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Paul Bettany Talks ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Working with Director Ron Howard, and the Film’s Out-of-this-World Cast

May 14, 2018Ben MK

You might know him for his role as Jarvis in the Iron Man films and Vision in the Avengers films, but Paul Bettany is one of those few actors who have the good fortune of playing in the sandboxes of both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars universe.

In director Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story, Bettany takes on the part of Dryden Vos, a space gangster who plays an integral role in transforming a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) into the scoundrel we all know and love from the original Star Wars trilogy.

I sat down with Bettany for a roundtable chat, in which the London-born actor had plenty to say about working on the film and what audiences can expect from this latest installment in the Star Wars franchise.

On taking over the role of Dryden Vos from Michael K. Williams:

Bettany: Ron is going to lie to you and tell you a lot of really flattering things about why he picked me. And the truth of it was that I texted him saying, "Hey Ron, I heard you took over this movie. Have you ever spent long winter evenings like I have, wondering why you're not in the Star Wars franchise?" And he said, "LOL, I'll get back to you." And two weeks later, I was on-set.

And it just so happened that, unfortunately for the actor concerned, he was super-gifted and talented and was gainfully employed and couldn't be there for re-shoots. And I'm unemployable and was totally available. [laughs] So, you know, every cloud has a silver lining, and for Michael, every silver lining has a cloud. You know what I mean? So it's just swings and roundabouts. I'll get my just desserts another time, I guess. This one went my way.

On dealing with the pressure of playing a brand new character in the Star Wars universe:

Bettany: I think the trick is to fool yourself into feeling that pressure... It would be counterproductive [otherwise], I think. I feel pressure over really normal things, like — Ron went to bat for me to get me in this role, am I going to let him down? That's the sort of thing. I feel pressures like everybody feels like friendship pressures. And I've been doing this long enough that I've managed to fool myself into not thinking about whether the audience is going to like it or not. Because that can only lead to confusion and chaos, and me getting stiff and whatever.

On spending less time in the makeup chair after his special effects heavy turns as Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War:

Bettany: It was such a big change. [Dryden] was [originally] a full-on CG character; you know, motion-capture, all of that stuff. And given the fact that they had to do reshoots and [Michael K. Williams] wasn't available, they rethought it and had me come in looking a bit more like me than I've looked in anything for a long time.

It was great not to have as much makeup on as I usually have, and it was great to be on-set with my old mate, Ron, and just see him just being so accomplished, is what he was. He's so brilliant at directing. And that was just lovely to watch, and we kept pinching each other, saying, "Make it stop," which was fantastic.

On working with Ron Howard:

Bettany: Ron is as close to sort of family as you get in this business. He's been putting his hand out and helping me out for, you know, 20 years. And I love him to bits, and the great thing about working with him — well, that's a long answer, there are so many things. You know, all the normal [stuff] that you say about every director — they're collaborative and all of that stuff — which in this circumstance really happens to be true.

But his ability to stage difficult scenes — I was in awe, as somebody who's tried to direct a movie myself — to watch him see me struggling and go, "Oh, I can solving this by moving this here, and moving this around." He's just phenomenal. And I suppose the really best thing about it is that he trusts me, I trust him. He had one thing to say to me before I walked on set. He walked up to me and in my ear he went, "Oligarch." And I went, "Got it. Got it." And that was it, and we kind of went from there.

On working with Alden Ehrenreich:

Bettany: Did you see Hail, Caesar!? [Alden] stole a Coen Brothers movie. That's hard to do. He stole it. He frankly stole it from the Coen Brothers, you know, because they're the stars of their films. And he stole it. I can't say enough about how brilliant he is and how much he understood the Han I grew up with. You gotta understand, Star Wars changed my life. I was six years old when I saw Star Wars. It took me out of a grey, miserable, raining 1970s London and took me to another universe.

And when Han Solo shot first, you went, "Oh my God! He's a good guy but he's a bad guy! I love it! And he's learnt that the galaxy is cruel and you gotta be cruel to get by. But his heart's just too big, so he's gonna be there at the Death Star and help you out." And that's who Han Solo is.

And this film is about chronicling this kid turning into Han Solo. He doesn't have to be Harrison Ford. He doesn't have to be. He can be a kid finding out that it's better to shoot first. And that's exactly what this is about. I've worked with a lot of really, really good actors, and Alden's one of 'em. I thought he was phenomenal.

On not getting to work with Donald Glover:

Bettany: What a force of nature that man is. I mean, it's not normal for there to be that much creativity in one human being. And not just the energy and the will to act on it, the level of accomplishment and skill and just aplomb is just — I mean, everybody's seen it now, but the video for "This is America" is a piece of art masquerading as a pop video. In my opinion, it's so moving and so powerful, so I would love to work with him. Although I'd be super intimidated.

On the mood on the set:

Bettany: I think that was the overwhelming feeling on-set, was one of calm. Because I think there had been a lot of turbulence and a lot uncertainty, and a lot of upheaval, and a crew that didn't know what was going to happen to the film that they were making. And then Ron Howard gets dropped like a special forces director to figure [all that] out. And that's a really difficult situation, and he is a consummate professional, and instantly you realize when you're with him, "Oh, I'm with the nicest guy in the whole world."

On what audiences can expect from Solo: A Star Wars Story:

Bettany: My experience both as a fan and as an actor in one of those movies is that the offshoot movies aren't encumbered by the same set of responsibilities as the main franchise has. So they can have a different tone, as I think you can see. And so I think that that gives an awful amount of freedom to the director. In Ron's case, with the material leftover to him and the material left to shoot and the equipment that he had, I think Ron wanted to make the most exciting, standalone movie that he could. And I believe he's done it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is in theatres May 25th.

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