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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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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