The life of an actor can be a precarious one – and it’s entirely possible to have a string of hits and then quickly fade into obscurity. For his part, Paul Bettany had a whole litany of successes to his name – A Knight’s Tale, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code – but for some it wasn’t enough. Indeed, once a producer even told Bettany that his career was done.
The incident happened in 2012 and he’s never given the name of the producer who informed him he was finished. Nevertheless, he’s told the story to the media a few times. Indeed, it’s dramatic enough that it could literally have come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Meanwhile, Bettany was left defeated after the argument he had with the producer. Thinking his career really was over, he was at a loss about what to do next and he slumped down on the sidewalk. Then as he was quietly despairing, his mobile phone rang – and he didn’t recognize the number. But when he answered it, everything changed.
Paul Bettany knows what it’s like to have ups and downs in your life. Indeed, his youth was marked by tragedy and difficulty. And despite an illustrious name in the extended family, namely the Countess of Wessex, the actor’s family weren’t particularly rich. And the young Bettany was bullied relentlessly as a schoolchild.
Then, when Bettany was 16 his eight-year-old brother Matthew died in a freak accident, falling off a roof onto concrete ground. Grief then set the whole family into a spiral – his parents divorced, and Bettany found himself slowly descending into substance abuse.
So Bettany left the family home, moved to London and starting busking to make money. And his parents put up little resistance. He told the Evening Standard in 2008, “I don’t think they thought much of anything at the time. I think they were having a very hard time mourning the loss of their son and I think they were quite busy enough with that pain.”
Meanwhile, Bettany found himself essentially homeless for a time. The actor told the Big Issue in 2015, “I came down to London and ended up outside the boarding house where my sister was living. I used to throw a stone at her window and when the woman who owned the rooms was asleep, she would let me sneak in and sleep on the floor.”
Bettany continued, “There were times I didn’t get into that room and slept on a park bench. I never thought of myself as homeless and I wouldn’t want to overstate that, but it absolutely felt that my safety and situation were precarious. He continued, “I went from having a house with parents who did everything for me to suddenly having to work if I wanted to eat.”
Luckily, Bettany was able to get into drama school – and there, a cruel insult aimed his way unexpectedly turned his life around. According to Bettany’s father Thane, who spoke to the Daily Mirror in 2006, an interviewer at the school asked his son if his late brother “got drunk and fell out of the window.”
Bettany’s subsequent reaction to the man’s comments about his late brother was to jump across the table and grab him. That incident could have ended very badly – but the opposite happened. Bettany’s father Thane continued, “After that he got straight into drama school because of the passion he showed. It helped make him the actor he is now.”
Then after Bettany graduated from the school, he began getting acting work. He spent some time on stage with the RSC, but then a killer role fell into his lap. When he portrayed the main character in 2000’s Gangster No.1, a British film based on a play, people began to sit up and take notice of his talents.
After that, Bettany made a powerful ally in Hollywood. This was Brain Helgeland, a writer and director. Transfixed by an audition tape Bettany had sent in for a cancelled film, Helgeland wrote a new role in a new film specifically for him. The character was Geoffrey Chaucer and the film was A Knight’s Tale.
Meanwhile, A Knight’s Tale was a huge success, and it netted Bettany a Best British Supporting Actor award from the London Film Critics Circle. And Helgeland was determined to make Bettany a star. He showed his tape to director Ron Howard, who decided to cast him in his new film, A Beautiful Mind.
Furthermore, not only did A Beautiful Mind win several Oscars including Best Picture, Bettany met his future wife Jennifer Connolly on the set. And the latter was initially impressed by Bettany’s acting talents, telling Entertainment Tonight in 2015, “I remember meeting him at the first read through. I thought, ‘Hmm, he’s really good, that guy.’”
Bettany was awestruck by Connolly, telling ET in the same interview, “I’ve never been this close to someone that beautiful before.” He added, “I remember thinking, ‘I bet every man you ever met has tried to flirt with you.’” And from there, they embarked on a somewhat unconventional romantic relationship.
To be more specific, Bettany and Connolly didn’t even officially date before marrying. Instead, a colossal tragedy pushed them together. When 9/11 hit, Bettany was in Tuscany but he knew Connolly was in New York. He panicked when he couldn’t get through to her – and once he finally heard her voice, he proposed marriage.
Connolly already had a child from a previous relationship, and she went on to have two more kids with Bettany. And as soon as Bettany became a father, he developed a major protective streak thanks to his own childhood and the loss he suffered. He told The Guardian in 2012, “In the playground I am a neurotic parent. I really have to fight that instinct to surround them in bubble wrap and put a helmet on them.”
Meanwhile, Bettany continued his acting career as he raised his family. In 2008 he was cast as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the film Iron Man, largely because he had already worked with the director Jon Favreau. It’s fair to say he didn’t quite throw himself into the role at first – he had no clue who his character was.
Indeed, Bettany revealed all to Superhero Hype! in 2008, saying, “I didn’t know I was in a superhero movie. I made a movie with Jon Favreau before… He rung me up and was really funny on the phone. I said, ‘Yeah, alright.’ I genuinely didn’t know.” But his children, he said, appreciated that he was in Iron Man and its inevitable sequels.
So Bettany was clearly doing well for himself throughout the ‘00s and ‘10s. He had a loving family and a recurring role, albeit a small one, in a massive film franchise. And yet, in 2012 the producer whom he won’t name apparently didn’t think he had any future left in acting.
Bettany told the story in his own words when he spoke to Mandatory in 2015. He explained, “I had just got out of a meeting with a producer who told me my career was over. And I said to [the] producer, ‘You know what? You should be careful because Hollywood is full of second acts,’ and I walked out the door.”
