In director Brian Helgeland's frolicking romantic adventure A Knight's Tale, English actor Paul Bettany shines as the comically grandiloquent, gambling-addicted Geoffrey Chaucer, who, deep in debt, strikes a deal to help aspiring knight Heath Ledger forge an aristocratic identity.
Preparing for his role, says the actor, turned out to be a far more pleasant experience than predicted: "Our entire two weeks' 'rehearsal' was spent being taken out for meals and drinking enormous amounts of alcohol," he laughs. In the film, Bettany makes one of the silver screen's most memorable entrances ever: he's very naked during a very long scene. "Labor is so cheap in Prague, where we shot," he adds, "that thousands of crew members stood around gawking while I was stark bollock naked on the first day of shooting. Brian and everyone else thought it was extremely funny to show my buttocks on-screen for a very long time, since my buttocks apparently inspire gales of laughter throughout the world." Perhaps, but it's been his formidable acting chops--showcased in British art-house fare like the well-received Gangster No. 1--that have inspired three directors to cast him in quick succession. He stars as a priest opposite Willem Dafoe in Morality Play, a thriller due this fall (in which he appears, again, in the buff). In Ron Howard's December picture A Beautiful Mind, based on the true story of a genius who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, he plays a college buddy of Russell Crowe. He's got the British gangster comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Stellan Skarsgard already in the can. Oh, and he recently took a meeting with Steven Spielberg. Bettany's response to all the buzz? "People blow smoke up your ass," he says cheerily. "It would be absurd to imagine that you'd suddenly been imbued with this enormous amount of charisma when, two years previously, nobody batted an eyelid at you. It's all slightly fraudulent and fun. Still, I'm genuinely surprised to find myself talking to Steven Spielberg on a soundstage. That is...excellent."