For years actor Paul Bettany has been making waves on the London film scene starring in such cutting edge films as “”Dead Babies””, “”Gangster No. 1″”, “”Bent”” and others. Now he is about to explode onto the American film scene. In his first major American movie, Columbia Picture’s, “”A Knight’s Tale””, he gives an over the top, hysterically funny performance as Geoffrey Chaucer: an oft-naked, unknown writer and compulsive gambler. Paul almost steals the movie from Heath Ledger (The Patriot). Paul’s Chaucer dazzles the crowd and the movie going audience with his glowing introductions, hip attitude, and quick wit. Note, This interview was done several years ago, before “”A Beautiful Mind,”” and of course “”Master and Commander”” was released. Paul is yet another EM Find, who is now part of Hollywood’s “”B”” List
He is currently shooting his second major film “”A Beautiful Minds”” produced and directed by A-List director, Ron Howard and stars Oscar winner Russell Crowe. We would say, that Paul’s future doesn’t just look bright, it glows.We recently had a chance to sit down and have one of our famous EM chats with Paul about his career and his experiences working with, “”A Knight’s Tale”” writer/director Brian Helgeland who also won an Oscar for his screenplay, “”L.A. Confidential””.EMLet’s start this interview with my standard overly broad question. Tell us who you are and why we are speaking with you today.PaulI’m here because I’m doing a press tour of “”A Knight’s Tale””. I’ve been traveling up and down the East Coast doing publicity for the film.EMHow long did it take you guys to make “”A Knight’s Tale””?PaulWe finished it last summer. I’m currently filming a new Ron Howard movie called “”A Beautiful Mind”” in New York with Russell Crowe. In this film Russell Crowe plays John Nash a mathematician who won the noble prize for economics that has a troubled life. I play his best friend.EMWhat is it like to go from playing the role of Geoff Chaucer, which is so over the top comedic to doing something as serious as this?PaulThe extraordinary thing is, that I’ve never played a good guy before. In London I always played the bad guy, or a gangster, so it’s strange that in my first American film, I’m playing this good guy.EMWhich is harder for you playing a good guy or a bad guy?PaulWell normally playing a bad guy is so much more fun. Although playing Chaucer was a lot of fun as well.EMHow much of “”A Knight’s Tale”” was adlibbed?PaulThe entire film was scripted. Brian Helgeland (the writer of “”L.A. Confidential””) is such a brilliant writer, that there wasn’t much adlibbing needed. Although, the line “”I’ll be here for the entire week”” was mine.EMIf you only played bad guys in London, how did you land this choice role?PaulBrian Helgeland is a dear friend of mine. He asked me if I wanted to play the role of Chaucer. When he sent me the script, he included a picture of a dwarf. At that point I threw out all pretensions and preconceived notions of doing any research or about what type of film this would be.EMHow did you guys manage to come up with those great introductions?PaulThe introductions were kind of modeled after a John Lennon performance that he once gave in London, where the Queen was in attendance. He stood up and jokingly said, this performance is also for all the people in the “”cheap seats in the back.”” It was that type of irreverence and “”shock”” value that we wanted to get at. We thought that how Geoff Chaucer would deliver his introductions.EMYour introductions where so hysterically funny and memorable – it truly made the movie.PaulI’m glad you liked it. Some things we made up on the spot, like the “”I’ll be here for the rest of the week””, but Brian is a very great writer. His words fall out of your mouth so easily. He gets all the credit for the introductions.EMCome on, you have to take some credit for your performance. Don’t give it all to the writer/director.Paul[Laughs] Ok, I made it all up and I scripted the entire movie! Seriously though, he’s a really great writer and we had an enormous amount of fun doing it.EMHow did you get your start in acting?PaulI started off in the London theater scene, where I stared in a play written by another brilliant writer name Joe Penhall. I was working a lot before this performance, but this play was what started things off for me.EMHow would you compare making American movies to London films?PaulAll film sets are almost entirely the same; they all have the same feel about them. The only difference is, and I assume it’s because of the enormous amount of money that go into American films, is the desperation and panic in the producers voices. EMSo you don’t find it anymore pleasurable to work on a major Hollywood film versus a smaller independent?PaulI really don’t know yet. The first film [“”A Knight’s Tale””] was such a joy to make because I was working for a dear friend and this one [the Ron Howard film] is such a serious subject, about schizophrenia. I haven’t had to sell my soul yet, to work. I just finished working in Spain on a film with William Dafoe. It was really difficult because we only had 2 1/2 months to make it and we needed four, and we didn’t have enough money. It was a real learning experience.EMHow long did it take to make “”A Knight’s Tale””?PaulIt took 4 1/2 months to shoot and we had two crews shooting in different locations simultaneously. Which was a lot of shooting.EMSo was there a lot of material left on the editing room floor?PaulYes, there was an enormous amount. Which I’m sure will find it’s way onto the DVD. In the original cut there were at least two more of my introductions that didn’t make the final cut.EMOf course on the DVD, there will be an option where we can watch just your introductions. As an actor how difficult is it to go from a film like “”A Knight’s Tale”” where you were really good friends with the writer/director and the type of film that it is, to something as dark and serious as “”A Beautiful Minds””?PaulI don’t know. [thinks] I guess one is more taxing than the other. Making “”A Knight’s Tale”” was long hard work, but it was such a joy that you didn’t notice. While making something like “”Gangster Number 7″” or “”Morality Play”” was just harder work.EMDo you find it more emotionally draining to do a serious role, or do you know how to separate your own personal feelings from what you are doing?PaulIt’s a difficult question to answer. When talking about the craft of acting you come across as sounding like an ass. You either say, “”it’s at the vanguard of changing people’s emotions…”” or you say, “”it’s better than working.”” Neither of which is really true. [Pauses] Even if you are doing a really intense scene with someone, you still have to remain a little playful otherwise I’ll stop listening. [Thinks] Or let’s put it this way, if you are in a Country House, alone, lying in bed, you hear a creak, it’s very easy to convince yourself that someone else is in that house and you get scared. It’s very simple, there’s no magic involved. If you are playing a character for two days where you are pretending to stab someone in the eye with a corkscrew, it’s hard not to feel a little odd by that. It takes a little time to come down off of something like that.EMDo you think a lot of actors have trouble separating the two?PaulI’ve worked with some actors who get so involved with what they are doing that they do take it home with them. I would suspect it is very painful for them. Taking off your clothes in the middle of the Czech Republic [He spends half of his time in “”A Knight’s Tale”” running around naked] is humiliating but I’m getting paid a lot of money and it’s better than working in a mind shaft somewhere.EMHow long did it take you to get comfortable with it?PaulYou never do. You never do!