With ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’; Paul Bettany Etches His Way Into Cinema History

Even the big jobs come through for people in away as simple as a text or a phone call…

With the highly anticipated Solo: A Star Wars Story now in theatres everywhere, we got the unique pleasure to sit down the one and only Paul Bettany who played the villainous Dryden Vos in the film.

This origin story behind one of the cinema’s most iconic and loveable scoundrels has been mired in controversy and speculation from the early days of production and we got to talk to Bettany not only about that, but why his friend Ron Howard just might have been the perfect man for the job to direct the film and what being a part of the Star Wars legacy means to him, among other things.

I’m always fascinated by people’s career arcs and I am kind of curious to ask if say debuting on the stage in the West End of London served as any kind of preparation for the Marvel and now Star Wars universes that you find yourself hip deep in?

Paul Bettany: You know I never really thought about it because careers can go up and they can go down and mine has been all over the place but at some stage you notice that your jokes are a little more funny when you’re doing well but ultimately I always wanted to be in movies and it just felt like a way to go because I really don’t know how anyone else really does it.  I just have to do everything my way, and it really doesn’t change all that much if I’m doing television, film or the stage, but to be fair I haven’t been on the stage for about twenty years now…

I guess Comic Con doesn’t count?

Oh Comic Con is just bonkers!  That’s an experience all unto itself…I mean it’s amazing to see that much commitment from the fans…but it’s a trip and I’d just be lying to say anything else.

You signed on to Solo pretty late and took over the role from Michael K Williams how is it to come on to a production like this that is so big when you are basically a ‘new guy’ arriving on set?

PB: Ron (Howard) will lie to you and say a bunch of truly flattering things about why he chose me but the truth is really that I texted him saying “Hey Ron, I heard you took over this movie and if you’ve ever spent long winter evenings much like I have wondering why you’re not a part of the Star Wars franchise?” and he said… “LOL, I’ll get back to you” then two weeks later I was on set and it just so happened that the original actor who is obviously super talented and was gainfully employed just couldn’t be there for reshoots, and I am unemployable and was totally available (Laughs).  So really every cloud does have a silver lining and for Michael every silver lining ends up having a cloud you know?  It’s all swings and roundabouts and no doubts I’ll get my just desserts with something similar happening to me at another time.  But this one went my way, because it was originally a full on CG Character but for the reshoots they rethought the roll and I got to come in looking a bit more like me on a film then I had in awhile (Laughs)

Unlike Alden (Ehrenreich) & Donald (Glover) you didn’t have to come into playing Dryden Vos with the added pressure of someone else already having played the role.  When you are coming into a big franchise like this does that add pressure for you in building your performance or does it end up being more freeing over all?

I think the real trick is to fool yourself into feeling no pressure.  So ultimately, no, I didn’t feel any pressure and I think it could have been counterproductive.  For me the pressure comes with the normal things because Ron went to bat for me to get me in this role and I want to be sure that I don’t let him down.  I’ve been doing this long enough to fool myself into not worrying about if the audience is going to like it or not because that really can only lead to confusion and chaos and  me getting stiff in the moment.

Is there a second hand between you and Ron that just makes working together again so easy since you’ve already done been that road together and talk a little about working with the entire ensemble because I think collectively we’re all probably a little in awe of Donald and his talent right now.

Ron is as close to family as you can get in this business, he’s been helping me out for 20 years and I absolutely love him to bits.  There’s so many great reasons I love working with him but one is that his ability not only be super collaborative with his cast (which is something I’d say anyway even if it weren’t true because it’s just more polite) but it is obviously true and on top of that I was in awe of his ability to stage large sequences is just amazing.  As someone who has TRIED to direct a movie to watch him see me struggling and know how to fix it in an instance by the slightest of movements is just phenomenal.  I supposed the really pivotal part of our relationship is that he trusts me and I trust him.  When I arrived on set it was such a rush because I flew in, went straight to make up and then walked on to this massive set and he just walked over to me and whispered in my ear “Oligarch”, and I knew instantly what he wanted and we kind of went from there.

