I never thought I’d see one actor play two characters within the cinematic Marvel universe, but if anyone can do it, Paul Bettany can. As the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s constant AI companion since the first Iron Manfilm, Bettany is one of the longest standing members of the Marvel crew. In Avengers: Age of UltronBettany steps into the shoes (or cape) of the Vision. A newly created android who is somehow maybe sort of related to J.A.R.V.I.S. – unsurprisingly they weren’t telling us a whole lot in advance of Marvel’s Hall H panel.
Earlier today at Comic-Con I sat down for a group interview with Bettany about the Vision Age of Ultron. He walked up to the table, pretending to read a message on his phone intently, “I’m just looking up something. Yep, I can’t say anything.” And while he remained pretty tight-lipped, dodging many questions with clever quips, he did talk about Joss Whedon’s passion for all things Marvel, James Spader’s Ultron, Vision’s abilities and powers, his relationship with the Avengers, his genitals (seriously), and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
PAUL BETTANY: I don’t like sitting near a window with my back to it. It’s like I can see the light glinting off the [sniper’s] telescopic lens.
When you came on as J.A.R.V.I.S. in the first Iron Man movie di you have it in your contract that if these movies did well you wanted a part where people actually see your face?
BETTANY: Yes. [Laughs] No, I didn’t. And for a long while actually I discovered that having played J.A.R.V.I.S., in the Marvel rule book I wasn’t allowed to play another character. For a long while I discovered, having playing J.A.R.V.I.S., I wasn’t allowed to then play another character and Joss Whedon and I got on very well and he looked for a way to make that hsppen and found one, So I’m very happy.
What is the relationship between J.A.R.V.I.S. and Vision?
BETTANY: I can’t say. I can tell you there is one. I’m supposed to keep it vague and mysterious, which I will do. Everything is a double-edged sword. I used to be in a studio for 45 minutes and be J.A.R.V.I.S. and they’d give a huge bag of cash and go about my way like a burglar with my swag. I was like “Can this be real?” And now they want me to work for my money, which is great and sweaty and hot, which you’ll realize once they unveil everything. It’s a very sweaty and hot decision that got made, but It’s really fucking cool. It’s really cool. It’s just been a ball to join this train that is on really clear tracks, and really lovely, funny, creative people. It’s been a joy.
What intrigued you about the Vision?
BETTANY: I’ve got to say that the greatest thing about the job for me is that however much research I could do, I would never know as much about Vision and this world as Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon, so it’s nice to acquiesce all responsibility of that to those guys. The thing that appealed to me is that this sort of nascent creature being born and being both omnipotent and totally naive, the danger of that and complex nature of a thing being born that is that powerful and that fully created in a second. And the choices he makes morally are really complex and interesting. They’ve really managed to maintain all of that. The bit I love is the famous image of him crying, I think it’s really expressed kind of beautifully in this film.
This seems like a great ensemble to be a part of. Was that how it worked out for you? Or are you working primarily with one or two people?
BETTANY: It’s both those things. Initially it was everybody on set at the same time. It was the introduction of Vision on the first day and that was huge and everyone was incredibly welcoming, and really prepared. That sounds really stupid, but I can’t tell you how often you get on set with huge, famous, over-paid actors and they haven’t done any work. You’re going through the scene and you realize “You don’t know what the scene is.” And that happens more often than is noble. But in this situation there are so many characters to cover for a filmmaker that everybody only gets two or three takes so everyone is really on point, really focused, and really creative; a really lovely atmosphere
Can you talk about the voice for Vision and the voice for J.A.R.V.I.S., and how you made them distinctly different.
BETTANY: I can’t really. Not for any other reason than it happens entirely naturally on set and those things are hard to analyze, but there are absolute differences clearly.
So it wasn’t something you worked on beforehand?
BETTANY: I worked on it, but the interaction with other people and actors changes things. Your interaction with the director changes thing. He is not J.A.R.V.I.S. and he is not a child of Ultron, he is the Vision. That weirdly happened on its own. He’s J.A.R.V.I.S. but yoked.
Was it great to work with directly with Robert Downey Jr. after four movies of working indirectly with him?
BETTANY: [Laughs] Yeah, it was lovely. Often times you’re saying these quite outlandish things to each other on these sorts of movies. With all of them, with him and Spader and Ruffalo and Hemsworth, it’s amazing how you can sell these very outlandish notions – far fetched.
What is Vision’s relationship with Stark like?
BETTANY: That’s very- Vision probably feels paternal to a number of people.
How many of these guys do you get to punch?
BETTANY: I’m really good at punching. Vision is very good at punching.
What’s his relationship with Scarlet Witch?
We’ve heard your voice in four movies now. How many movies does Marvel has you locked down for Vision?
That’s a lot of bags of cash.
BETTANY: It’s a lot of bags of cash. Good for the family business.
We heard you shot a WWII flashback scene filmed with Chris Evans and Haley Atwell, you were also there. Is that true?
BETTANY: Not unless I was wildly drunk, no. I can tell you that hasn’t happened. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to. But I doubt it.
We heard yesterday that there’s a more traditional to the comics version of Edwin Jarvis coming to Agent Carter. Did they fill you in on how that relates to J.A.R.V.I.S. at all?
BETTANY: [Looks out the window for Marvel snipers. Says nothing.]
