Actor Paul Bettany philosophizes about love, beer, and A Knight’s Tale

For Paul Bettany there are two things that should drive an actor: love and beer.

A rising star from Britain, Bettany steals the show in Brian Helgeland’s newest movie, A Knight’s Tale (Columbia Pictures), a comedy set in medieval Europe. Bettany plays the supporting role of Geoff Chaucer, modeled after the legendary British poet.

“Our two-week rehearsal period took the form of intense alcoholism,” Bettany said in an interview with The Hatchet. “Which was all right because the whole movie is folly anyway.”

His two-week binge on Czech beer and Jameson whiskey set the tone for Bettany’s approach to the movie.

“For this movie to be successful, the audience has to see a bunch of people that they wouldn’t mind having a drink with,” he said. “My only hope is that some people go to the movie drunk.”

A Knight’s Tale, which stars Heath Ledger (The Patriot), combines medieval jousting with a ’70s rock soundtrack, which, according to Bettany, was writer-director-producer Brian Helgeland’s vision from the beginning.

“Every song that was in the original script is in the film,” Bettany said. “Anybody hoping to see a serious depiction of medieval Europe will leave as soon as they hear the first song.”

Bettany said the movie is also a metaphor Helgeland’s own fight with the film industry. When working with Mel Gibson on Payback, a 1999 thriller based on the classic 1967 movie Point Blank, Helgeland clashed with Paramount executives and ended up having to soften the movie’s violence before its release in theaters, according to FilmUnlimited.com.

“When Brian (Helgeland) was going through his notes, he found an idea for a movie about jousting that said, `You must be of noble birth to compete,'” Bettany said. “Simply substitute peasants for writers and lords for directors, and the similarities are pretty obvious.”

Helgeland wrote the part of Chaucer for his old friend Bettany. But this did not free Bettany from dealing with many of the difficulties young, little-known actors face, such as being typecast and being required to do nude scenes. In A Knight’s Tale, Bettany appears nude twice.

“I’ve been nude in every film I’ve ever made,” he said. “Being naked in front of a camera is one of the most humiliating experiences a man can go through.”

Although Bettany believes that he has avoided being typecast, he admits that in Hollywood, British actors mostly get the roles of bad guys.

“As a young actor you have to pay your rent,” he said. “But hopefully in doing that you have choice and can do a lot of different things. The difference in doing small-budget films is that they are made with real love, and that should be the measure of success, not how much money a movie makes.”

Despite recent Hollywood success after landing a supporting role to Russell Crowe in the upcoming A Beautiful Mind, Bettany notes that in his eyes, his most successful film is a little-known English film called Gangster No. 1, which he said “was flawed, but was made with real love.”

A Knight’s Tale is Bettany’s first Hollywood-made movie, and his first step into the realm of big-budget pictures – a realm he will likely inhabit for a while, thanks to the hype built up by English tabloids over his part in A Beautiful Mind.

“There’s a lot more crying when a lot of money is involved,” he said.

Bettany leaves little room to doubt whether he will stay with his love for acting, beer and philosophy.

“I imagine it’s awful to cry over a movie that you did yourself,” he said.

A Knight’s Tale opens nationwide May 11.

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