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Bettany, Paul (1971-)


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Although not yet a regular leading man, Paul Bettany has already achieved an level of international recognition for a young British actor. He was born on 27th May, 1971 in London, and, after a misspent youth, became a respected stage actor, working with the RSC and joining the cast of Stephen Daldry's groundbreaking revival of An Inspector Calls. He had small roles in television perennials such as Wycliffe (ITV, 1994) and The Bill (ITV, 1996) and made his big-screen debut as part of the ensemble cast in Bent (d. Sean Mathias, 1997), an early indication of his taste for unorthodox projects. A more substantial role came in the wartime drama The Land Girls (UK/France, d. David Leland, 1998).

However, it was with his terrifying, entirely convincing appearance as Gangster No. 1 (UK/Germany/Ireland, d. Paul McGuigan, 2000), in which he convincingly portrayed a young Malcolm McDowell wreaking mayhem in the 1960s, that he became a prominent actor. While headlining the misjudged Martin Amis adaptation Dead Babies (US, 2000) did him few favours, a very funny performance as Geoffrey Chaucer in the gleefully anachronistic medieval romp A Knight's Tale (US, 2001) showed an unexpected comedic gift. He was the best thing about the John Nash biopic A Beautiful Mind (US, d. Ron Howard, 2001), as Nash's imaginary best friend and roommate; he also met and married his co-star Jennifer Connelly on the film.

A charming performance in the overlooked romantic drama The Heart Of Me (UK/Germany, d. Thaddeus O'Sullivan, 2002) showed his aptitude for romantic leads, which was then undermined by his role as the posturing would-be philosopher Tom in Lars Von Trier's Dogville (Scandinavia/France/Netherlands/ Germany/US/UK, 2003). A reunion with Paul McGuigan for the medieval mystery drama The Reckoning (UK/Spain, 2003) attracted a mixed reception, but his collaboration with director Peter Weir and Beautiful Mind co-star Russell Crowe, Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (US, 2003), yielded probably his finest performance to date. As the intellectual ship's doctor Stephen Maturin, he skilfully conveyed both intellectual doubt and swashbuckling prowess.

Though Wimbledon (UK/France, d. Richard Loncraine, 2004) was neither an artistic nor a financial success, he approached his lead role as a tennis player with typical professionalism, refusing to coast by on charisma and one-liners. He has also started to play villains in Hollywood blockbusters, notably his menacing turn as a bald albino monk in The Da Vinci Code (US, 2006).

Alexander Larman

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