The excitement in the Hyatt Centennial Ballroom II–IV Saturday at 4PM was palpable as Paul Bettany was introduced. None of us knew exactly how much of the conversation would be about cheese when moderator Tony P. Henderson started the questions.
There was quite a lot of discussion about food, including what Bettany’s favorite meals are. He said that he had recently returned from a trip to Italy where he’d spent about 2 weeks eating Mediterranean food but he really enjoys Indian food in general. However—and here’s where the cheese conversation starts—Bettany confessed that he really loves a cheese and pickle sandwich saying, “Cheese is my gateway drug.” He did clarify that when he says “pickle” he means what we call relish in the United States.
Later on, Bettany talked about how he and his wife, Jennifer Connelly, have people up to their house in Vermont after Christmas each year where they do midnight drunk sledding and Connelly does a lot of cooking. He made sure to mention that she’s a very accomplished chef, while he is a “spaghetti Bolognese man.” He does one thing and does it well. His more controversial food opinions came later in the discussion where he gave a thumbs up to pineapple on a pizza but was adamant that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are just wrong. While he had this particular platform, he urged us Americans to “just stop it” when it comes to that particular sandwich. (Side note, this author happens to agree with him on that one. Don’t @ me.)
When we weren’t talking about food, we got to find out a lot more about Bettany as a person including his pets (a Russian Blue cat and a very dumb golden retriever named Wallis), his hobbies (he plays guitar and is a huge Radiohead, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, and Strokes fan), and how he met and fell in love with Connelly (“I fell in love and married an American by mistake”). He also talked about his 1968 Series 2 Land Rover called Martha that he likes to tinker with, though he confessed he really has no idea what he’s doing. Mostly he likes to pop the hood and lean inside it so when Connelly asks he can say that he’s working on the car. It also turns out that Bettany has a phobia of cockroaches because he woke up covered in cockroaches one night when he was living above a restaurant in New York City.
Bettany also had some good advice for his teenage self, saying that 90% of the things that he’d worried about turned out not to be a problem. He said he’d say to himself, “Chill the f—k out, Paul. Don’t worry about it. You’ll find your people eventually.”
The conversation would occasionally turn to acting. Bettany got into acting largely because his father was offered a second-hand car in exchange for him being in a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Up until then, Bettany had wanted to be a guitar player. When asked if he still gets nervous, Bettany noted that he doesn’t get nervous on film sets anymore, but that he did get jittery being on stage again after 25 years. He was Andy Warhol in the play The Collaboration recently, and he said that he spent a lot of time trying to figure Warhol out starting by trying to imagine what Warhol might have been afraid of while growing up in Pittsburgh in the 40s and 50s. “Somehow, he changed the world to see him as a superstar, and that is magical,” Bettany added.
When it comes to the difference between acting for film and acting on stage, Bettany said that the thing he’s come to realize is that the actor is in charge on the stage but that film is a director’s medium. There’s a kind of freedom in being on film, he said, because it doesn’t really matter how many bad takes you have as long as you get one good one. But when something good happens on stage, you have to spend time understanding how it happened in the hopes of replicating it. Film, he said, feels like it is always a rehearsal. Bettany also touched briefly on a film that he directed and how difficult it is to answer lots and lots of questions like what color do you want the red shoes to be? He said that was about 90% of the questions he was asked and the other 10% were questions that were impossible to answer. Because of that experience, he became a more generous when it comes to dealing with directors.
We were all fortunate that Bettany agreed to address a question regarding how he feels knowing that everyone has seen his derriere. Bettany did say that he felt really quite good about knowing that everyone has seen his 25-year-old derriere and not the one he currently has. The scene in question in a movie regarding the story of a knight involved his character walking down the street naked, so Bettany was confused when the costume department came knocking on his trailer door. They proceed to hand him a yellow day-glo sock for his “business.” When asked why, they told him that it was to save his embarrassment. He said, “Really and truly, the only thing more embarrassing is walking down the street with a day-glo sock on my business.”
Ultimately, Bettany did the scene “sans sock.” Though that did create some issues of its own. The sock is day-glo so that the filmmakers can be sure that absolutely no part of the business is caught on screen. He was forced to employ surgical tape on his business because of some of the angles at which they were filming.
Just before the panel, Bettany was kind enough to take a couple of moments to talk with the Daily Dragon.
Daily Dragon (DD): Welcome to Dragon Con! This is your first time here, correct?
Paul Bettany (PB): It is my first time at Dragon Con, yeah.
DD: Have you had a chance to see any of the convention yet? Have you just gotten in?
PB: I have been moved from one hermetically sealed room to another and I got in last night. I’ve just been here but I’ve met lots of fans. And that’s been lovely.
DD: Have you gotten to see any of the cosplayers or anything?
PB: I guess there’re a lot of people come in and I have to say it’s the most serious that I’ve seen it at any of the conventions I’ve been at. And a distinct lack of children. It’s like people come here and they’re bringing their A game and they don’t want their kids weighing them down or something. Usually there are lots of kids.
DD: Had you heard much about Dragon Con before you signed on to come?
PB: Only that it was an incredibly serious cosplay convention, and that it was the real, serious, dedicated fans. And I was like ‘… I kind of want to see what that looks like.’ And it is, it’s different.
DD: We are a different, different sort of bunch. During the strike, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy?
PB: I have been – I have a family with three children, so I’ve been doing that. Being a dad.
DD: Is it better? Worse? Than being shut down during the pandemic?
PB: Well… I mean, the pandemic was a sort of global phenomenon and this is pretty localized to a few unions, so it doesn’t have the same sense of isolation that the pandemic had. Because you get to come and do this, and you get to be out, see friends, things like that. As far as not working, it’s got a similar vibe.
DD: Do you have any hobbies or anything that you’ve been able to put time to that you normally don’t get a chance to do?
PB: No, I don’t think so. I’ve been reading more and I find myself tinkering with my car more. But not in the way that in the pandemic I think everybody was getting into gardening and making banana bread and stuff like that, you know. Haven’t been doing that, so much.
DD: Thank you so much for your time and for taking a few minutes to chat.
PB: Thank you, unicorn person. [Reporter note: I was wearing a rainbow unicorn headband during our interview.]