You know that dreaded surprise Zoom meeting invite that pops up, like an unwelcome zit or herpes sore, in your inbox and is scheduled for roughly around 430pm on a Thursday? You know it’s not going to end well. The Hollywood equivalent of that happened to Paul Bettany, who played Vision, an android a synthetic body made from vibranium and created by Ultron, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One fine day he was summoned to meet with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and producer Louis D’Esposito.
Bettany’s Vision, as MCU aficionados know, died not once but twice, at the conclusion of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, at the hands of both Wanda Maximoff, otherwise known as the Scarlet Witch, and then courtesy of Thanos, who needs no further introduction. It didn’t bode well for Bettany’s future as Vision, the fan-favorite whose body is made from vibranium, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“I thought they were going to be charming and give me the can and say, you know, it’s been a great run, but actually they pitched this bonkers show,” says Bettany.
The show in question is WandaVision, which premieres on Disney+ on January 15, 2021. It’s been a banner year for Bettany, who’s also in Uncle Frank, playing a ‘70s gay literature professor who’s never come out to his family, but accompanies his teenage niece home to attend his father’s funeral. Directed by Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball, the movie is a sweetly hopeful paean to acceptance and self-awareness, something that resonated with Bettany. In the nail-biting days before Biden was declared as the winner of the presidential election, Bettany talked to Fatherly about fame, family, and his vision for Vision.
What can you tell us about WandaVision without having the wrath of Marvel come crashing down upon you?
I can tell you some things. I can tell you that we start off in a 1950s sitcom that we shot, and it’s the first time I’ve ever done this. We shot live and in front of a studio audience. It was such a thrilling experience and it enabled us to finish shooting that episode in two days. A Marvel movie is somewhere in the region of six months to shoot.
I can tell you that as insane as that trailer looks, it’s very beautifully written by Jac Schaeffer. She did an extraordinary job and her team did an extraordinary job. As mad as the trailer seems, actually, when you peel back all the layers, they all make sense. And it, it ends up being the sort of rather beautiful little puzzle box that is absolutely about something.
We were shooting in Los Angeles and I live in Brooklyn and we were in a bubble, so I was away for two months and I have never been away from them for more than two weeks without getting home. And so that was really, really hard. And it was really hard on my children and they were desperate for me to come home and then I did come home and it took them up five minutes to get bored, but that’s the truth.
On a very different note, Uncle Frank seems like a film perfect for these times when anything hopeful seems to be in short supply.
It’s about a man who lives two very different lives. One is with his family in South Carolina, and one with his partner in New York City. He keeps those two lives very separate. And the joy of the movie is when he’s able to unite those two things. And I thought that was a really beautiful story to tell right now.
How do you teach your three kids about acceptance, and having an open mind?
My children are free to express themselves in whatever way they want. This particular film of course is about a gay man and, and his relationship with his partner and his family and with my children there has never been any pressure to conform in any way.
This a really beautiful journey. I was a little frightened of the part, and I spoke to the director and we discussed why he wrote it. And he and I felt really aligned on a lot of things. My father was a gay man and came out of the closet of 63. Because of his religion, because of his Catholicism after his partner died, when my dad was in his eighties, my dad went back into the closet. And that was a real tragedy — because of the sort of shame that he felt regarding his own sexuality. This is a movie when they live happily ever after and that feels sort of quietly revolutionary.
Wow, that is heartbreaking.
My father was an actor and a dancer and found himself in a community where that was absolutely acceptable, but he still never got right with who he was. And it was nice to imagine a different ending to that story.
You live in downtown Brooklyn, where you’re part of the scenery, so to speak. Have you made a concerted effort to live a normal life?
I don’t think about it much. I try not to think about it. My wife is Jennifer Connelly and she’s an actress and she is famous and it can be weird at times. But considering what we do, we live very quiet lives and I’m not somebody who goes to parties unless it’s my film or my wife’s film. It doesn’t come up a lot.
It’s stressful hearing actors complain about things because also if somebody is asking you about it, you’re clearly so blessed that you’re able to make a living in this thing. I guess it is a little annoying that you can’t go to the beach and not be photographed — it is what it is. But there’s so much that is good about it. And can be edifying. It doesn’t all have to be narcissistic and self-serving.
WandaVision hits Disney+ on January 15.
Uncle Frank is on Amazon Prime on November 25.