In the last month, Paul Bettany will have co-starred in two of the biggest movies of the year and probably of all time, as Vision in Avengers: Infinity War and now as crime lord Dryden Voss in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Bettany was a late addition to Solo, coming on board after the Phil Lord and Chris Miller filmmaking duo left the project and were replaced by Ron Howard. In Lord and Miller’s version, Dryden Voss was played by Michael K. Williams, who had described the character as “half lion.” Williams’ schedule wouldn’t allow him to be available for the reshoots, but by the time Bettany replaced him, the whole half lion had been dropped and now this galactic gangster, who Han Solo and company have to eventually answer to, has a more human appearance.
But how did Bettany get the role in the first place? Well, basically, Bettany sent a late night “U up?” text message to Ron Howard asking if he could be in a Star Wars movie and Howard responded with — and this is real — “LOL” before telling Bettany he’d see what he could do. So I guess the moral of this story is that sometimes random, out of the blue text messages asking for work can actually work.
What is your relationship with Star Wars? Were you a fan? Or was this just something that sounded fun?
No, I am a big fan. I was a big fan from six years old. I was in London in the ’70s and it was gray and miserable – as the ’70s were in London – and I was whisked away and transported to a different galaxy by A New Hope. And it was pretty instrumental in making me want to become an actor, I think, as a young kid.
With Solo, was it then a combination of you liking Star Wars and working with Ron Howard before?
Well, it was hearing that Ron was doing it and then I texted him asking to be in it, and he said, “Let me see what I can do.” And then he got back to me with a job. I was super thrilled when he came back and said, “Yeah, we’ve got something for you to do.”
So you text him, “I want to be in this,” and he comes back and says, “Turns out you can be the main bad guy”?
That had to be more than you were expecting?
Well, that’s pretty great…
Yeah, totally, and that’s exactly how it happened. And, in fact, I texted him exactly this. [Pulls out phone] I said, “Hey, Ron, have you ever spent long winter evenings like I have wondering why I’m not in the Star Wars franchise?”
What did write back?
Then he texted me back, “LOL. Let me get back to you.”
What if he had just written, “LOL,” without the “get back to you” part?
I would have been teary.
Would you have followed up? Like, “Hey, I’m serious.”
Totally. Totally, I wanted to be in the Star Wars series.
How long until he got back to you with something concrete?
I was flying in two weeks.
I was flying to London to start shooting.
I don’t feel it normally happens this way.
No, it’s totally not normal.
So, two weeks after sending that text you’re on that flight. At what point onset are you like, “Oh, wow, I’m actually on a Star Wars set.” Or is it not that different than a Marvel movie?
No, it was pretty amazing. I walked down a spiral staircase on a starship and a R2 unit went by with champagne flutes on it.
I remember the scene.
And that was the first scene I shot and it was amazing. And, you know, you kind of go, “Holy shit, I’m in Star Wars.”
Dryden Voss seems like a reasonable villain, at least as far as crime lords go. Like when he asks people, “Give me a reason not to kill you,” he seems sincere.
Yeah, I think so. You know, I mean, he’s a crime boss, right? And he fucked up, so I’ve got to make him pay, right?
When Michael K. Williams was playing him before he had to leave he said this character was half lion. When did that change?
Yes, that was gone. I mean, and look, I think Michael K. Williams is a great actor. And the problem with being a great actor is you’re very much in demand. And by the time they came to do these re-shoots and all of this fiasco happened, Michael K. Williams was unfortunately already working. That is the danger of being an actor that in demand. [Laughs] I was unemployed…
Sending text messages to Ron Howard…
So, I’ve never taken the risk of being that talented.
Oh, come on…
But, anyway, one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune and this time I got very lucky. But I think they took the opportunity to just rethink the whole notion of him being a CG motion capture animal and make him more human, which I think was helpful for this strange Han-Qi’ra-Dryden triangle that’s going on.
So you mentioned fiasco…
When I said fiasco, to clarify, I mean the mayhem that must have befallen the project. It doesn’t usually happen, and so right at the moment where the ship is being righted and there’s calm, suddenly you go, “Well, now we’ve done this and we have to reshoot these moments. Well, should we use this opportunity to rethink a few things?” And one of the things that they rethought was Dryden Vos and whether he should be an animal at all. And so, by the time I got called in, they had already made that decision.
So do you show up all refreshed like, “Hey let’s do a Star Wars!” and everyone else has been filming for months and months and probably are tired?.
No, it was not. It was really an incredibly happy set. I think that there was some real trauma and, for better or for worse, what had happened had happened. And Ron had come on and it was a brilliant piece of producing by Kathleen, because not only is Ron a brilliant director and an incredibly fast shooter, he’s also impossible to hate. I mean, I think it can empirically be proved that he is the most likable human being in the whole world, and that’s the person you need to come and take over the show. And everybody was really, really happy to be continuing and that we were in calm waters now.
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