J.A.R.V.I.S. is a fairly sassy character and from the way you’re describing Vision I’m assuming that’s not a part of his character. Did you miss that while you were playing Vision?
BETTANY: I wouldn’t say I missed it because I don’t think it entirely went away. You’ll see. As he is born and becomes more realized – It’s hard to be ironic. I know what you’re talking about because there’s a sort of knowing irony with J.A.R.V.I.S. and It’s hard to be like that with Vision. Babies aren’t particularly ironic. He is someone who is learning about the world at a quite exponential rate. He becomes more sassy as the movie continues.
How do the Avengers feel having Vision around?
BETTANY: Incredibly jealous [laughs]. It’s been a really lovely working experience. Initially in the plot there was a lot of distrust and that has to be navigated by the Vision and he does it in a quite extraordinarily shocking way. He gains their trust in a real – it’s a real roof raiser of a moment. Everybody will flip.
Are you Vision when the story starts? Or is this later in the story?
BETTANY: You might have gone to get your pop corn by that time. Minutes have passed, I don’t know how many. Some minutes have passed.
Do you get to wear the big yellow cape?
BETTANY: Can’t discuss that. There is a cape, and it is fabulous.
How does it feel to look at yourself in the mirror when you’re in costume? How do people respond to you?
BETTANY: With a great deal of pity. It is a real thing. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to keep me cool in that costume. Because that costume, while it is one of the most genuinely, in all the work that I’ve done, just an extraordinary achievement that has nothing to do with me. It’s just a really beautiful piece of design, then manufacturing this thing out of a lot of materials that haven’t existed for a long time. It’s really cool looking. The consequence is it’s fucking hot!
Can you talk about your approach to playing a character that goes through such a rapid evolution?
BETTANY: I talked about it a lot with Joss. It’s sort of about experiencing and processing things in the moment, and superhumanly quickly. I know how that feels to play it, but it will be up to others to judge. Kind of “Wow, that’s actually happening.” The whole time. People asking me questions and sort of genuinely working out the question in the moment rather than having pat answer.
Can you talk about the Vision’s abilities in the film?
BETTANY: No? Yeah, a little bit. We’ve talked about how he’s incredibly good at punching, which is key. He has the ability to change his density and that is … that’s awesome and exploited brilliantly by Joss in terms of just really cool moments when Vision is able to do something that is otherworldly. And he’s discovering all as he goes along.
We saw that you levitate a little bit. Can you talk about working with the wires?
BETTANY: Yeah. Have you ever been hung in the air by your genitals? I have. It’s great. There’s a lot of wire work, and I enjoy it. He said on the back of talking about his genitals. They make it as comfortable as they can possibly make it, which is really uncomfortable. It’s as hard as doing something really uncomfortable for a lot of money. It’s fun. But the results are so cool. Forget my genitals for a second, I know you were thinking about them, for me the problem is it’s another layer of clothing I have to wear.
Your genitals have a cape too?
BETTANY: Not in the movie, but right now they do.
Are you surprised at the number of actors joining superhero franchises? Did you feel the desire to get one of these characters? Because all these studios are growing and mapping out massive franchises.
BETTANY: I’m an actor and I’m not naturally blonde so I don’t tend to think things through clearly. I totally fell into it. I got a call on a Friday night from Joss going ‘Do you want to be the Vision?’ I can’t explain the amount of luck involved in that. I hadn’t gone about cornering some market on it. And frankly for ages, because I understood that once you were one character in a Marvel series you were never another. I kind of let it go. I was like, “Ok, that’s cool. I’m J.A.R.V.I.S. I do my thing. I walk away with a bag of cash like a burglar in my stripy outfit and my bag of swag. We all had so much fun. I mean they’re really nice, the Marvel guys. It’s a good bunch of people and we just had so much fun. They chose to bend the rules and I’m eternally grateful.
What do you love about working with Joss?
BETTANY: There’s a lot of dancing that goes on on set, which might the reason he’s bust his leg. Never have I been more certain making a movie, except maybe with Peter Weir, where I felt certain someone had a better idea what I should be doing [Laughs]. You feel very safe to have the ultimate fanboy also your director. He loves it. He loves that world. There’s a huge amount of safety. When he says “I think it should be more like this.” You go “I get it.” And even if I don’t get it, I believe you much more than I believe me so let’s do it that way. And he’s incredibly relaxed and having the time of his life making the film.
Was more shawarma eaten on Avengers 2?
BETTANY: Simply can’t talk about it.
You’ve been around almost the longest with Iron Man and the small room with a bag of cash.
BETTANY: Oh, say that bit again. It sounded so good. A small room with a bag of cash. Heady days.
Did you think it would become this epic thing that it has become? Did you know early on?
BETTANY: I didn’t. I could lie, and say I thought this was the way to focus my career, but I didn’t. I really didn’t. I did it because it seemed like a fun idea at the time. I make astonishingly simple decisions, not in a zen way. I mean like simple minded. I go, “That could be fun.” And I go and do it.
What does James Spader bring to Ultron?
BETTANY: We have a scene and it was the first scene we shot together, and it was just – even tough you’re talking with these very far fetched ideas, he managed to find something that was very human about our relationship and it was really amazing. You look into his eyes, he was there working, you look into his eyes and it doesn’t matter what he was talking about, you believe him. It was a great scene to work on. He was just so present, which is very difficult when you’re in a fractal suit. He’s got very arresting eyes and you believe everything he says.