A select bunch of reporters got to sit down with Bettany at San Diego Comic-Con to get new details on the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of this classic comic character, including his powers and his relationships with the other members of the team. And yes, I was the one who asked him about genital capes. Read on, won’t you?
When you originally started as Jarvis in Iron Man, did you always have it in your contract that, ‘hey, if these movies do really well, I want a better role where I can actually do a big part and not just my voice?’
Paul Bettany: Yes. No, I didn’t, and for a long while, I discovered that, having played Jarvis, in the Marvel rulebook, I wasn’t allowed to then play another character. Joss Whedon and I got on very well, and he looked for a way to make that happen and he found one, so I’m very happy.
What is the relationship between Jarvis and Vision?
I can’t tell you. I can tell you there IS one. I’m supposed to keep it vague and mysterious, which I will do. Everything’s a double-edged sword, right? I used to turn up for 45 minutes in a darkened studios and be Jarvis, and then they’d give me a huge bag of cash and I would go about my way like a burglar, and I’d just think ‘fucking hell, 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. Really lovely, funny, creative people. It’s been a joy, really.
What intrigued you about the character of the Vision and his history?
Well, I’ve got to say that the greatest thing about this job for me is that however much research I could do, I would never know as much about Vision and the world as Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon, so it’s really nice to acquiesce all responsibility of that to those guys. The thing that appealed to me was this sort of nascent creature being born and being both omnipotent and totally naive and the danger of that, and the complex nature of a thing being born that is that powerful and that fully created in a second. The choices he makes morally are very complex and interesting. They’ve really managed to maintain all of that. The bit I love, the famous image of him crying, I think is really expressed kind of beautifully in this Avengers.
Was this an amazing ensemble cast experience, or are you primarily isolated with one or two people?
It’s both of those things. Initially, it was everybody on set at the same time. It was the introduction of Vision on the first day, and it was huge and everybody was incredibly welcoming and really prepared! Now that sounds really stupid, but I can’t tell you the amount of times you turn up on a set with huge, famous, overpaid 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!’ That happens more often than is noble. But this situation, there’s so many characters to cover for a filmmaker that everybody’s getting two or three takes, so everybody’s really on point and focused and creative. It was just a really lovely atmosphere. It’s been great.
Can you talk about making the voices of Jarvis and the Vision distinct from each other?
I can’t really, not for any other reason than that it happens entirely naturally as you’re on set. Those things are hard to analyze. There are absolute differences, clearly.
So it wasn’t something you worked on beforehand?
Well, I worked on it, but the interaction with other people and other actors changes things. Your interaction with the director changes things. He is not Jarvis, and he is not a child of Ultron. He is The Vision, and that weirdly happened on its own. He’s Jarvis, but yoked.
Was it good to work directly with Robert Downey Jr. instead of indirectly?
Yeah, it was lovely. Oftentimes, you’re saying these quite outlandish things to each other on these sorts of movies, but with all of them, with him and Spader and Ruffalo and Hemsworth – it’s amazing how you can sell these very outlandish notions – farfetched ideas.
What is Vision’s relationship with Stark like?
I think that Vision probably feels paternal towards a number of people.
How many of those guys do you get to punch?
I’m really good at punching. Vision is very good at punching.
What’s the vision’s relationship like with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch?
How many movies has Marvel locked you down for?
A lot of bags of cash.
It’s good for the family business.
There’s a rumor that they shot a flashback scene to World War II with Captain America and a young Hayley Atwell, and you were part of those scenes. Is that the case?
Not unless I was wildly drunk, no. I can tell you that hasn’t happened, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to, but I doubt it.
We heard yesterday there’s a more traditional-to-the-comics version of Edwin Jarvis coming to the television series Agent Carter. Did they fill you in on how that relates to Jarvis at all?
Jarvis is a fairly sassy character, and from the way you’re describing vision, that’s not going to be the same for him. Did you miss that in the shift to Vision, or is there some other element of him as a character that you enjoyed doing?
I wouldn’t say that I missed it, because I don’t think that it entirely went away, and 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 Jarvis, but babies aren’t particularly ironic. But he is somebody who is learning about the world at a quite exponential rate, and he becomes more sassy as the movie continues.
How do the rest of the Avengers feel having the Vision around?
Incredibly jealous. (laughter) It’s been a really lovely working experience. I think initially, in the plot, there is 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 roof-raiser of a moment. Everybody will flip.
Are you Vision when the film starts, or is this later in the story?