And sadly I didn’t get to work with Donald, but I did with Alden and if any of you have seen Hail Caesar!, I mean this guy stole the movie, a Coen Brothers movie to boot which is hard to do because really they are the stars of their films.  I really just can’t say enough about working with Alden and he such a keen perception on the role of Han.

You’ve got to understand something, much like so many of us out there, Star Wars changed my life.  I was 6 years old when I saw it and it took me out of a grey and raining 1970’s London and it took me to another universe.  Then when we met Han Solo and he shot first, we are in awe of this good guy who is also such a bad ass and is so aware of the fact that the universe can be a cruel place but because his heart is so big he’ll do the right thing in the end…and that’s who that character is.  This film is really about chronicling who this kid is and we see him turning into Han Solo.  He doesn’t HAVE to mimic Harrison Ford, but we see him learning how to shoot first and how to take care of himself, that’s what this film is about.

I’ve worked with a lot of really good actors and there’s no doubt that Alden is one of them, I thought he was phenomenal in this film.

Do you think that collectively we as a movie going audience have maybe overlooked how good Ron Howard is as a director and storyteller because at least on paper people may say that it’s a combination that wouldn’t go together but I also can’t think of anyone worth there salt in this industry who wouldn’t want to embrace the challenge of making a Star Wars film…

And really WHO would say that because Ron has been working with that group of guys long before the first film ever happened.  I mean he was probably talking about this with George Lucas back in 1973.  If there’s anybody more appropriate to shoot a Star Wars movie short of Lucas himself; it’s a very short list of guys.  He was there was Spielberg, Lucas, DePalma, Scorsese and others were all mates and were all talking with one another and that was nearly 50 fucking years ago! (Laughs) There really isn’t anybody who knows this material better…

And that does go to my point because he did grow up in this era, with these guys and who really wouldn’t want to jump into a challenge like this, even with all the controversy and circumstances surrounding the film.

Yeah, under some really trying circumstances where you come in and you take over a movie.  He was just perfect for the job for a couple of reasons.  Firstly he’s just a really great fucking director and along with that it’s almost impossible to resent Ron Howard.  He is quite literally the nicest man on earth.  Yet meet him and you know he’s just lovely.

When you arrived, were you aware of any drama on set?

There wasn’t any drama on set and that really was just the overwhelming feeling on set, it was pure calm.  I think there had been a lot of turbulence and a lot of uncertainty, so Ron Howard gets dropped in like a Special Forces team to figure it all out and that really is difficult job to take on.  He’s such a consummate professional who really is just the nicest guy in the entire world.  It was just calm on set.

Now that you’ve fulfilled the dream and are a part of the Star Wars canon, do you have any hopes for the franchise going forward?

You know I feel like I am in pretty safe hands with people who are getting a much bigger pay check then I am to make those decisions.  I don’t exactly have any real or perceived power in that regard but I really hope that they continue with these standalone and spinoffs because I think they really do reinvigorate the franchise.

So no characters you want to see or stories told going forward?

You know…I think I’m going to keep my mouth shut on this one because I have had a really good run with Marvel over the past 10 years keeping my mouth shut, and snitches get stitches before they end up in ditches as the saying goes so I think my lips are sealed (Laughs).

Is there anybody inspiring you right now that you’d want to work with going forward?

Oh, wow, I mean there are so many people.  Well…it was a sadness for me not getting to work with Donald Glover because that man is just an absolute force of nature.  It’s just not normal for there to be that much creativity in one human being.  It’s just the level of sheer will to act on it but the accomplished nature of his talent and the pure skill on display is something I am in awe of.  I mean everyone has seen it now but that video for ‘This Is America’ is just pure art masquerading as a pop music video.  I found it to be so moving and so powerful and even though I’d be super intimidated, I’d love to do something with him.  That’s one answer but it really is endless, there are still so many people I’d want to collaborate with.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is in theatres everywhere now.

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Dave Voigt

David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf, to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema. Having launched his own home; In The Seats (intheseats.ca) back in 2015 for all the latest and greatest movie reviews and interviews he’s one of the leading voices in the film criticism scene in Toronto, and eventually the world. David is the Entertainment Editor for Addicted Magazine.