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When Did Paul Bettany Get Scary?

Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of djp3000.

I was reading through io9’s list of the science fiction movies they’re most looking forward to this year, when I noticed Charlie Jane Anders’ remark that “Paul Bettany [is] our new go-to guy for supernatural action.” It makes sense, but I’ll admit that the movies I most associate Bettany with are Wimbledon, the romantic comedy folly he made with Kirsten Dunst and that is on the romantic-comedy VHS shelf in my parents’ house, and A Beautiful Mind, in which he plays Russell Crowe’s enigmatic roommate in a small, beautiful role. I don’t think of Bettany as an action guy or a supernatural guy, even though he’s taking an increasing number of those roles. And the truth is, he’s not necessarily defined by those roles. Bettany keeps up a good mix: he’s got period dramas like The Young Victoria and Creation on his upcoming roster, along with Legion and Priest, the movies that made the io9 list, and a voice role in Iron Man 2.But the truth is, Bettany seems to have largely backed away from romantic leading man roles since Wimbledon, and he didn’t have many of them beforehand. In movies like A Knight’s Tale, where he played Geoffrey Chaucer, and Inkheart, where he plays a wandering conjurer named Dustfinger, he plays a kind of holy fool, an outsider. He does the whole scary monk thing in The DaVinci Code. It’s not that Bettany isn’t a good-looking guy, he is. But his looks lend themselves to shading over into the uncomfortable; those eyes can be a little bit too intense. I wonder if by forsaking romantic leads, Bettany’s actually opened more possibilities for himself. He doesn’t just have to be the hot guy. He can be many other things as well.

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