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Bowing Down to Paul Bettany

Bowing Down to Paul Bettany (photo)

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British actor Paul Bettany has the dashing looks and commanding presence of a leading man, but his filmography bolsters the case that he’s not a creature of vanity or easy paychecks. Whether comparing his drunken Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale” to his ruthless thug in “Gangster No. 1,” or his hypocritical do-gooder in Lars von Trier’s arthouse masterpiece “Dogville” to his self-flagellating albino monk in a splashy blockbuster like “The Da Vinci Code,” Bettany continually proves himself an intelligent and versatile performer who’s passionate about new career challenges.

In director Jean-Marc Vallée’s luxurious new biopic “The Young Victoria,” Bettany co-stars as Lord Melbourne, a Prime Minister who became the 18-year-old, freshly ascended Queen Victoria’s self-serving political tutor. Set in 1837, the film portraitizes Victoria (Emily Blunt) as we haven’t seen her: a progressive-minded, spirited beauty in the early days of her reign and her courtship with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Both a drama of political intrigue and a sweeping romance, it’s yet another film in which Bettany — only given as much screen time as history allowed here — takes his chance to pilfer his every scene. I spoke with the man about playing a political animal, how not to greet Prince Charles, working with his wife Jennifer Connelly (again) in next month’s “Creation,” and why he no longer lives in Brooklyn.

“The Young Victoria” presents its subject as a progressive hedonist trying to go with the flow. Why have we never seen this more charming and vibrant side of Victoria represented before?

Oh, I quite like the old grumpy one. Behind that sterile, matriarchal image — black dress, bun on the top of her head — the very reason she wore black for the rest of her life was in mourning this love that she had for Albert. It’s beautiful, really. Although if you go to London, it’s just littered with monuments that she kept building to him.

The factoid that tugged on my heart is the title card at the end of the film, which said she laid out her late husband’s clothing every day until she lost power at 81.

Well, I bet she didn’t lay it out. I bet she had some underpaid servant to lay it out. [laughs]

12232009_YoungVictoria2.jpgSarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York, was a producer on the film. Did you have any interactions with her?

Yeah, weirdly. When I met her, I was really busy on set. She was talking to me, and I was trying to make a cup of tea, and I was delayed. Then they called me back on set, and she felt bad about it, so she made me a cup of tea. I thought, “Brilliant. Come the revolution!”

Have you ever met anyone else in the Royal Family?

I met [Prince] Charles at a premiere — I think it was “Master and Commander.” It was really funny because you all stand in a line, and he works his way up. We’ve all been told what to call him, “Your Royal Highness,” or whatever. It was a big night, and I got flustered. I said, “Alright, mate!” He shook my hand, which is the last thing you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to wait for him to offer his hand, you’re supposed to bow, and I didn’t. He looked at me quite frostily, actually. [laughs]

Being British but living stateside, do you find yourself less in the loop or not caring about politics over there since it doesn’t affect you so directly?

Well, thank goodness we’re not involved in British politics. I still read the British papers, but I’ve never been a Royalist, ever. It’s funny, there always seems to be much more of a fascination with the Royal Family over here then there does in England. I think newspapers like the Guardian and the Observer are really extraordinary. I still look to those papers for news on the U.S., especially with regards to foreign policy and what’s going on around the globe with America, outside of America.

In the film, Lord Melbourne isn’t depicted as a villainous schemer so much as another piece in this political chess game. How much sympathy was there in Julian Fellowes’ script, compared to what you wanted to bring to the role?

God, I’m not sure. He was always written as a sort of political animal, slightly Machiavellian as politicians have to be and are. Yet, he had one moment of redemption in that he admits that his guidance might not have always been the best advice. I remember seeing an early cut, and [that scene] was gone. I’ve never, ever commented on a cut, and I went: “Listen, I do think that’s an important moment for Melbourne, that he has the balls to admit to [Victoria] that he has misguided her at times, and apologizes.” I’m glad it went back in — I mean, I assume it’s in there. [laughs]

12242009_bettany66.jpgHave you ever been manipulated so artfully that you couldn’t get too upset when you found out?

Oh, yeah. The very best agents are like that. Half the time, you don’t even find out. With the bad ones, you find out. There are certain people who are that charming that you just forgive them all of that.

Besides any makeup to help you get into character, what’s the trick to pulling off a role much older than you really are?

I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. It’s for other people to decide whether I’ve pulled it off at all. [laughs]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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