Interview: Paul Bettany On Creation

The last time Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany were in a movie together, it was 2001's A Beautiful Mind, a film in which their characters never met and Bettany's, well, wasn't quite what he seemed. But the two actors managed to meet and fall in love on that set, and now, nearly 10 years later, are acting opposite one another in Creation, a drama about the personal crisis that plagued Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma, as Darwin struggled to finish his manuscript for his groundbreaking book On the Origin of Species.

Based on the book Annie's Box by Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-grandson, Creation shows the devastating effect that the death of their eldest daughter Annie had on the Darwins, bringing Emma even closer to her faith in religion and causing Charles to question his work on evolutionary theory, which had begun 21 years earlier. Told in a non-linear form and incorporating flashbacks to the very beginnings of the Darwin's marriage, Creation is the story of both a family and a man trying to make a name for himself, a marriage and the theory that nearly tore them apart.

Last week Bettany and Connelly were both on hand to talk about Creation, and below is our conversation with Bettany, who was as lively and funny as you might expect from a guy playing both Charles Darwin and a fallen angel in separate movies releasing on the same day (Creation and Legion, if you haven't been keeping track). He told us about the experience of working with his wife, the transformative experience of being face to face with an orangutan, why he fights to have the same makeup artist on every film, and how a camera can cure his fear of bugs. He ended the conversation with kind of a manifesto: "I'll make any fucking movie I choose!" Keep reading to see how the conversation got there.

So how was working with your wife on this film?

Awful. It was awful. I carried her through the whole movie. [Everyone laughs] No, it was amazing. There was some initial fears. We've wanted to for ages, and then you get the chance to, and then you worry you're going to giggle or something. [The first day on set] she comes out and she's in a funny dress, and her hair's funny, and I've got a bald head and I'm 45 pounds heavier, and we just sort of looked at each other and giggled. And then that was it, we got on with it. She is a great actress. She is incredibly focused. She is fastidious. She is in bed with me at night, which is really useful when you're on a six-day shoot and you want to talk about the next day's work and it's a really hard schedule. In movies the leading and actor and the leading actress are often in bed together, but perhaps they're not talking about the next day's work. We were.

Can you talk about playing Darwin and a fallen angel [in Legion] in the same week?

I think I have a very shallow and very short concentration span. I do something and i think, I' going to do the absolute opposite of it next. That's really the result of that. It's kind of great, because you keep everybody guessing.

There's an uncanny physical resemblance between you and Darwin.

There's a certain resemblance in that I'm blond and he was tall and had a high forehead, but i have in my opinion the greatest makeup artist in the world, Veronica Brebner. I have worked with her for 10 years, on over 10 films. She's very clever.

So what does she do to turn you into Darwin?

Eyebrow wigs. I had to shave my head, I had three different wigs. I do love the shared creation of things. I get myself into trouble when I fight for the same people to be on movies with me. It is a shared responsibility.

How often does an actor get to work with the same makeup artist?

I have caused such a stink about it. What's funny is everybody thinks I'm going to be a nightmare when I get on set. It's the one thing that I've never backed down on. One is because she is incredibly creative and brilliant in her execution, and two is, I'm really particular about who's touching my face at 5 o'clock in the morning for three hours.

How do you and Jennifer decide to work together and not keep one of you at home with the kids?

It's really tempting, because she's really good. Everybody else gets to work with her! Film sets are great for children. Working on them is a different thing.

Was it doubly fun having both parents there?

I don't know. Frankly my son likes it when I'm on a set where I"m killing vampires. He doesn't come to the set of The Young Victoria and say, 'That was great when you roundhouse kicked the queen in the head.'

How was working with the child actors?

It's great. You have a different responsibility in terms of working with children. You want to get it done quickly. It's awful when you see children overworked and tired. It's how my wife grew up, and I don't like it. It's just not right. And they tend to be better in the first and second takes anyway, when they're fresh. Martha West [who plays Darwin's daughter Annie in the film], she's an incredibly bright girl who I hope they hide and she gets to go to university and grow up and have a real normal life.

And how about working with the orangutan?

I defy anybody to sit down and play with an orangutan and say I share no connection with you. It's one thing to sort of hear about it or see it, it's another to sit with that thing looking into your eyes and playing with you. None of the stuff that we had prepared worked. I was going to play the harmonica, I was going to dance, whatever. The fact that he took the harmonica from me and played the harmonica, the fact that he took my pen started drawing on my pad-- just happened. He took my wig off at one point, because he didn't like it. He dragged me into his little cage.

Were you scared?

No, I wasn't. My heartbeat tends to lower when cameras are on. I tend to get much calmer. I'm anxious in everyday life. I'm anxious about my kids' health, my health, whether I"m going to get the job I want, the chicken's going to turn out all right, the dog's going to poop in front of the paparazzi. You get on a film and someone much brighter than you has written you great words to say. You do things you never thought you could do in front of a camera. I remember on Master and Commander-- I fucking hate bugs. The moment the camera was on, I could touch them, they're crawling over my hand. Though cockroaches I couldn't do.

You just started Priest, right? With the same director as Legion?

They are really separate. The second movie-- we went into it with the same spirit, but the second movie, we had like three times the budget, and it was so much fun. They liked the first one enough to trust us before the receipts came out to give us a new movie with three times the budget. It's a nice way to earn your money, with people that you really like. Then you make other sorts of movies, and some of these sorts of movies. You're happy. You've got a balance.

Is that variety, doing movies like Creation and like Legion, what you love about doing movies?

I will not be put into a position where I have to look like 'I'm an important actor.." I'll make any fucking movie I choose. For whatever number of reasons. Because I thought it was fun, because I wanted to try and see what that was like, because I wanted to work with that particular actor. Why did Daniel Day-Lewis make Nine? I don't know, maybe he fucking felt like it. I just hate the snobbery. I'll make any damn movie I want for a lot of different reasons.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend