By Gill Pringle

“Oh, sure,” Paul Bettany laughs when asked if it was easier just playing the voice of Jarvis than the on-screen character of Vision in the films of The Marvel Cinematic Universe. “But the benefits out-weigh the negatives. It was great being Jarvis. The upside of being Jarvis is that you go in a room for two hours at the end of the movie and solve things that they couldn’t solve with CG. Everybody loves you, and they give you a bag of cash. It’s a big upside. But the upside of being a member of the team is obvious. You get to work with fantastic people, and we’re all having a laugh and everybody is very happy and well-paid.”

Paul Bettany got the bump from voice work (his mellifluous tones formed the vocal embodiment of the aforementioned Jarvis, artificial intelligence created by Robert Downey Jr.’s tech genius, Tony Stark, and heard in the Iron Man movies and the first Avengers flick) to on-screen acting in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, when Jarvis was used as the basis for the creation of the uber-android, Vision, who is back in action in Captain America: Civil War. The role finds Bettany covered in a mix of make-up and motion capture signifiers, namely dots all over his body. What does he think when he looks at himself in the mirror? “I don’t,” Bettany laughs on the set of Captain America: Civil War. “I try not to look at myself in the mirror, because I’m 44, and one stops doing that at about 40. What do I think? Well, initially it was a shock. I watched it happen incrementally because on Avengers: Age Of Ultron, there were a lot of make-up tests, and it happened very slowly. There were different ideas and so forth. So now I just see myself and I think, ‘How long until I can get this fucking thing off??!!’”

Paul Bettany on the set of his directorial debut, Shelter
Paul Bettany on the set of his directorial debut, Shelter

Being covered in such make-up marks a huge contrast to Bettany’s recent work, with the actor making his debut as a writer/director with the stark drama, Shelter, which starred his real life wife, Jennifer Connelly, and his Captain America: Civil War co-star, Anthony Mackie. “They are worlds apart,” Bettany sighs. “My movie cost a million dollars. People tend not to give you hundreds of millions of dollars to make a film about a Nigerian Muslim and junkie living on the streets in New York because they’re concerned that they’re not going to see their money come back. Weird. So, yes. They’re entirely different. I love my job. I love storytelling. I love telling different types of stories. Shelter is a very intimate movie made in twenty days where everybody got two takes if they were lucky. It was an amazing experience to make that film. It’s a love story. They are polar opposites in terms of what they are supposed to do. But it was an extraordinary experience, and I really want to do it again.”

Though a keenly enthusiastic interview subject and a prolific performer, rumours had swirled for a time that Bettany was considering quitting acting, or at least Hollywood. Is that true? “No,” the obviously and amusingly incensed Brit bellows. “No! Maybe Hollywood was quitting working with me, but I wasn’t quitting. No! I think that probably comes from a story about a producer who told me my career was over, and I stepped outside and my phone rang and it was Joss Whedon offering me this job as Vision on Avengers: Age Of Ultron. And that’s a true story. It got made a big deal out of. If I had a dollar for every time somebody had told me that my career was over, my career could be over!”

Paul Bettany as Vision with Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War
Paul Bettany as Vision with Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War

As someone at the apex of the whole superhero tidal wave currently sweeping the cinematic world, Paul Bettany is an obvious person to query when it comes to their continuing popularity. “God, I think there’s lots of reasons,” he offers. “One of which is really simple. The stories in the comics themselves are gripping and feel old. And I mean that in a good way. There’s not many stories. And I also think that it’s an expression of American mythology. Not having Greek gods and being such a young country, it’s an expression of its own mythology, and that’s really intriguing. But moreover, the films have been moving towards a really interesting discussion, and I really mean this, which is about intervention in the world. If you are super powerful or a super power, what is your job in the world?”

Right now, Paul Bettany’s job appears to be amusing his children. “My children are really into it,” the actor laughs of his transformation into Vision. “My two boys are really into it. And my daughter gets angry when I take the make-up off. So I don’t know what to read from that!”

Captain America: Civil War is in cinemas now. For more on the film, check out FilmInk’s interviews with stars, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey Jr., directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and executive producer, Nate Moore.


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