In “Priest” Paul Bettany will once again play the role of a priest, a part he has tackled in several films in the past. But this time around, he is battling postapolcalyptic vampires in an action packed horror movie. Bettany has played various characters throughout his career, some famous, some not so much: Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, a 19th-century doctor on a British warship, a pro tennis player, an archangel, the voice of a computer in a hit movie and its sequel, an imaginary friend, a police inspector, a gangster, an insane monk, a medieval priest and now in “Priest” he will portray a very different sort of man of the cloth.
“I don’t know what it is,” says the actor says about his eclectic resume, “but I do seem to flip-flop between wanting to do something small and intimate to wanting to do something big and silly. I think I have this real childish need to do different things each time.”
Bettany has worked with “Priest” director Scott Stewart before, when he starred as the Archangel Michael in “Legion,” a role that required the actor to train hard to become what he calls “whippet thin.” And with “Priest” he once again returned to the gym to put on muscle.
“Personally, I need to be offered a lot of money to get fit because otherwise I can’t do it,” says Bettany. “But I have a very strong work ethic; so if somebody says you need to look like an action hero, then I’ll do my damnedest to get there. We had eight months to really train, and I ate heavy – decimated the chicken population of the East Coast of America.”
Another requirement for this role, the British-born actor had to learn to speak with an American accent.”I really wanted to lower my voice and have the classic Man With No Name gravelly growl and in a way that didn’t feel affected. And I have to confess that it involved cigar smoking, much to my wife’s chagrin.”
Despite a love of films since early childhood, Bettany wasn’t sure he wanted to be an actor, but a passion for watching John Wayne movies won out. His stage debut was in London’s distinguished West End and several Royal Shakespeare Co. productions. It was with the British film “Gangster No. 1″ that the actor caught the attention of Hollywood.
“I wanted to be a musician and discovered that I love writing songs but hated to perform them in front of people,” Bettany says. “So I quit that and became an actor, which sounds impossibly simple. That’s the short version of it. I then went to drama school and studied for three years and then I had a relatively easy time of it. I feel incredibly lucky – really.”