Paul Bettany was born in London, England exactly 50 years ago today, which means today is a perfect day to look at some of our favorite roles of his throughout the year to celebrate. Whether he’s playing a young gangster, a medieval author, or a synthezoid, Bettany consistently delivers memorable and inspiring performances. Below are five of our favorite roles of his.
Young Gangster – Gangster No. 1 (2000)
Personally, if someone asked me to play a younger version of Malcolm McDowell I would back away slowly and pretend I didn’t hear them. Fortunately, then-up-and-comer Paul Bettany isn’t me and signed on to do just that in Paul McGuigan’s Gangster No. 1. Widely considered Bettany’s finest performance, this was his “big screen debut,” though it didn’t receive much attention due to being a British film rather than a Hollywood film. Bettany displays a manic quality in his portrayal of the young gangster that we have yet to see again from him in any other role, which makes this one unforgettable.
Geoffrey Chaucer – A Knight’s Tale (2001)
If you’re like me and many others, your introduction to Paul Bettany was watching his bare-bottom walk across the screen as eccentric author Geoffrey Chaucer in Brian Helgeland’s 2001 hit, A Knight’s Tale, making his Hollywood debut. Although the star of the film was undoubtedly Heath Ledger, Bettany was able to steal the hearts of audiences through his portrayal of Chaucer by giving his all during multiple passionate and loud monologues throughout the film, which resulted in Bettany having laryngitis following filming. A Knight’s Tale may be 20 years old as of just two weeks ago, but Bettany’s charismatic, hilarious and passionate performance is timeless.
Peter Colt – Wimbeldon (2004)
This 2004 romantic comedy is the only true rom-com Bettany has starred in during his multi-decade career, but his performance only left us craving more. His first leading role in a Hollywood film, Bettany starred as the cynical retiring tennis star Peter Colt. Bettany made a great leading man and, though the film did not receive overwhelming success (I guess audiences weren’t thrilled to watch a tennis-centric rom-com) critics did praise Bettany’s charisma and charm throughout the film.
The Vision – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), WandaVision (2021)
Bettany landed a role in John Favreau’s Iron Man simply because Favreau wanted a “really boring, personality-less voice” for Tony Stark’s A.I. butler, J.A.R.V.I.S. all the way back in 2008, which means as of WandaVision’s release this year Bettany has been involved with the MCU for 13 years. Vision instantly became a fan favorite after Avengers: Age of Ultron released in 2015 with memorable and heart-gripping lines such as “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts,” and has continued to grow in popularity over the years. Marvel fans are consistently moved by Bettany’s emotional portrayal of The Vision and hope that we will see it for years to come.
Dryden Vos – Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Born in 1971, Bettany was (of course) a Star Wars kid, having seen the original trilogy as a kid. Like many of us, Bettany’s love for Star Wars never went away and he perhaps would have done anything to appear in a Star Wars film. Luckily for him, all it took was a text message to director Ron Howard for Bettany to be cast as the leading antagonist for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Though most of his career has been spent playing the protagonist, Bettany was able to deliver a great performance as a through-and-through villain who is ever-present throughout the film, pulling strings behind the scenes to push the story’s events forward. Onscreen, Bettany’s Vos is intimidating and impossible to read, fluctuating between a joyous host to chillingly quiet and calculating.
So there you have it! Bettany has certainly portrayed a wide variety of roles and is not shy about attempting new things. If you haven’t seen one of the performances on this list, today is the perfect day to give them a watch!
Happy 50th Birthday, Paul, and we can’t wait to see your upcoming projects!