Paul's Progress

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNABEL RIVKIN

Paul Bettany has crept up on us. Not for him the blazing debut of a Trainspotting or the stylish exposure afforded by a Talented Mr Ripley. And yet in terms of Hollywood currency, he is absolutely up there with McGregor and Law. Slowly, slowly, his performances as a psycho in Gangster No 1, a naked and prancing 'Geoff' Chaucer in A Knight's Tale, an imaginary friend in A Beautiful Mind, a ship's doctor in Master and Commander and a muscle-bound tennis champion in Wimbledon have penetrated the public consciousness, rendering him Britain's most versatile film talent. He's a pinup as well. Not bad for a boy from Harlesden.

Without wanting to detract from the work, his marriage to the ravishing, Oscar-winning Jennifer Connelly, whom he met on the set of A Beautiful Mind, added to his allure. Public consciousness rippled with the understanding that if she loved him, shouldn't we?

For a time he was a face without a name.

He looked familiar, but showed no interest in attaching himself to any Primrose Hill set and was rarely photographed at premieres and parties.

Because his film roles were so diverse, it was difficult to pigeonhole him professionally either.

Undoubtedly his looks are those of the Aryan leading man, and yet he avoided the period-drama hero parts in which most young, middleclass actors find their break.

The word on the street was that he was rather more upper-middle class than is fashionable, particularly after it was revealed that he was related to the Countess of Wessex.

'My family are related to Sophie Wessex,' he says. 'She's my step-aunt's niece but it's not a blood relation, and even my aunt and her family aren't really poshies. My dad was a teacher and my mum was a secretary; I think my upbringing was very average and middle class. I went to a state school and it wasn't grim but neither was it Brideshead.' Like many actors, the charming and laidback Bettany was bullied at school. 'I was bullied horribly,' he says cheerfully, 'and I hated everything about school. Part of the reason was that initially, when I was young, we lived on quite a rough estate in Harlesden and I suppose I spoke posh, but it was awful because I didn't have any of the good bits - we didn't have much money and yet I didn't fit in.' Then, when Paul was nine, the family moved to Hertfordshire to allow his father Thane, a former dancer, to take up a position teaching drama at Queenswood, a private girls' school. 'And in Hertfordshire I was a townie, so they didn't appreciate me much there either.' Paul has an older sister, Sarah. His brother Matthew, eight years his junior, died aged eight, after falling off the roof of a tennis pavilion on to concrete.

Paul left school, moved to London, became a busker, took a fair few drugs and rather went off the rails.

'It's hard to tell whether the cause of that was being young or being bereft,' he

Paul Bettany has become our most sought-after actor, married to fellow Hollywood hot property, Jennifer Connelly. But his idyllic family life is a happy ending after a trauma derailed him for years. By Annabel Rivkin

says of his move to London where he shacked up with 'a couple of very tidy lesbians'. His parents' marriage did not survive the loss of their child.

After graduating from the Drama Centre, the notoriously brutal drama school in Ealing, the work came steadily, but he spent his twenties dabbling in therapy, cocaine and actresses - Emily Mortimer and Laura Fraser to name but two. Despite - or perhaps because of - the bullying, the bereavement and the partying, to meet him today is to encounter the most personable, witty and settled actor I have ever interviewed. Clearly, his marriage is a blinding success. The couple married in Scotland - 'It's like Vegas, they'll marry anyone' - on 1 January 2003, and five minutes after the ceremony Paul, Jennifer and the eight people present were drunk and playing Twister in their pyjamas in front of the fire. …