Paul Bettany talks friendship with Johnny Depp, 'Transcendence'

Cast members Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, second from left, Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany, right,...

Cast members Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, second from left, Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany, right, pose at the premiere of "Transcendence" in Los Angeles, California April 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:47 PM ET

LOS ANGELES – There’s a perception that it’s harder to make friends as you age. As a counterpoint, Paul Bettany and Johnny Depp were apparently a case of love at first sight.

In the artificial intelligence thriller Transcendence, Bettany plays the best-friend colleague of the neuroscientist played by Depp, whose consciousness is preserved on the Net after he dies.

It’s their third movie together, counting The Tourist, and the recently-wrapped Mortdecai, the detective romp in which Bettany plays (we kid you not) Jock Strap, the bodyguard/valet to a crime-solving art dealer (Depp).

“Johnny and I met across a crowded room, and I just had a feeling we would be lifelong friends. And that transpired,” says Bettany. “It was on the set of The Tourist in Venice. I looked at him and he looked at me, and we haven’t stopped laughing since.”

I must ask, is that friendship the reason Bettany and Depp have worked together? “I’m sure he would tell you that’s absolutely not true, because he’s a total gentleman and he would never allow me to know the inner workings of how that happens,” Bettany says.

“He would totally lie to me and tell me they just really wanted me.”

Bettany is not the type to let someone’s faith in him go unrewarded. While Depp passed on neuroscientific research, Bettany interviewed one Christof Koch, at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

“I didn’t want to be left with that thing as an actor of trying to look really knowledgeable by looking around the room with a serious expression. I wanted to feel like I had been diligent.

“Prof. Koch is an amazing man who wrote a brilliant book called Consciousness. I walked in and I said, ‘How far-fetched are these ideas?’ And he said ‘30 years.’

“I said, ‘You’re talking about the uploading of a human brain, with all its thoughts and memories and opinions, into a computer. You’re talking about immortality.’ And he went, ‘Yes.’ He was keeping it simple for the moron blond actor.”

After a brief period as a putative leading man (Wimbledon) following his coming-out in A Beautiful Mind, Bettany’s career has been a patchwork of quality indie films (Margin Call), genre schlock (Legion, Priest) and high-salaried cameos (as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s cyber-valet in the Iron Man and Avengers movies. He will do double duty as the cybernetic hero The Vision in The Avengers: Age of Ultron).

In a previous interview, Bettany had bemoaned the fact that he came of age as an actor, “during the worst decade in the history of movies.”

There’s a direct line between that complaint and his recently-completed directorial debut, Shelter – a story he also wrote, about the relationship between two homeless people (played by Bettany’s wife Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie).

“The thing I often feel is that scripts are developed to death now, and it’s almost where if the actor didn’t show up the story could still be told.

“I started thinking about Meryl Streep and Gena Rowlands and Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and that era awash with great performances. And I thought maybe there was just that much more space to act. I tried to give that space to my wife and Anthony Mackie.”

I mention that Connelly said in a recent interview that she hardly spoke to her husband on-set, mainly because everyone demanded his attention.

“That was the significant advantage to already f---ing the leading actress. All of that got taken care of at night,” he says with a laugh.

Twitter: @jimslotek

Jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca

 


Photos