Today is the release date for two very disparate movies starring Paul Bettany (aka that British guy who was lucky enough to marry Jennifer Connelly). In one, the indie film Creation, he plays Charles Darwin. In the other, the supernatural thriller Legion, he plays the archangel sent to save a small town … and the human race. This, weirdly, seems to be Bettany’s chosen career path — alternating between roles as period geniuses (in addition to Darwin, he was a doctor in Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World, Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, and Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne in The Young Victoria), and the weird pale dude in apocalyptic thrillers (the albino villain of the Da Vinci Code, the role in Legion, and a vampire-hunting priest in the upcoming Priest).
When we met with Bettany at the American Museum of Natural History a week ago to discuss Creation, we discovered that his odd career trajectory is actually by design. Is he purposefully alternating between scientists and supernatural albino dudes? “That’s it!” he told us. “Those are my two niches.” He explained, “I think what happens is that I am quite shallow and I get bored very quickly so I’m making a small, heartfelt movie about Charles Darwin, and I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, I should really go kill some vampires in the next film,’ and I go kill some. And whilst I’m killing vampires, I’m thinking, ‘God, I should really go and make a small, heartfelt movie, you know, that people think is deep and important.’ And then I’ll be making a film that people feel is deep and important when I go, ‘I should really go kill some more vampires.’ I like doing different things, you know, my children when they run around on the playground, I have noticed, don’t pretend to be the grandfather of evolution theory. They run around shooting things and it’s much the same for me and my initial impulses to act where, you know, my mom gave me a set of holsters and guns and I jumped around. It would be stupid to deny that, wanting to be in a Racine play or wanting to be in a Shakespeare play or wanting to play Darwin came later, you know. But I do think that perhaps Darwin’s ideas would’ve been more broadly accepted at the time had he had an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle. That would’ve been like survival of the fittest and that would’ve been something else.”
The bent for apocalyptic thrillers, though, he says, is not intentional. “It’s just the way the cards have fallen. It really is. There’s an enormous amount of sort of apocalyptic movies being made at the moment. The environment, the war on terror, it’s sort of in our culture. and, uh, it’s on everybody’s lips. So, you know, there then tend to be a large percentage of scripts that I get offered that have that sort of theme.” And, he’d like to point out that he has actually only played an albino in one movie so far. “I think it might look like I’ve done it more than once because in the Legion poster they’ve given me a sort of angelic aura, but I’m not an albino. I’m just pale.”