Hollywood really was full of second acts and, remarkably, Bettany’s came literally minutes after he’d been told he was finished. He told Mandatory, “I sat down on a sidewalk and put my feet in the road and went, ‘F***. ’And then my phone went. I took my phone and I went, ‘Uh… yeah?’ because I didn’t recognize the number. He said, ‘Hey, it’s Joss.’”
“Joss” was acclaimed writer and director Joss Whedon, and he had a question for Bettany. According to the latter, the former said, ‘Do you want to play The Vision?’” The Vision, sometimes known as just Vision, is an android superhero and famous Marvel Comics character. And Bettany not only said yes right away, he flipped the bird at the producer’s building.
During the promotional tour for Avengers: Infinity War in April 2018, Bettany told the tale again on BBC Radio 1. His co-star Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Vision’s human girlfriend Scarlet Witch, appeared not to have heard it as she seemed very interested. In the video interview, uploaded to YouTube, Bettany begins, “It’s a rather good story, and it just happens to be the truth.”
In the clip, Bettany retells the anecdote about the producer and the phone call. He continues, “I sort of looked up to heaven and thought karma’s very quick these days… and [I] flipped the building behind me the finger. It happened just like that. I sat down and my phone rang. Very funny. But you know if I had a dollar for every time somebody told me my career was over, my career could be over.”
There probably won’t be anyone willing to tell Bettany his career is over now, though, because Avengers: Infinity War was a colossal hit. In fact, it was the highest-grossing film of 2018. And the other two films in which Bettany appeared as Vision, namely Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, were likewise huge successes.
At first, Bettany had wondered if he would be able to play Vision in the M.C.U., seeing as how he was already playing J.A.R.V.I.S. And when he spoke to Mandatory, Bettany said Whedon had raised that question on the phone call. The former said, “There’s a sort of rule where if you play one character you’re not allowed to play another [one], and they didn’t know how to figure that out…”
Bettany continued, “… But Joss really wanted to bring The Vision in and he said, ‘I really want it to be you, Paul.’ Which is lovely.” The idea was for Vision to join the Avengers with a little “bending the rules.” And Avengers: Age of Ultron brought in the character in a creative way, taking Bettany’s role as J.A.R.V.I.S into account as well.
In the M.C.U., Vision is essentially a combination of Ultron, the Mind Stone and J.A.R.V.I.S. Ultron tries to create a new body for himself, but after the intervention of the Avengers Vision is the result. He proves that he has no trace of evil inside him when he casually lifts Thor’s hammer, a weapon which can only be welded by the worthy.
Meanwhile, Bettany wasn’t familiar with Vision’s character when he got the role – he wasn’t much of a comic book guy. The star told Mandatory, “I knew who Spider-Man was and I knew who The Hulk was, because there was a TV show. And I knew who Superman was because there had been some movies, but nothing else.”
Some of Bettany’s family members knew of the character, however. The actor continued, “Funnily enough, my wife’s cousins – you know, I live in America now – went, ‘Oh my god, it’s The Vision! When we were kids…!’ Indeed, it turned out Vision was a big favorite among those who’d followed the comic books.
And Bettany’s character transpired to be a big favorite of his daughter’s as well. Bettany told Sahm Reviews in 2016, “My daughter met me as… The Vision for the first time and I think she was just three. Or maybe just even about to turn three. And she just ran up to me and gave me a hug. She knew entirely who it was.”
Except Bettany’s daughter actually liked Vision more than her dad. The star continued, “I… had been very worried about what her response would be. And then at the end of the day when I took it all off she had her first ever meltdown. And she went, ‘I want purple daddy’… Which, as I’m sure you can all imagine, was a little depressing.”
Meanwhile, getting into the makeup for Vision was a difficult process for Bettany, but it was something he had to do every day on the M.C.U. sets. In 2015 he described it to Business Insider. “The makeup on my face, which, you know, they’re huge prosthetic pieces that go from below my eyebrows all the way down to the mid-shoulder blade. And [it’s the] same thing around my neck.”
And it wasn’t much fun inside the costume, either. Bettany added, “You can’t hear very well. You can imagine it’s quite isolating and you have a cooling mechanism, which is a suit beneath it that pumps a sort of ice-cold water around you like racing car drivers use, and there’s a lot of sitting down, reading, and just trying to focus on how very fortunate you are.”
Bettany continued to Business Insider, “The first day was okay, and it wasn’t even the second day really, but the third day in a row and the fourth and the fifth day was… you had to really get kind of Zen about it, and meditate on the line of 1,000 actors behind you that would like to be in your position, you know?”
Alas, spoiler alert: Vision may be dead and gone now. All throughout Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos sought him and the Mind Stone in his head. The Avengers took many steps to protect him, but failed in the end. Actually, in the end Vision died twice: first in the arms of the Scarlet Witch who had to kill him for the greater good, and then again when Thanos pulled the Mind Stone from him.
However, while many Infinity War deaths were undone in the next movie, Vision’s appeared to stick. Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo informed fans during a Q&A after the film came out that the hero was “dead as far as I know.” And yet, one of the shows soon to arrive on Disney’s new streaming service features Vision as a main character.
The show will be called WandaVision, and both Elizabeth Olsen and Bettany will be in it. Olsen has indicated the show might be set in the 1950s, so perhaps time travel is involved. Another possibility is that the dead Vision will somehow be restored to life after all, perhaps via the Scarlet Witch herself.
But regardless of what happens to Vision, it seems Paul Bettany may be sticking around the Marvel world for some time to come. And even if he wasn’t, he’s already done great work. As many people said in the comments when Bettany’s BBC interview was posted, that nameless producer must be feeling foolish now.