Priest Set Visit Report - Paul Bettany

Priest Set Visit Report - Paul Bettany
Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet & Lily Collins on the vampire movie PRIEST 3D, opening in theaters nationwide on May 13, 2011.
Updated: 05-10-2011
Just after Legion wrapped and Priest was winding down, was invited to the set on the Sony Lot in Culver City, CA., to talk about the two back-to-back thrillers and the combination of Stewart and Bettany.
Q: Are you going to be the De Niro to Scott Stewart’s Scorsese?
Bettany: I don’t know about De Niro and Scorsese. That’s a pretty high bar. As long as he wants to put me in movies, I’d like to be in them. Unless he starts directing porn. Then I’ll bow out gracefully, because I’m done with that.
Q: What's your relationship like with director Scott Stewart?
Bettany: It’s very sexual. The relationship is, really simply, he liked my work on the last film and I liked his. I saw some of the footage at Comic-Con. It was the first time I’d seen anything. Knowing the budget of what the film was, I thought it looked spectacular, and so much more expensive than the film I remember making. And he was given the opportunity by Clint Culpepper to direct this movie with three times the budget, which sounded really exciting. He’d be able to really flex his muscles. It sounded like a great thing to be a part of. Clint Culpepper, the head of Screen Gems, is a real maverick. We made Legion for him. And before the receipts came in, he hooked us up to make another movie for him. Which has not been replicated in my career, somebody that certain and courageous: “I like the movie and I want to make another one with him. And fuck it, I’m gonna give him three times the budget.” Before anyone had seen the receipts come in. I think that’s impressive.
Q: How are these two films testing you as an actor?
Bettany: Well, it’s a very different thing. In between making these two movies I played Darwin. The requirements are very different, obviously. The challenges of these two movies have been more physical. It sates the hunger for that sort of Boyzone stuff. It’s a lot of the reason I became an actor, because my mum gave me a set of holsters and some guns and I jumped around the couch killing people. Killing bad guys. Obviously, that sort of grows and you mature and you make films about Charles Darwin and whatever. But there’s still that kid in you that wants to jump on the couches and shoot bad guys. And it’s been almost illegally fun.
Q: Is it different this time around?
Bettany: Weirdly, it feels very similar. The first time I him for Legion, he came and pitched the idea of me being in this movie to me, and it was such a slick pitch. He was so clear about what he wanted to do. I felt safer than I might have been with a first-time director, usually, because his business has been visual effects and he knows cameras and he knows lenses and he knows story. He for some reason trusted me, and we really got on with it. Which is exactly the same experience I’ve had on this. The set has always been such a fun place. He has very clear plans but isn’t rigid. It’s a great thing for me, doing what I do, to work with.
Q: With these roles, how do you find the character in the physicality?
Bettany: They’re both warriors. Part of your job is getting in shape, because there is going to be that scene where they show that your body is capable of doing the things that you are pretending to do. But also, being a warrior is part of the (sounds like “arena”), whatever you’re doing. There’s a professional (deformation???) -- you’re playing Hamlet; you are a prince. You know what I mean? That’s your job. You are a warrior; you know how to move your body and shoot guns and fight. People hold themselves differently from somebody who’s been sitting on the phone, talking to actors and typing. I have, naturally, the body of a reader. My body will revert to that very quickly after this job. But it is important, I think. If you’re an actor and somebody pays you a bunch of money to be a superhero and you don’t get into shape, shame on you. That’s the job; you’re a fucking superhero.
Q: Consciously interested in exploring issues of faith?
Bettany: I don’t think so. I was consciously interested in exploring Darwin. I am a fan of Darwin, so that was very conscious. The other things sort of happened to fall out that way. Sometimes the cards fall one way and sometimes they fall another. But if I was playing Prometheus, I’d probably believe in Zeus, you know what I mean? But I take your point. There have been a few religious-themed movies. It’s just the way the deck fell.
Q: Were you at all nervous as to how Legion might turn out?
Bettany: Only in that one’s always nervous how any endeavor one does turns out. No more, no less. I was anxious to see it, but not because I was worried about it. I thought it would be fun to see that movie. I still haven’t. But the stuff you saw, I’ve seen. It’s the sort of movie I’d like to go and see, you know?
Q: Did shooting on the Blade Runner lot have any special meaning to you?
Bettany: Scott is incredibly film literate, and his two cinematic touchstones, his references, have been The Searchers and Blade Runner. But it’s much more Orwellian, in my opinion, than Blade Runner. I mean, it does have that sort of flavor, but it’s quite Orwellian in the execution of the set design, I think.
Q: Are you familiar with Blade Runner? Have you seen it?
Bettany: A couple of times.
Q: You can legally answer, “I’ve never seen it.”
Bettany: No, I have seen it. It’s a favorite. I think it had meaning for us all. And I think it had meaning for Scott and it had meaning for Clint. But it was also sort of the size of it. It was an enormous set and an enormous endeavor. Something like three or four hundred extras. It was the first day that it felt huge. It was enormous, the scale of it, that he was managing. And we really wanted that, this incredibly crowded, dirty, cold. It’s always dark in the cities because of the pollution. And then arrive in the desert, which is obviously desolate, as it’s often...and these huge shots that look like they’re from The Searchers. But no, I certainly didn’t feel like that day was a sort of homage to Blade Runner. But I love the film. I mean I do. I have every version of that film and watch it regularly.
Q: When you’re on a set like that, is it sort of playtime?
Bettany: Well, you sort of expect and hope for different things from different sorts of movies. Sometimes you get a huge thrill and sense of exuberance from the sort of intimacy you get from making a small movie. But it was definitely fun to see that many people. Just the endeavor of getting that many people to shoot all night long. It’s lovely, all of that stuff.