You might’ve gone to get your popcorn. Minutes have passed. I don’t know how many.
Do you get to wear a bright yellow cape?
I can’t discuss that. There is a cape. And it’s fabulous. (laughter)
How do people respond to you when you’re in costume on set?
With a great deal of pity. It’s a real thing. We spent a lot of time working out how to keep me cool in that costume, because that costume is genuinely, in all of the work that I’ve ever done, just one of the most extraordinary achievements 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 very long time. It’s really cool looking. The consequence is that it’s FUCKING HOT.
Can you talk about your approach to playing a character that goes through such a rapid evolution and grows up so quickly?
I talked a lot about it with Joss, and it’s sort of about experiencing and processing things in the moment and superhumanly quickly. I know how that feels to play it, but you know it will be up to other people to judge whether that’s been realized. There’s a sort of ‘wow, that’s really happening’ the whole time. People are asking me question and I’m really genuinely working out the question in the moment rather than having a pat answer to questions.
Vision is a powerful character in the comics – can you talk about the abilities he has in the movie?
No. Well, a little bit. We’ve already discussed that he’s incredibly good at punching, which is key. He has the ability to change his density, and that’s awesome and really exploited brilliantly by Joss in terms of just really cool moments. Vision is able to do something that is really otherworldly and it’s great, and he’s discovering it all as he goes along.
We saw him levitating – did you have to do wirework for those scenes?
Can you talk a little bit about that?
I don’t know. Have you ever been hung in the air by your genitals? (laughter) I have. It’s great. Yeah, there’s a lot of wirework, 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 as – you know, it’s fine. The results are so ‘wow, that’s so cool!’ It’s all okay. It’s another layer. The harness is – forget my genitals for a second, I know that you were thinking about them – for me, the problem is it’s another layer of clothing that I have to wear.
What, do your genitals have a cape, too?
Not in the movie, but right now, they do.
A lot of actors seem to be looking for a character in the comics universe to make their own as studios are mapping out these massive franchises. Did you ever feel you had to figure out how to get involved, since Avengers was a game-changer?
I’m an actor and I’m naturally blond, so I don’t tend to think things through very clearly. I totally fell into it. I got a call late on a Friday night from Joss saying ‘hey, do you want to be the Vision?’ And I went ‘yeah, sure.’ I can’t explain the amount of luck in that. No, I hadn’t gone about cornering some market or thinking about it, going ‘I’ve got to get my niche in the superhero world.’ Frankly, for ages, because I understood that once you were one character in a Marvel series you were never another, I kinda let it go, you know what I mean? I was like ‘okay, this is cool, I’m Jarvis, I do my thing, I get a bag of cash, I walk away like a burglar in my stripey outfit and my bag of swag, and that’s great.’ Then this other opportunity – we all had so much fun. They’re a really nice bunch of guys, the Marvel guys. It’s a good bunch of people and we just had a lot of fun. So, I don’t know, they chose to bend the rules and I’m eternally grateful.
What do you love about working with Joss?
Well, there’s a lot of dancing that goes on on set, which might be the reason he bust his leg. Never have I been more certain, except maybe with Peter Weir, that somebody else had a better idea than I did about what I should be doing. It makes you feel very safe to have the ultimate fanboy also your director. He loves it. He loves that world, and it is a huge amount of safety. So when he says ‘well, 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, suddenly, so let’s do it that way.’ He’s incredibly relaxed and having the time of his life making the film.
Whether or not it makes the screen, was more shawarma eaten on the set?
I simply can’t talk about it. (laughter)
You’ve been around this world almost the longest, from being in a small room with a bag of cash until now –
Say that bit again, it sounded so nice. (laughter) Small room, bag of cash. Heady days.
But did you ever think that it would get to be the epic thing that it became? Did you know early on that it would be bigger than life?
No. I could lie and tell you ‘yes, I’m that brilliant, 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. When I say simple, I don’t mean in a zen way, but I mean simple-minded decisions, like ‘oh, that could be fun,’ and I go and do that.
What does James Spader bring to the character of Ultron, as he runs the gamut from very serious to very funny.
We have a scene, and it was the first scene that we shot together, toward the end of the movie. Even though you’re talking with these very far-fetched ideas, he managed to find something that was very human about the relationship that was happening between his character and my character. He’s there working, and you look into his eyes, and it doesn’t matter what he’s talking about, you believe him, and he believed me. It was really a great little scene to work on, and he was just so present, which is difficult when you’re in a fractal suit. He’s just got very arresting eyes and you believe everything he says.