If you want Star Wars rumours, then Paul Bettany is not the droid you’re looking for.
“I’ve had a really good ten year run with Marvel from keeping my mouth shut,” said Bettany, when asked about the future of the franchise during a recent press tour in Toronto. It’s hard to argue with his reasoning. Bettany plays the android Vision in The Avengers: Infinity War, and has now parlayed that role into leading spot in another Disney franchise with his performance as the villainous Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Thankfully, the actor was much more forthcoming about other subjects. He had nothing but praise for Solo star Alden Ehrenreich:
“Did you see Hail, Caesar? He stole a Coen Brothers movie. That’s hard to do. I can’t say enough about how brilliant he is and how much he understood the Han I grew up with.”
And Bettany is just as enamored with Donald Glover as the rest of us (“This is America” dropped a few days before the interview).
“What a force of nature that man is,” said Bettany, whose only regret is that he didn’t get to work with Glover on the set of Solo. “It’s not normal for there to be that much creativity in one human being. Everybody’s seen it now, but “This is America” is a piece of art masquerading as a pop video. I would love to work with him, although I’d be super intimidated.”
His enthusiasm is infectious. Bettany has the giddy air of someone who got to live out his wildest childhood fantasy, which is a good reminder that Star Wars was a simple, joyous adventure series long before people were starting arguments on message boards.
“Star Wars changed my life,” said Bettany. “I was six years old when I saw it. It took me out of gray, miserable, rainy, 1970s London and took me to another universe.”
He was particularly enamored with Han, who he describes as a good guy but also a bit of a bad guy.
“He’s learned that the galaxy is cruel and you’ve got to be cruel to get by, but his heart’s too big so he’s going to be there at the Death Star,” said Bettany, adding that the younger version of the character shouldn’t be quite as roguish. “You don’t have to be Harrison Ford. He can be a kid learning that it’s better to shoot first, and that’s exactly what [Solo] is about.”
So how does a lifelong Star Wars fan get to be a part of the adventure? It turns out that Bettany is the beneficiary of Solo’s turbulent production. Director Ron Howard was called in after Disney’s public fallout with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the original directors of the film. That created an opening for Bettany, who previously worked with Howard on films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code.
“Ron is as close to family as you get in this business,” said Bettany. “[He’s] going to lie and tell you a lot of flattering things about why he picked me. The truth is I texted him saying, ‘Hey Ron, I heard you took over. Have you ever spent long wintery evenings wondering why you’re not in the Star Wars franchise?’ And two weeks later I was on set.”
“We kept pinching each other and saying, ‘We’re making Star Wars!’ which was fantastic.”
Of course, one man’s fortune is a loss on another man’s IMDB profile. Bettany inherited Dryden Vos from Michael K. Williams, who was cast while Lord and Miller were still attached. The character was originally conceived as an alien that would require full motion capture and a lot of CGI, but Williams was unavailable for reshoots after Howard took over. The character had to be reconceived when Bettany stepped in so late in the process, which ironically meant less time in the makeup chair than many of Bettany’s latest roles.
“[Michael] was super gifted and was gainfully employed. I’m unemployable and was totally available,” said Bettany. “It swings around, so I’ll get my just desserts another time, I guess.”
Though Bettany signed on during dramatic circumstances, he says that any behind-the-scenes issues had been resolved long before he arrived. For that, he credits Ron Howard’s steady hand.
“There wasn’t any drama when we were on set. The overwhelming feeling was one of calm,” said Bettany. “I think there had been a lot of turbulence and a crew that didn’t know what was going to happen to the film they were making, and then Ron Howard gets dropped like a special forces director. That’s a difficult situation and he is a consummate professional.”
“He’s a great director, and it’s impossible to dislike him. He’s the nicest man on Earth.”
That made the Hollywood veteran the perfect choice for Solo, and Bettany believes that Howard’s experience has allowed him to create the most exciting Star Wars movie that he possibly could.
“[Ron] was probably talking about that with George Lucas in 1973,” said Bettany. “There isn’t anybody who knows [Star Wars] better.”
Either way, Bettany is optimistic about the future of Star Wars, especially when it comes to spin-off movies like Solo that open up new creative ground for filmmakers like Howard.
“If you want [Star Wars] to stay the same, then let’s not make another one. Let’s leave it as it is. If you have an appetite for more of them, there has to be new blood,” said Bettany. “I hope that they keep doing these spin-offs. I think it really invigorates the whole franchise.”
Fortunately for him, it doesn’t seem like Disney will be slowing down anytime soon. Solo is shaping up to be another monster hit, and the studio is already talking about a possible Lando spin-off. Bettany was tight-lipped about his own future involvement, but that’s why he gets to be in Star Wars while the rest of us have to settle for seeing it in the theatre.
Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theatres on May 25th.