Man of a Thousand Faces
Rob Carnevale gets Paul Bettany, the hardest working man in showbusiness on the dog and bone
Paul Bettany has rediscovered the joy of acting. Over the coming months, he’ll be seen playing a racist peach farmer in America’s Deep South for The Secret Life of Bees and then a royal adviser and future prime minister to Emily Blunt’s queen in The Young Victoria. Apocalyptic kung-fu movie Legion comes next and then it’s Charles Darwin in Creation for a role that required him to gain 20lbs. The man is nothing if not versatile.
And yet not so long ago, the British-born star of past hits such as Wimbledon and Master and Commander was struggling for motivation.
‘I discovered I was kind of getting bored for a while,’ he recalls over the phone following a long day’s shoot on Creation. ‘But then I suddenly realised that I wasn’t bored anymore. And I guess it was partly to do with making a few really small movies, and doing something that wasn’t just for financial remuneration!’
As violent father T Ray in The Secret Life of Bees he gets to remind us of his range, complete with a convincing Deep South accent and a grimly authentic approach to fatherhood and business. ‘He didn’t seem to be a stereotypical racist and the film didn’t fall into the traps of forgiving him. His racism stems from his ignorance,’ he explains.
T Ray may only be a supporting character in the film but it appealed for many reasons, not least of which was playing dad to Dakota Fanning, a child actress Bettany has long admired. ‘She’s extraordinary and I put her alongside many of the other great actresses I’ve had the privilege to work with.’
Another of his favourites appears alongside him in Creation – namely Jennifer Connelly, his wife of nearly six years. And while the film tackles a difficult period in Darwin’s life, following the death of his child and the creation of his masterwork The Origin of Species, the experience proved fun. ‘There was a moment where we wondered whether we’d giggle through the whole thing, but it went terribly well for us and it’s difficult to know if that was because of our relationship or because she’s just such a brilliant actress.’ He would say that, wouldn’t he?
The Secret Life of Bees is on general release from Fri 5 Dec.