Is Mr Paul Bettany Hollywood’s Most Stylish Man?
The <i>Avengers</i> and <i>Solo: A Star Wars Story</i> actor tries the new spring tailoring on for size.
For a weekday-morning interview with MR PORTER, Mr Paul Bettany has chosen an airy downtown Manhattan café and claimed a couch at the back, where there is ample room to spread out his lanky frame. For his MR PORTER shoot, Mr Bettany effortlessly walked us through some of the best tailoring of the new season, including pieces from Kingsman, Stella McCartney and Dries Van Noten. But here, in Tribeca, he’s in casual mode, his blond hair mussed, his blue eyes peering out from behind yellow lenses.
The tinted glasses have become a trademark look for Mr Bettany, a family man who ventures rarely but memorably into the spotlight. Usually, it’s for obligatory red-carpet sessions. Occasionally, it’s a paparazzi-documented stroll with his wife, Ms Jennifer Connelly. Either way, he tends to look fantastic, whether he’s doing the suit and tie thing or sporting, as he is right now, a Brunello Cucinelli sweater and Orslow jeans. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s one of the best-dressed actors around today.
He’s also, perhaps, one of the more unlikely people to have made it into the rarefied realms of the summer blockbuster. Mr Bettany’s upbringing was not fancy. His mother and father were teachers. Both had backgrounds in acting. His father would take him to the theatre as a child. As an actor coming of age in the 1990s, he idolised working-class heroes Messrs Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, as well as Sir Daniel Day-Lewis, even if he is more difficult to live up to. “He’s a Day-Lewis,” says Mr Bettany. “You can choose what jobs you do if you have a private income. Some of us blessed mortals have a mortgage to pay.”
These days, Mr Bettany alternates between big-budget projects, such as the Iron Man and Avengers movies he’s been doing for a decade, and smaller ones, such as the 2017 WWI drama Journey’s End. He has been candid in past interviews about his pursuit of financial security, and his recurring role in a major Marvel franchise has certainly helped with that. His next two films, Avengers: Infinity War and Solo: A Star Wars Story, are rumoured to be the two most expensive ever made.
The blockbuster work comes with other benefits, of course. A deeper-than-average relationship with his Avengers colleagues, Mr Mark Ruffalo in particular, is one of them. The opportunity to share screen space with childhood heroes is another. He’s not talking actors (“I’ve learned my lesson about meeting those heroes”). No, it’s all about R2-D2 and company.
“I could lie to you about how I first got interested in acting and say it was Cassavetes movies, but it wasn’t,” says Mr Bettany. “It was absolutely Star Wars.” The first day on set for Solo, he was more fan than cast member. “I went up and shook hands with Chewie and blew the take because I went in for a cuddle,” he says. “It was magical, like being a kid again.” Mr Bettany joined the production after its notoriously rocky start, as part of a reset in which Mr Ron Howard, a friend and collaborator from A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code, was brought in as director.
Mr Bettany does not pal around much with Hollywood types. The only actor he knows in New York, he claims, is Mr Ruffalo. Many of his friends work as writers, and this is something he’d like to do more of himself. He’s scripted and directed one film to date – Shelter, a 2014 drama about a pair of homeless New Yorkers that starred Mr Anthony Mackie and Ms Connelly – and he’s currently writing a TV series that he describes as “really funny, hopefully”.
Playing Mr Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, in Discovery Channel’s eight-episode Manhunt: Unabomber, which aired on Netflix last year, opened his eyes to serialised storytelling. “As a film, it would have been a thriller about a determined cop seeking a monster,” says Mr Bettany. “But on television, you can learn about the cop’s domestic life. It has to stop being a thriller and be a drama.” He says he’d like to do more theatre, but all the offers are coming from London. He and Ms Connelly have two children at home – Agnes, six, and Stellan, 14 – and the scheduling just isn’t feasible. A third child, Kai, whom Ms Connelly had with photographer Mr David Dugan, is at university. “Biologically he’s not mine, which is probably why he’s at Yale studying physics and engineering,” he says.
Mr Bettany is a natural at humorous self-deprecation, but he’s had his share of troubles that don’t bear joking about. A tattoo on his left arm commemorates his younger brother, who died aged eight in an accident. Mr Bettany, who was 16 at the time and devastated, struggled with cocaine addiction during the long aftermath. He was then imagining a career in music, and played his guitar in the streets for money. But he struggled to sing in front of strangers, “a bit of a stumbling block to a major career as a recording artist”.
Today, his outfit evokes Messrs Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, which is no accident. For him, they are the “very obvious triangle of style – easy, effortless”. But as a young man his original style icon was Mr Paul Weller of the mod-revival band The Jam, which is perhaps odd for someone who was recently in talks to play Prince Philip in the next season of The Crown. That whole discussion, he says, “was made a much bigger deal of in the press”. “We were chatting and then realised there was one particular really big issue where they couldn’t schedule production around me.”
He won’t reveal what the competing project is, but he will admit that he’s going to miss some of the wardrobe opportunities he uncovered while researching the Duke of Edinburgh. “One specific one, this beautiful brown suit with an open-neck pink shirt and horn-rimmed dark glasses, so well put together,” he says. “I could do a bit of that.” Overall, though, Mr Bettany has few regrets. “I think in a way it probably ends up being a good idea that it’s somebody else because I’m so not a royalist,” he says. “I absolutely think that royal families are a thing of the past and that we should all grow up and move on.” The House of Windsor can be good for tourism without taxpayer support, he adds. “I still go to Versailles when I take my kids to Paris. People will still come to see the palace.”
The most high-handed thing about Mr Bettany is his horror of modern dress standards. He’s flabbergasted that grown men sidle up to beachside cafés in swim shorts and wear flip-flops in plain view in Manhattan. Like many an underdog, he respects appearances. But he also has the sophistication to pull them off.
Lately, he’s been pairing high-end lenses with the government-provided frames he’s held on to since childhood. “NHS glasses,” he says, “the ones you got beaten up for wearing because it meant you were on benefits.” He has no skincare regime and no love for working out at the gym. “It’s a work thing, trying to squeeze a few more years out of this sadly flagging body,” he says. He describes his approach to style now as “simplicity, really”. But we can’t help thinking there’s a little more to it than that.
Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas on 27 April; Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas on 25 May