PAUL BETTANY makes his craft look so easy. And you won’t catch him doing any old beblSh jUSl for the cash. we“, not Words: Stephen Applebaum Main picture: Barry J. Holmes/Idols

t is a brave actor that stars in a film with Patrl Bettany. He

stole (z‘angster No I from under the nose of Malcolm

McDowell. be left Heath Ledger floundering in his wake as Geoff (‘baucer in A Knight's Yale. and he gives an excessively twitchy Russell (‘rowe a run for his money in A BearrIi/irl Mind.

Refreshingly. the 30-year-old Londoner is not letting this btrrst of success go to his head. which is pretty fuzzy the afternoon we meet. due to his having discovered Amoretto Sour the night before.

‘l‘m always genuinely surprised when I get given a job.‘ he says modestly. ‘I always think they‘re going to tum up on set and go: "Sorry. we meant Paul Battany.“ Some actors I‘ve met are more confident than God. but I‘m just not one of them.’

His insecurity appears genuine. though you would expect someone who comes from a theatrical family to be more confident in his ability. Moreover. after receiving a classical training at London‘s Drama Centre. Bettany immediately went

into Stephen Daldry‘s acclaimed production of An Inspector

(ally: in the West End. A season with the Royal Shakespeare

wherever."' he says. with shocking honesty. ‘lf you‘re dumb. blond and an actor like me. and you realise at the end of the year that you've spent all your tax money and bought a house. like I have done. at some point I may have to get a role I don‘t particularly want to do.‘

He would love to do a ‘big. dumb. Indiana Jones-style action film' and he knows that if he did. some of his friends would accuse him of selling otrt. ‘lr‘or me. selling out would be lying to yourself about what you’re doing a job for. I haven‘t done that yet. A Knight's 'lale isn't edgy or anything. but I had a fucking whale of a time and I don‘t regret a minute of that.‘

Not even the nudity‘.’ ‘1 think anybody who watched it regrets I did that.” he laughs. ‘I found myself just apologising to women around the world that I‘m not Heath Ledger} Those women offended by the sight of his pale naked frame in A Knight's- 'lale can rest assured that he keeps his clothes on in A BUllllll/il/ Mind. Ron Howard‘s hotly-tipped ()scar machine about schizophrenic

mathematician John Forbes Nash.

Bettany. modest as ever. says he got the role thanks to A King/n 's 'Iale director Brian

(‘ompany followed. leading to his film debut in Bent. It's a career il could be a

path of which many actors would be justifiably envious.

The variety of Bettany"s film and television work suggests a In some l'lelgeland dragging people attached to A conscious effort not to get pigeonholed early on. He‘s been a dreadful Jerry Beanri/irl Mind into the editing room to

chain-smoking loose cannon in Lynda la Plante's chat room . show them his performance as (‘haucerz ‘l stalker drama Killer Net. a disgraced priest on the run in Paul BrUCkhe'mer assume he did it with a gun and violence McGuigan‘s medieval thriller The Reckoning (aka Moral/iv Play). I can’t and forced them to watch.‘ It worked. a misunderstood drink driver on the run with Siobhan Redmond - f because the pan was practically in the bag in livery Woman Knows A Server and he gets all improvvy br't‘g to even before Bettany met Howard. ‘lt’s opposite Nicole Kidman in Lars von Trier‘s next film [)0gr-ille. do It yet, never. ever been that easy.‘ he says. ‘And it

His experience so far has made him frilly aware about the pitfalls of going through the motions.

‘You can be a bit of a monkey when you're an actor and just stand there kind of going “rmh-ooh—rmh" when you‘re told to. That‘s quite dull so I do like doing different things. For instance. I‘d never done comedy before A Knight's Yale. and I didn‘t know if I could. It was really ftrn trying.‘

With that film. Bettany. who up until then had been cast mainly as the bad guy in UK productions. shifted to the other end of the moral spectrum. reversing the direction frequently taken by British actors who go to Hollywood.

‘That baddy option‘s still always open.‘ he smiles. when I remind him how chilling his performance was in McGuigan’s Gangster No l . ‘I could do some dreadful Jeny Bruckheimer movie and be a buddy. but I can't bring myself to do it quite yet.’

So far. Bettany has kept his integrity intact with the roles he has chosen. But he knows that as his profile rises. and the offers that come his way hopefully become increasingly lucrative. maintaining it is going to become ever more difficult.

‘I fully expect. at some point. to be sitting there with a scaly devil‘s cock in my mouth. going: “Yeah. I‘ll have the ranch in.

hasn‘t been since. ljust took to him and he took to me.‘

Indeed. Howard was so impressed with Bettany that he championed him when the financiers of The Heart ()fMe. a film the actor recently linished in the Isle of Man. were questioning his suitability and demanding readings. screen tests and soon.

'They were wondering who the ftrck l was. which I really don‘t blame them for and then Ron rung them up. That kind of stuff is never ending. and I never know what to do about it. How do you defend yourself in that sort of situation'.’ Apart from going: "lixcuse me. do you know who I think I am?" which is a bit absurd. No. instead you go: “()f cotrrse I‘ll do anything. ['11 do a dance on the table for you and show you everything.”

I leave the interyiew thinking that if Paul Bettany‘s acting career hits the skids. he could always become a stand-up comedian. Somehow. though. I think this talented young man. despite all his self-deprecation and apparent self-doubt. is going to be appearing on cinema screens for a long time to come.

A Beautiful Mind goes on general release from Fri 1 Mar. See review, page 23.

10 THE LIST 28 lob—if. Mar 200?