Paul Bettany was born in Harlesden, near London, to Thane Bettany, a drama
teacher and actor, and Anne Kettle, a school secretary. He has an older sister,
Sarah, and a younger brother, Matthew, who died after a fall when he was only
eight years old.
Matthew's death left the family grief-stricken. Soon after, Bettany left home and went to live on his own in London. He lived in a small flat and earned money by playing his guitar in the streets. After two years, he found a new job in a home for the elderly.
Finally, when Paul Bettany was nineteen, he decided to be an actor, and he pursued that career with determination, studying at the London Drama Centre in Chalk Farm. He made his stage debut in Stephen Daldry's acclaimed West End revival of An Inspector Calls at the Aldwych Theatre, playing the part of Eric Birling. He also appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar (for which he received a Charleson Award nomination).
After an appearance on Sean Bean's series Sharpe, he made his film debut with a small part in Bent, a Holocaust drama which also featured Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Ian McKellen. He continued doing work in stage and television, establishing himself as a gifted actor with wide range. There was Joe Penhall's Love and Understanding, which played at London's Flatbush Theatre and then ran in Connecticut. His roles in the television productions Killer Net and Coming Home – during which he met and dated Emily Mortimer – soon followed. He did his last theatre work in One More Wasted Year and Stranger's House at the Royal Court Theatre.
Bettany had become addicted to cocaine along the way. His drug problem reached its height during the filming of the miniseries David Copperfield, during which he destroyed a posh hotel room and caused a disturbance on a plane. The director even had to film some of his scenes in slow motion. But Bettany had reached a turning point, and immediately started to turn his back on drugs.
Paul Bettany filmed several more movies, including his first leading role in Gangster No. 1. The British Independent Film Awards nominated him for Best Actor, and the London Critics Circle nominated him for British Newcomer of the Year.
Back in Hollywood, Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) was planning a new film called The Sin Eater (which later became The Order). He was impressed by Bettany's audition tape, though he eventually decided to film A Knight's Tale instead. The studio executives were not impressed, but Helgeland was determined to cast him, even writing the part of Chaucer for him. A Knight's Tale would be Bettany's first big Hollywood production, and most American audiences would have their first look at Paul Bettany when he walked onscreen muddy and naked. "My buttocks entered the American market before I did," Paul joked on the movie's DVD commentary track.
Critical acclaim poured in after A Knight's Tale, for which he won the London Critics Circle Award for British Supporting Actor. After the movie wrapped, Helgeland, determined that Hollywood should recognize Bettany's talent, showed the audition tape to many of his peers, including Ron Howard, who promptly cast Bettany in A Beautiful Mind. It was on that set that Bettany would befriend Russell Crowe and meet his future wife, Jennifer Connelly. Both were already in relationships, so they kept themselves only to friendship for about a year. Finally both single, they began dating.
After A Beautiful Mind, Paul Bettany was offered the role of the brutal serial killer "The Tooth Fairy" in Red Dragon, opposite Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins. To the great displeasure of his managers, he turned down the role in favor of accepting a part with Stellan Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman in controversial director Lars Von Trier's Dogville.
On New Year's Day of 2003, Paul Bettany married Jennifer Connelly in a Scottish ceremony attended by a small circle of friends and family. He moved to Brooklyn with Jennifer and her son Kai, and the couple welcomed their own son Stellan (named for Stellan Skarsgård) on August 5, 2003.
Bettany's next major project would make his talent undoubtable: he teamed up again with Russell Crowe to film Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. His quiet, powerful portrayal of surgeon and naturalist Stephen Maturin brought in even more critical acclaim, including a BAFTA nomination, British Actor of the Year (London Critics Circle), and Best Actor (Evening Standard). On June 28, 2004, Bettany and thirteen other actors were included in the 2004 invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Dogville and The Reckoning were released in limited cinemas in 2004. In September of that year, Bettany made his leading-man debut in Wimbledon, a romantic comedy with Kirsten Dunst, proving for anyone who might still have doubts that he could carry a movie. Reviews for the movie were somewhat lukewarm, but every critic had praise for Bettany's performance.
In spring 2005, Paul Bettany went to Vancouver to film Firewall, a thriller starring Harrison Ford and Virginia Madsen, directed by Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon).
He spent the autumn of 2005 filming The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's bestselling novel and starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou.
In 2004 and 2005, there were rumors about Bettany and Connelly teaming up to film Brideshead Revisited, but nothing seems to have come of that project. Bettany is currently rumored to be a top candidate for the Joker in the next Batman movie. However, amongst the slew of actors that have been rumored for the role Adrien Brody has been the only actor to actually publicly confirm his interest.
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