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Wimbledon - Paul Bettany Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Would any of your former PE teachers be surprised, or think it’s a perfectly natural move that you’re playing this role?
A.
I think they would be entirely shocked by the whole idea. I’m not driven like that. I did play football, at school, but to be honest, if I’m really frank, I didn’t really care whether the other school won or lost. I never felt any of that sort of commitment to something, other than myself.

Q. You’re a rom-com virgin, what sort of surprises did doing romantic comedy throw at you, and what problems?
A.
Playing nice people. It’s much easier if you’re playing someone when they have mess that you can sort of grab on. Yeah, he’s got low self-esteem, but he’s essentially quite an uncluttered, simple bloke, and I found playing a simple bloke surprisingly difficult.

Q. You learned the cello for Master and Commander and played Championship tennis for this one, what’s the skill that you think would really elude you if you were presented with a part, and what is the skill you would like to pick up for the next one?
A.
Oh my goodness, it’s a good question and I have no interest in golf… none, because there’s no defence, is there? There can’t be a sport without defence. There should be heavy opposition for golfers, you know like tackles and things like that! What would I like to learn next? Well the difficulty is that you only pretend to learn, you know, I can play four pieces of music like Mozart and Boccharini on a cello, you might not want to listen to it. I mean, you might be able to tell the tune, but it sounds like I’m doing something enormously suspicious to a squirrel, so you frankly learn little bits of it.
Also, in that film, I played a doctor and you probably wouldn’t want me to operate on you [laughs].

Q. Is there anything you’d like to be paid to have a go at?
A.
Don’t be rude! I’m a married man!

Q. How do you cope with creating something visually exciting when arguably your dealing with the dullest spectator sport this side of cricket? Especially when modern tennis seems to be about endless baseline rallies?
A:
Well look at Roger Federer, I mean he’s a chip and charge player, and you thought that that style of play was…
Q. But did you know the term chip and charge before you did the movie?
A.
Yeah, I did because I watched endless tennis; I love tennis, but there’s not many famous tennis players from inner city, from Harlesden, really; you don’t really get that kind of opportunity, so that bit of it was a dream come true. But Roger Federer, a game that you thought was over, the sort of serve and volley player, he’s number one in the world, and he plays the game much like McEnroe, and much like Boris Becker.

Q. Is it much of a stretch going from armchair tennis to natural tennis? Are you a natural athlete?
A.
No, not at all. I have no interest in sports whatsoever, in terms of playing it. I haven’t got much interest in sweating, really, except for a few… I’m not going to go into that. But no, too many actors talk about how difficult everything is and frankly we were bankrolled by Working Title and Universal Pictures and Pat Cash, he can play a bit of tennis, so you’ve got him and you’re helped every step of the way.

Q. So are you fit for doubles?
A.
No, I smashed my racket on the last day and I promised I wouldn’t play until the film came out, for two reasons. Number one is I love playing and learning to play, and as the start date of the movie rushed up to greet me, I stopped enjoying my mistakes and I went home kind of furious if I’d had a bad day at tennis, and I wanted to play for fun again and to enjoy it. And the second reason is that I thought that if I made that promise to myself, it would stop every creative journalist, or TV journalist, saying, ‘hey, why don’t we have a little rally’? And you just go, ‘NO!’

Q. What was more daunting for you - playing the tennis, or taking on your first big romantic lead?
A.
Well the biggest challenge of the movie was the catering. No, that’s really unfair, it was lovely! The tennis, without doubt, because it was a mammoth undertaking, which you suddenly realise when you go to Monte Carlo and you see these people actually play, and move so beautifully, their bodies are so well organised, because they’ve been doing it since they were four-years-old, and it was at that point that I sort of really dug my heels in and got a little bit sort of scared.

Q. Do you have any more plans to work with your wife?
A.
I’d love to, but I think you’ve got to find something when you really hate each other, because people… it’s a bit like when rich people win the Lottery, do you know what I mean? It’s like, fucking hell, Jesus, it’s not the greatest story in the world. So, if you’re in love, it’s a bit like you’re rubbing your ‘in love-ness’ in everybody’s face, and I think people come out gunning for you.

Q. The balls are CGI, is that because you weren’t allowed to hit a ball on Centre Court on Wimbledon?
A.
No, no, Wimbledon was over. The simple reason for it was this, baseline tennis can be quite dull, so if you improvise tennis, frankly you’re making a movie, so you want the most exciting tennis rallies you can have. So Pat Cash choreographed these trick shots, hitting between the legs, and you can imagine trying to sort of repeat that, endlessly and endlessly for the cameras… it’s impossible. So how it works is every ball served is a real ball; if one person is on-screen, it’s a real ball, but the moment two players are there, after the point of the serve it has to become a CGI ball because otherwise it’s impossible to play.

Q. Did playing a successful British tennis player give you an indication of what sort of pressure Tim Henman is under? And I believe you went out onto Centre Court on one occasion before a Tim Henman match, what was that like?
A.
No, I didn’t really feel any of that, so I’ve got no notion of what that might be like. I can’t imagine dedicating my life to uh… these people stay fit for so long. I squared it away in my head going, ‘I’ve got ten months of eating boiled chicken, that’s all, I can get through ten months, I can get through ten months’, but I just couldn’t live my life like that. And I’ve never felt that kind of pressure. I really don’t think I have.
As for walking out in front of the real tennis crowd, like Richard’s already explained they’re very precious about their lawn, and so they should be, but it is an honour, and you go, pretty quickly, from ‘oh what an honour’, to ‘this is slightly nerve-wracking’, to actually being quite humiliating in about 10 seconds. But what people don’t know is that underneath the umpire’s chair is two little shots of brandy in that cupboard, in case a gentleman gets the nerves.

