Bettany understands grief in a way only those utterly changed by it can. At 16, his eight-year-old brother, Matthew, died in a tragic accident. Last year, while filming Uncle Frank – an indie drama in which he played a grieving son – he travelled to the film’s set in North Carolina with Matthew’s T-shirt in his suitcase. “I don’t think it’s a particularly healthy way of living, keeping the wounds fresh. How strange that I travelled with this artefact that allows me to go to this place that is not pleasant.” As he gets older, he says, it’s becoming harder and harder to tap in and out of that emotion. “As I hurtle towards my dotage, I’m more fragile than I was. I used to be able to sort of do those things and then go shoot another scene and now I can’t. I’ve got to go home, drink a six-pack of IPA, go to sleep and put that day away.”
In large part, WandaVision appealed to him because he could relate to Wanda’s journey and the way in which the show explored the thorny process of moving on after losing a loved one. “What a clever thing to do with a superhero-genre show and to have this woman going through unspeakable suffering in grief, who also happens to have powers and can create her own world. And then, suddenly, the reality hits and [she realises] ‘I need to let go.’ I really did connect to it.”
While the show is predominantly focused on Wanda’s journey, in the back half of the series Vision winds up becoming the emotional core, as he begins to realise that the life he’s living in sitcom-land is constructed. He delivers the most powerful line of the whole series: “What is grief, if not love persevering?” (a line that was workshopped by head writer Jac Schaeffer, her writers’ room and Bettany, but eventually perfected by her assistant, Laura Monti). You can’t avoid getting emotionally invested, Bettany says, even when dealing with supernatural entities. “You see it as a challenge. Like, I wonder if I can move people as a purple robot. I mean, you couldn’t be more covered in make-up and less accessible.”
He largely avoided social media when the show was airing – “That way madness lies” – so he missed both the emotional outpouring over that scene and the furore that followed an interview in which he teased a massive cameo in the final episodes as “someone I’ve always wanted to work with” that ended up being… Bettany himself, as an all-white version of Vision. When the interview came out, fan theorising hit warp speed and many were convinced that Al Pacino (yes, really) was going to turn up in the series as the villain, Mephisto. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a much better idea than it just being Paul Bettany.’” When the finale came and went with no Pacino, some gave Bettany credit for his exquisite trolling, but others were just plain mad. “Never have I regretted something more,” he says. And yet, there may come a day when the post-credit cameo is once again “just Paul Bettany” and they’ll undoubtedly be happy to have him. Because as we’ve learned, in the MCU no one ever really dies.
Might he return as Vision one day? “There were rumours about it. I don’t want to jinx anything yet. I have thoughts about what would be great to do for White Vision with a fresh start. We’ll see.”
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