything to the test. Pat Cash actually wanted to put me into a competition, a pro-amateur competition and I said, 'No, fucking way!" The whole notion is I'm able to fool myself that I've got the stuff to be a professional tennis player. I don't want to have it absolutely proved to me in black and white that 'no, you don't have the stuff at all, no'.

Emily: What's next?

Paul: I'm doing a thing called The Wrong Element with Harrison Ford.

END


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