EXCLUSIVE: Avengers Star Paul Bettany Discusses Prank Calling Johnny Depp & Racial Diversity in Hollywood
BAFTA Award nominee Paul Bettany is not the kind of celebrity you ask questions about Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie or Miley’s love life. The well respected actor comes from a family of theatre performers and after starring in several commercial hits such as Wimbledon, The Da Vinci Code and the Iron Man series, Bettany has stepped behind the camera for his directorial debut, Shelter. The drama, which stars Anthony Mackie and Paul’s wife Jennifer Connelly, touches on the problem of homelessness, Islamophobia and the forgotten members of society. We caught up with the 43-year-old Brit on another typically sun kissed day by the beach at the Dubai International Film Festival and quizzed him about Angelina Jolie’s battle with Sony Pictures, faking it with actresses that he can’t stand, and why Johnny Depp is someone Team Ahlan! should prank call.
Tell us about Shelter. Why did you want to tell a love story amidst homelessness?
I wanted to write a film about judgement, really, and about how we are getting more entrenched in black and white positions, yet the world seems to be full of grey areas. Homelessness seemed to be a great scene in which to discuss that, and obviously two people from wildly different backgrounds is also an interesting way to look at judgement. You know, if you write a polemic about homelessness being bad it becomes a speech and that’s boring. Of course it’s bad and every decent human knows that it is unacceptable but I think there is something else to say about it.
Was it difficult directing your wife in intimate scenes with another man?
No not at all, maybe because I’m an actor and have had to look like I’m in love with people that I really didn’t like. So, I’m aware of how that is done. I really had no qualms about that at all and Anthony and Jennifer got along great, but the thing I was most concerned with was how Anthony would feel doing those scenes with her husband standing there watching and directing. It was all really relaxed and easy though.
Shelter has had great reviews and we watched it last night at the premiere. Is this the end of your acting career now?
Directing has absolutely increased my love for acting actually, and I enjoy the experience of just having my portion of responsibility to focus on as an actor. It’s augmented my passion for acting and I love both things.
Exodus: Gods & Kings has caused a lot of controversy because of Sir Ridley Scott casting white actors in leading roles and making black thespians play servants in the biblical epic. Where do you stand on the matter?
I think it’s a difficult question. Obviously there should be as much diversity as there can be in film. I think the question is a really good one to ask, and I don’t think anyone should be tied to playing a role because of their skin colour or creed, because it would be really boring. It’s a question that again speaks to our inability to connect with each other and why there aren’t stars that one can finance a movie on that is that expensive. Most of our experiences of other cultures is through media. Many people don’t travel as much as you and I do. When I travel to new places I discover differences, but also similarities the world over between all of us. The more diversity in film making the better. I know I’m going on a bit but it’s a great question and I want to tell you about when I made a film in South Africa just after Mandela was released and I was shocked by how few black people there were working as crew. And then 15 years later I went again when my wife was making another movie and the amount of black people hadn’t changed and I found that extraordinary. It really shocked me. Genuinely shocked at how things hadn’t moved on at a faster pace.
Angelina Jolie got blasted by a Sony Pictures producer. How would you react if you were her?
I’m sure we’ve all written stuff in emails that we wouldn’t want people to read, and taken out of context it’s only going to be seen one way. There is no irony in print! But the thing I find most interesting is that the conversation about Ange is overshadowing the CIA and these hackers.
You’re playing two roles in Avengers: Age of Ultron, so does that mean you’ll be raking it in and getting two big pay cheques?
Haha! I wish you were my agent! That would be fantastic. Can you call Marvel for me and have them rewrite my contract?
Are there any roles you regret turning down?
Oh gosh yes. I was unavailable to do The King’s Speech, but Colin Firth did a wonderful job of it. I don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of thinking “what if I’d done this or that”. Truth of the matter is Colin did amazing in the role and who’s to say if I’d have done it I would have been that good. I tend to not obsessing over that stuff because it’s f**king pointless. My life has been filled with great opportunities and I live a rare and varied life.
OK, time for some quickfire questions…
How quick are we talking?
Just answer them straightaway without thinking about it. What’s the worst film you’ve ever done?
Ha! I can’t answer that! Even the worst film I’ve ever done is somebody else’s dream and I wouldn’t ever walk on them.
Favourite thing about your wife…
Oh my gosh, that’s a huge question. She is the love of my life and the greatest mother I have ever seen.
Who is the nicest person in showbiz?
When is the last time you said maybe, when you really meant no?
The film that I won’t talk about… when I said maybe I’ll act in it, but didn’t want to, then did it anyway.
Which celebrity number should I prank call in your phone?
Can I borrow your phone, Paul?
Yes, here you go.
(Team Ahlan! scroll through the contacts) You don’t have Johnny Depp’s number?
I do, but only an idiot would store it under Johnny Depp, so you’ll never find it.
What is your New Year’s resolution?
I haven’t got one. I never do them.
Would you ever consider wearing high heels?
Yes. Actually, no. I’m 6ft 4in and wearing high heels would push me into basketball territory and I always lie about my height and say that I’m shorter than I am, so no.