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Firewall - Paul Bettany interview

Paul Bettany in Firewall

Compiled by Jack Foley

Paul Bettany talks about his role as the villain in Firewall and what it was like to fight Harrison Ford…

Q. How important is it to you to create a good villain? Do you think Cox thinks he’s a bad guy while he’s doing these bad things?
A. Yeah, I do, actually. I think that villains have a certain vanity about how bad they are. I hear actors say a lot: “You mustn’t think about him as a bad guy.” But I think it’s nonsense. I think he doesn’t think of himself as a psychopath. But I think he’s well aware that he’s robbing a bank and that’s a criminal act. I think he can justify what he does. You’re stealing gold that’s already stolen off the man that used a pick axe to dig it out of the ground. You’re holding an upper middle class American family hostage for two days. Well, the world’s full of bad things. That happens, everyday. I mean, I’m sure that he can justify everything but I think he’s well aware that he stands to do prison time if it goes wrong.

Q: This film has considerable fight scenes. Did you ever think to yourself: “I’m pummeling Harrison Ford”?
A. It was three days of a very intricately choreographed fight sequence. Harrison is brilliant at doing those things. He loves doing fights. And Richard’s very clear about story. I think in a lot of fight sequences in recent genre films, it’s more like a fight montage rather than following a very simple story of two people trying to get to a gun or trying to get to a pick axe. We were very clear about the nuts and bolts of how the story of a fight moves. And I was just trying not to get bruised.

Q. But you’re a young man…
A. I wouldn’t want to tumble with Harrison Ford. He’s a tough son-of-a-bitch. I threw that man through a window seven times and he landed on his head, got up, rebuilt the window with the crew and then got thrown through it again. I hit that man in the stomach. He was wearing padding, but I hit that man in the stomach, pulled my punch and he said: “Listen, can you just land it a bit so I can feel it?” So I landed it a bit harder and he said: “I need a bit more so I can react to it.” And so I landed it a little bit more. This went on and on until finally I just wound one up and just let loose on him and he went: “That’s it.” It was the most humiliating day of my life.

Q: In a lot of your American work, you’ve played nice guys. You’ve played villains in other, earlier work. Was this the kind of part you were looking for, to play a villain, because you said you like doing it?
A. Yeah. I suppose I was actively seeking to be a baddie in a thriller and Harrison Ford is almost his own genre. There’s a Harrison Ford thriller and he is impeccable at doing that. I wanted to be a part of it. He’s the reason I wanted to do the film.

Q. Does this film make you paranoid about your own private life?
A. Yeah. I have got a Mac. What’s brilliant about Mac is there are no viruses that work on it as of yet.

Q. You’re quite jovial on set, yet Virginia Madsen says that when you change into character it’s like looking into the eyes of a Nazi. How was that for you?
A I was acting before; I’m the Nazi. [laughs] No. I really don’t know. I’m not very good at discussing how acting gets done. What I tried to think about was really wanting all of that money and hurting people not being a problem. I want a lot of money, me, Paul, but hurting people’s a problem for me. It’s an absolute definite obstacle that I couldn’t get over. But for him it’s not a problem. When he points a gun and shoots a couple of people with it, he can’t think about a human being on the floor. So, you just imagine you’re doing something else.

Q: What do you think makes a good villain? You’ve played them so effectively and Richard said there probably isn’t a better guy at playing villains..
A. Well, that’s very kind of him. But I don’t really think about. I’ve been lucky enough to play lots and lots of different types of people, and if the story appeals to me, or the genre appeals to me, the director – there’s a myriad of different reasons that I take a job.
If you look at it in the right way, being a parent, it was fun doing a scene and knowing what I would do if anybody came near my kids in that way, and how violent and how much hatred I would feel. There’s a scene where I feed a kid a cookie in the movie. And there was a lot of conversation about what’s the best way to do it. I wanted to make it very bland and less arch because I thought it’d be just so awful. The more people imagine that it’s happening to their kid, instead of watching this little boy alone with this 6ft 3ins stranger, the more awful it is. It was fun to push those buttons in people.

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