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Paul Bettany: "I'm done being a gun for hire"

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He lives in New York and is married to an A-list US actress (Jennifer Connelly), but you can’t accuse Paul Bettany of forgetting his roots. Having plied his trade in such box office-bothering Hollywood mega-hits as A Knight’s Tale, Master And Commander and The Da Vinci Code, the 42-year-old is now heading up Blood – a low-budget British indie in which he plays a policeman investigating a spectacularly grim murder case.

First things first: Blood has a pretty great cast…

Yeah, the quality of actors in this film in incredible: Brian Cox, Stephen Graham, Mark Strong… There was nobody making this film for anywhere near what they’d normally get paid. Actually, Brian Cox nearly slipped out of the film because of scheduling issues, and I was on bended knees begging him to do it. [For his character] we needed someone with a latent violence about them, and Cox definitely had that [laughs]. Mark Strong’s great too. The really irritating thing about him is that he’s both an amazing actor and the nicest human being you will ever meet. He’s so much nicer than me, I find it exhausting [laughs].

Did you speak to any real policemen to prepare?

We f*cking tried, but Nick [Murphy, the director] wouldn’t let us [laughs]. Something we all said on set was that we wanted to get away from that ‘gritty British police’ thing, which left us [the actors] a lot of space to do imaginative work. Like, if the person who’s directing the film categorically says, “I will do everything in my power to stop you talking to real policemen because I’m not interested in the presentation of a ‘real’ policeman”, it gives you more time to concentrate on the actual vision of the man you’re playing, rather than just his job. I could look at my character, work out the things I had in common with him and try to cling to them. We were very dissimilar in many ways; I don’t know what it feels like to kill a man, for instance. Which is good for you because we’re alone in this room together.

Yes, that’s reassuring. Cheers. Is it true you and Stephen Graham lived together during filming?

Yeah, for six weeks. Not just me and him – it was me, him and my driver, Alan. I’ve had the same driver for 10 years and they could only afford to put him up in some sh*tty hotel, so since I was living in this huge place, I asked Alan in.

Living together must have helped, as you and Stephen play brothers in the film…

Well, yeah – the thinking was there couldn’t be two people who look more dissimilar than me and Stevie Graham, so what are we going to do about it? Since looks are much less important than having the right actors, what we did about it was to move in together and try to create a brotherly relationship. It was my idea, actually.

How did that work out, then?

Well, there’s me doing all the f*cking cooking every night, while Stevie and Alan are just on the PlayStation, playing Fifa. They’d pause it and be like, “Do you want to play, Paul?” I’m like, “No, I don’t want to play, because I’m f*cking 40 years old” [laughs]. I’m cooking them a meal and it’s like they’re f*cking eight or something.

You made your name in big Hollywood films, but you’ve also starred in lower-budget indie projects such as Blood and Margin Call. Which do you prefer?

Well, Margin Call was f*cking nuts. We shot that in 17 days [laughs]. None of the actors had trailers or anything. To be honest, I’ve made a decision about the sort of work I want to do now. I’m done being a gun for hire; I can’t do it any more. So, whatever it is I do, it has to at least have the potential to be good.

Blood is at cinemas from 31 May and on DVD from 10 June

(Image: Rex Features)

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