Q: What happens in that scene?
Bettany: The scene is really setting up the world in which I live, in this post-apocalyptic state where there’s no separation between church and state. I leave work, and you see somebody who was clearly once a huge figure sort of diminished, working in a shitty job and walking home. First of all, I have to go to sort of a confessional. It’s law that you confess everyday. You go into an automated confessional booth and confess to an automated Christopher Plummer. Which was kind of cool. So it’s really setting up... there was this big war between the vampires and the humans and there priests were these elite troops that fought the vampires. But since then there’s been a political...they are sequestered in prison camps, the vampires are. The priests are no longer needed and they have sort of faded into obscurity.
Q: Differences between your character in this and your character in Legion?
Bettany: There’s lots, I think. Michael and, I think for me, the film of Legion, is about forgiveness, whereas Priest is about revenge. I don’t think Priest has much time for forgiveness. It’s not a cause of concern for him.
Q: Where do you find the humanity in these characters?
Bettany: A lot of it you can’t. You can’t. You have to find the bit of it that compels you, this man chasing after this girl who’s been kidnapped. It’s a fantastic engine to any story. He is running to save a girl. Long or short, it’s a great motive. The fun thing about Michael is, an old testament God has lost all faith in mankind and Michael hasn’t. He has to do the right thing, even though it’s defying God. And you look for the little bits in your life where you feel like you stood up for somebody when it was dangerous to stand up for them, or whatever. It’s impossible to really play an angel. And I’m a man. You really helped a lot by the fact that they CGI wings on you.
Q: Karl said he broke you a little bit.
Bettany: It’s very sweet of him to mention it. I certainly wouldn’t have. Yes. But you don’t take a job like this, where over a third of the schedule is fighting and action, and not think you’re gonna get beaten up a bit. It’s all right. They’re paying me money. Fuck it. And you heal. I’m still young enough to heal, although it takes longer. Stupidest time in my life to become an action hero.
Q: Things are happening very fast for you. How do you reflect on that.
Bettany: It feels like about twelve years to me. But no, I really don’t think of it in those terms. I simply don’t have a plan, and perhaps I should have had a plan. I just don’t. I want to work. I want to raise my kids. I want to be with my wife, and then I want to work some more. It’s really simple stuff. I love film -- I love all sorts of film. But I’ve never had a plan.
Q: Tell us about recording voice of Jarvis for Iron Man sequel?
Bettany: It’s as mysterious to me as it was the first time. Which is -- and this is absolutely true -- I was on the set of Legion and Iron Man opened, and some of the crew came in after the weekend and they were like, “Hey, I was listening to Iron Man. You’re in Iron Man, right?” “No, I’m not in Iron Man.” “Because it sounds like--” “Oh no, I am! I am.” I got rung up by the director, who I know and who I’ve worked with as actors together, said, “Do you want to do this thing?” And I went, “Yeah, sure. Fuck it. I’ll come in.” I went in and I just -- he’s a very funny human being, obviously -- laughed my ass off for an hour and literally said a couple of lines, went down and caught a cab and went home. And I, swear to God, wiped it out of my mind. People went up to me and said, “You’re in Iron Man,” and I went, “No I’m not. Oh no, yeah, I suppose I am.” So it’s mysterious to me. I don’t know what they’re doing, whether I come back or not.
Q: Talk about the look of the vampires in Priest.
Bettany: He (Scott) sent me an image, because I was like, “Well, what are they?” I love vampires. I loved Dracula. I loved the book as a kid. He was sort of explaining to me that “they’re gonna be less human than you’re used to.” I’m like, “Just send me a fucking picture.” And he sent me a picture and I was so relieved, for two reasons. One, I was like, can you leave our sort of Twilight notion of what vampires are, and is that all right? And is it even gonna be cool and scary? Then he sent me a picture and it was so fucking cool looking. I was like, yes. I think it also relieves us from the burden of the whole vampires-are-cool at the moment.
Q: Are you ever up against guys in masks? Or are they all CGI?
Bettany: Oh no, we have guys in masks that will be additionally CGI’d. Sometimes they’re the guys...have you seen the guys that look like Devo? Sometimes it’s them. One time I had to stab a big silver pillow, which was just humiliating. It wasn’t even a particularly frightening pillow. But they promised me it was going to look like a vampire. And I was like, “What? A vampire’s pillow? What the fuck is this? It’s a fucking pillow. I don’t need a knife to kill it.” But I can’t tell you how much fun and how close everybody has become. Actors always say that, but it’s fucking true. We’ve all had so much fun making the film. It would be lovely if it succeeds and we all get to come back. It would be great.
Q: Do you feel like it’s your responsibility to be the cheerleader on the set?
Bettany: Yeah. From my experience as a supporting actor, the mood of the set is absolutely defined by the relationship between the director and the leading actor. In my opinion, there’s more to being a leading actor than just what appears on screen. It’s about leading, trying to, with your director. It’s fucking long hours. People get tired. People get ratty. In my opinion, I can’t get ratty. Because if I do, anybody else can. And to remember, all the time, that you have one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve actually found a job that involves no job. That’s a great job. And to moan and bitch about it...when I hear actors whining and bitching about the hours and all this -- “Aww, we’re in fucking Mexico...” You know what? Fuck off out of the boat and let somebody else on. Because there are a bunch of people behind you, desperate to be doing what you’re doing right now. I think that the process should be a fun one, no matter what you’re making. It should be a fun experience. It should be a happy experience for people to be on. That’s why I like to do things the way Scott likes to do things. He keeps a really happy set.
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Staci Layne Wilson
Read our review of the PRIEST movie here (coming soon)
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