In the critically acclaimed Amazon Studios movie Uncle Frank, out Nov. 25, Paul Bettany (the Avengers and Iron Man series; Master and Commander; The Da Vinci Code) plays the title charactera literature professor who has two lives; as an openly gay man in 1960s-'70s New York City (with a partner played by Peter Macdissi) and as a closeted individual when he's with his family in South Carolina.
Bettany talked about making Uncle Frankand revealed a little-known fact about his own late father, actor/dancer Thane Bettany.
Windy City Times: I know you've done period pieces, but was it weird immersing yourself in the late 1960s and early 1970s?
Paul Bettany: It was actually less weird than other things I've done. I mean, I've played an android! [Both laugh.]
I grew up in the '70s in London and we sort of inundated with American culture. I was fascinated by the golden age of cinema, so it seemed familiar to me, actually. So it didn't feel weirdit felt kind of great.
WCT: And I loved the details about South Carolina that the movie shows, since I'm originally from there. [Note: The movie was actually filmed in North Carolina.] Could you talk about that castMargo Martindale, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Jane Greer and others?
PB: Yeah. To me, it was a real thrill. And Lois Smith is in it, for God's sake. She's in East of Eden, with James Deanand that movie was one of the reasons I wanted to become an actor. It's an extraordinary cast, and the film was so much fun to shoot.
WCT: Was there any reluctance on your part in accepting this role? There is a school of thought that only LGBTQ actors should portray LGBTQ roles. [Note: In real life, Bettany is married to actress Jennifer Connelly.]
PB: [Pauses] We did have a little conversation about it. That wasn't the only reason I was reluctant, but we did talk about it.
Are you talking with [director] Alan Ball? [Interviewer replies "No."] That's a shame because he could tell you why I was cast, although I guess I can tell you why I accepted it.
Here is what I can tell you: I read the script and I loved it. It was beautifully wrought and fresh, and revolutionary in some ways. It's a story in which two men fall in love and get to live happily ever after. But the first question I had for Alan was "Why me?," and I [followed that] with "Should I even do this?" We had a very long conversation about it, and he thought I should. He gave me some pretty compelling reasons why he thought I should do it.
I also asked myself some questions. As you get older, it's hard to summon up the energy that is needed to come onto a set, think of some dark moments in your life, and play on that for a camera and crewand to make people believe you're this person in this situation with your guts torn out. But besides if it's morally correct to do it, I had to ask myself "Do I have the energy to do it?" So I'm on a phone call with Alan Ball wondering why he wants me to do this. That's that.
And as far as the other question is concerned, I was raised by a closeted gay man. My father came out of the closet at 63. [Note: Paul's married father, Thane, came out in the early '90s; Paul's parents subsequently divorced.] He fell in love with a man called Andy [Clark] and spent 20 years with him, and then Andy died. My father, because of the dogma of Catholicism, went back into the closet. He was arguably with the love of his life and when my father diedin my arms!I found in his pocket a glass vial of Andy's ashes.
My father denied he was gay after a 20-year relationship with a man, and there are consequences to raising children when you are holding a secret like that. My father had some beautifully curated stories and anecdotes, but I never really got to know him because he didn't live his life in an authentic way. So, for me, it was an extraordinary journey and an edifying one to play a man who was in a similar predicament that my father had been.
So as far as being a personal connection to this story, I really feel that I had one. And in the discussion Alan and I had, we discovered that he and I had very similar stories, with early traumas in our lives and deaths of our siblingshis sister and my brother. All I can tell you is that we sort of fell in love and I did find a compelling reason to [film Uncle Frank] for myself and to find the energy to go to some difficult places.
I think it would be great to find out why Alan Balla gay man and a brilliant directorchose to cast me.
WCT: What a thoughtful and honest answerand I thank you for it. My last question is this: I didn't realize it at first but you've done another LGBTQ movieBent. [Note: The 1997 movie is about the persecution of gay people in Nazi Germany, and it stars Clive Owen, Sir Ian McKellen, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Mick Jagger, among others.] What do you recall from working in that movie?
PB: Wow! That was the first film I did. I think I was still in drama school. I had run out of money and you couldn't do professional work while enrolled in schoolbut they allowed me to make it. I do recall that making this movie allowed me to eat.
I had seen the play [originally a 1979 production that Martin Sherman wrote] and I was very excited to be a part of it. But, to be honest, I don't remember that much about it but I do remember trying to learn everything I could.