Paul Bettany comes into the room at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel in a light pink striped shirt, all smiles and easy going humor which never goes away. Charming and deprecating, he sat down to talk about his role as the Vision in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron with an eye entirely on what he can’t say, starting with a quick glance at a faux message on his phone until he declared “Yep, I can’t say anything.”
He sits anyway, taking a tense look at the window and making sure the blinds are closed.
Paul Bettany: I don’t like sitting near a window with my back to it. It’s like I can see the glint off the Marvel snipers lenses.
SuperHeroHype: So how did it come about, you taking on the Vision role in Avengers? Did you know early on that you would do that?
Bettany: For a long while I discovered, having playing J.A.R.V.I.S., I wasn’t allowed to then play another character and Joss Whedon and I got on very well and he looked for a way to make that work and found it, though I can’t say what the relationship is between Vision and J.A.R.V.I.S.. Everything is a double-edged sword, I used to be in a studio for 45 minutes and do J.A.R.V.I.S. and get a huge bag of cash and go my way like a burglar, and now they want me to work for my money. Which is great and sweaty and hot, which you’ll realize once they unveil everything. It’s really f***ing cool. It’s great to join this train which is on really clear tracks.
SHH: What intrigued you about the Vision?
Bettany: I’ve got to say that the greatest thing about the job for me is that however much research I could do, I would never know as much about Vision and this world as Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon, so it’s nice to give all responsibility of that to those guys. The thing that appealed to me is that this sort of nascent creature being born, being both omnipotent and totally naive, the sort of danger of that and complex nature of a thing being born that is that powerful and that created in a second and the choices he makes morally are really complex and interesting. They’ve really managed to maintain all of that, the old image I love is of him crying, I think it’s really expressed kind of beautifully in this “Avengers” film.
SHH: This seems like a great ensemble to be a part of. Was that how it worked out? Or are you with just a few of them?
Bettany: It’s both those things. Initially its everyone on set at the same time, the sort of introduction of Vision on the first day and that was huge and everyone was incredibly welcoming, and really prepared. That sounds really sutpid but I can’t tell you how often you get on set with famous actors and they haven’t done any work and you realize ‘you don’t know what the scene is.’ But this situation is there are so many characters everyone only gets 2 or 3 takes so everyone is really focused.
SHH: Is there a different voice from the Vision than J.A.R.V.I.S.?
Bettany: I can’t talk about that. It happens entirely naturally on set and those things are hard to analyze and there are absolute differences clearly.
SHH: Was it something you worked on beforehand?
Bettany: I worked on it, but the interaction with other people and actors, but the director changes thing. He is not J.A.R.V.I.S. and he is not a child of Ultron, he is the Vision. That weirdly happened on its own. He’s J.A.R.V.I.S. but yoked.
SHH: Was it great to work with Robert Downey in person instead of just being in a booth?
Bettany: It was lovely. Often you’re saying outlandish things to each other, with all of them, with him and Spader and Ruffalo and Hemsworth, it’s amazing how you can sell these very outlandish notions.
SHH: What is Vision’s relationship with Stark like?
Bettany: That’s very, Vision feels paternal to a number of people.
SHH: How many times do you get to punch?
Bettany: I’m really good at punching. Vision is good at punching.
SHH: What’s his relationship with Scarlet Witch?
SHH: A lot of cast members sign on for multiple films in the series. How many are you signed on for?
Bettany: 358 films I’m signed for.
SHH: We’d heard, during a WWII flashback scene filmed with Chris Evans and Haley Atwell, you were also there. Is that true?
Bettany: Not unless I was wildly drunk when it happened. But the film is not finished yet.
He’s asked about rumors of J.A.R.V.I.S. appearing on the “Agent Carter” series. He looks for Marvel snipers, but says nothing. Then he’s asked about missing the irony he lived in voicing J.A.R.V.I.S.
Bettany: It’s hard to be like that with Vision. He is someone who is learning about the world at an exponential rate. He becomes more sassy as the movie continues.
SHH: How do the Avengers feel having Vision around?
Bettany: Incredibly jealous (laughs). It’s been a really lovely working experience. In the plot there was a lot of distrust and that has to be navigated by the vision and he does it in a quite extraordinarly shocking way. It’s a real roof raiser of a moment.
SHH: Do you get to wear the big yellow cape?
Bettany: Can’t discuss that. There is a cape, and it is fabulous.
SHH: How does it feel in the costume, how do others respond to it?
Bettany: With a great deal of pity. It is a real thing. We talked about how to keep me cool in that costume. While it is one of the most genuinely extraordinarily costumes that has nothing to do with me they’ve manufactured, it’s really cool looking. The consequence is it’s f***ing hot!
SHH: What’s it like playing a character going through such a rapid evolution.
Bettany: I talked about it a lot with Joss. It’s sort of about experiencing and processing things in the moment. Superhumanly quickly. I know how that feels to play it, but it will be up to others to judge. I’m working out the question in the moment rather than having pat answer.
SHH: Can you talk about his abilities in the film?
Bettany: No? yeah, a little. We’ve talked about how he’s incredibly good at punching, which is key. He has the ability to change his density and that is … that’s awesome and exploited brilliantly by Joss in some cool moments when Vision is able to do something that is otherworldly. And he’s discovering all as he goes along.
SHH: Did you have to do wire work?
Bettany: Yeah. Have you ever been hung in the air by your genitals? I have. It’s great. There’s a lot of wire work, and I enjoy it. ‘They make it as comfortable as they can possibly make it, which is really uncomfortable. It’s as hard as doing something really uncomfortable for a lot of money can be. But the results are awesome. Forget my genitals for a second, I know you were thinking about them, for me it’s another layer of clothing I have to wear.
SHH: Are you surprised at the number of people getting into superhero franchises, because they are growing? Did you feel desire to join it, join Avengers?
Bettany: I’m an actor and I’m not naturally blonde so I don’t tend to think things through clearly. I fell into it. I got a call on a Friday night from Joss going ‘Do you want to be the Vision?’ I can’t explain the amount of luck that went into that. And frankly for ages, because I understood once you were one character in a Marvel series and never another, I understood that was my thing. I’d be Jarvis and get my bag of cash and go. We all had so much fun. I’m eternally grateful.
SHH: What do you love about working with Joss?
Bettany: There’s a lot of dancing which goes on on set, which might be how he bust his leg. No time have I had a movie, except maybe with Peter Weir, where I felt certain someone had a better idea what I should be doing. You feel very safe – when he says ‘I think it should be more like this’ you go ‘I get it’ and even if I don’t you do it his way. And he’s incredibly relaxed and having the time of his life.
SHH: Was more shawarma eaten?
Bettany: Simply can’t talk about it.
SHH: Did you know Marvel films were going to be like this in Iron Man?
Bettany: I didn’t. I could lie, but I didn’t. I did it because it seemed like a fun idea at the time. I make astonishingly simple decisions, not in a zen way but simple minded.
SHH: What does James Spader bring to Ulton?
Bettany: We have a scene and it was the first scene we shot together, and it was just . . .. even tough you’re talking with these very far fetched ideas, he found something that was very human about our relationship and it was, um, it was really amazing. You look into his eyes, he was there, it doesn’t’ matter what he was talking about, you believe him. It was a great scene to work on. He was just so present, which is very difficult when you’re in a fractal suit. You believe everything he said.