Q. Did you feel the pressure at all of following in the foot-steps of Hugh Grant in the rom-com genre?
A.
Well, initially I think the film was developed with Hugh in mind, and he got too old, and frankly I was like, every cloud… I didn’t feel any of that. I think what we have in common is that he’s British, and that’s it. We did sort of consciously steer away from doing what he does very elegantly. Frankly, because, he has that sort of quality that I think Cary Grant and Will Smith have, funnily enough, a sort of relentless charm that doesn’t get dreary. I enjoy watching him and I thought ‘you’re never going to be able to do that’, so I tried to do something different.

Q. Has your wife had the same effect on your career as the Kirsten Dunst character has on your playing in the film?
A.
It’s a two part answer really. The first one is that it has changed my whole life, because I feel like I’m the person I always wanted to be, and the reason for it is this; she’s actually enormously plain to look at and when we’re walking down the street and I see people staring at us, I know that they’re thinking how did she snare him? And it’s mainly a sort of charitable thing, really. But the serious answer is that yes, of course, like any couple we come home and talk about work, and she really supports me during my films, and I try and undermine her during hers.
What did happen just recently was that she was making a film and I was looking after the baby, upwards of 12 hours a day, in a trailer, in Toronto, where it was colder than it was on Mars at the time. So, I got home, having had a hard day at work, and I could tell that she needed comforting, and needed to talk like an adult, and I had the impulse to sing ‘The Wheels on the bus go round, round, round’.

Q. The Wrong Element, a future project, what’s the latest on that?
A
. We’re going to make the movie, but it’s not really the right forum for me to discuss the hiccup because it involves a tragedy, but there was a hiccup, but it all seems to be moving ahead. It’s a thriller, with Harrison Ford, called The Wrong Element, and I think I’m the wrong element.

Q. Working that closely with Pat Cash, was there any jaw-dropping moment that you saw when he was able to move with great speed, despite being past his prime?
A.
Oh God, he didn’t seem past his prime to me, I can assure you. I mean after he had got over the initial glee of firing balls at me at 135mph from one end of the court, and just laughing as I ineptly got hit in the face, he became incredibly patient, but he’s so quick. He says, ‘I’m a quarter of a second slower to the ball and everything’, but I couldn’t see it. He was just fast - fast up to the net.

Q. The fact that Peter Colt, your character, is not particularly driven, or ambitious about winning, is, I suppose, a British trait, but was that a problem ever with the money-men? Did they ever want a more American approach to it.
A.
Actually, Pat Cash said something very interesting. He said it was never the triumph, or the sensation of winning that drove me, just he couldn’t bear himself when he lost. So it wasn’t the sensation of triumph, but the sensation of failure that actually drove him, and I thought it was amusing that it came from a place of complete negativity.

Q. One of the things that emerges from the movie are the superstitions that players have before a game. As an actor, do you have any such superstitions or routines that you stick to?
A.
No, I’ve never been superstitious. It almost seemed as absurd as leprechauns to me. I always said, ‘well I don’t believe in leprechauns or Father Christmas, why would I believe in…’?

Q. You look very comfortable in the car, and reminded me of a sort of Austin Powers… I was wondering whether you sort of see yourself as a sort of playboy for the future, or a sort of James Bond?
A.
Oh, it wasn’t me driving. That was somebody else looking really comfortable. But God no, James Bond is not blonde. I don’t think that works at all. But I don’t enjoy cars, really. I like driving, but I don’t go out, ‘oh my God, it’s a 1937 Porsche’. It’s never happened that I’ve felt sexually attracted to a car - well once, but I don’t want to go into that!

Q. Did Pat Cash suggest that you watch any particular players to get their style?
A.
Him! He was very forceful about that. No, I’ve watched different people. I watched Agassi for his back-hand, just because it’s a great back-hand. But it became like pornography, you know. My wife would come in and I’d rush towards the VCR to turn it off, cos she was so bored, bless her. She got this slightly out of breath European, that everybody should have not gone out with in college, and suddenly I was really tedious. But he wanted it to be his style of playing, and Becker chip and charge sort of thing.

Q. In the Fall preview edition of Entertainment Weekly it states that this film could be the different between you being the perennial side-kick and a genuine leading man. Is that where you see yourself in the future?
A.
Well, you’ve got to have goals, haven’t you? No, do you know what? A lot’s being made of that in the US and I think that’s because they don’t get to see European movies. I certainly didn’t feel the pressure. And there’s a woman at the back in dark glasses that I pay 10% to feel the pressure for me. The whole trick of it is to start off the day and pretend you’ve got no responsibility, although you’ve got an enormous one, because otherwise you wouldn’t come out of the trailer. Luckily, number one, I’m an actor; number two, I’m a natural blonde, and number three, I’m incredibly shallow, so I’m able to dismiss all those kinds of fears.

Q. What inspires you? What drives you forward in your career?
A.
Cash really, big massive round bags of cash! No, seriously, I haven’t had much of a plan; it’s a small one, but I like it, which is to try and do lots of different things, lots of different genres. Directors, they get to do different genres, but they always want actors to do the same thing. Ang Lee makes a Western, and then a kung-fu flick, and then a monster movie, and, again, I refer back to my being really shallow, I get bored really quickly, and so want to do different things. Otherwise, you become a bit of a monkey, really, a performing monkey. You can get a monkey to behave naturally in front of the camera, but it’s nice doing different stuff.

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