As the voice of Iron Man’s computer programme Jarvis, Paul Bettany has spent a lot time hidden away in a sound booth, only meeting up with his Marvel Comics co-stars on the red carpet.
For the new Avengers: Age Of Ultron movie, however, he finally made it onto set.
But that, he says, was “a double-edged sword”.
“I used to turn up for two hours in a dark sound booth with a microphone, and leave with a bunch of cash, which was great,” jokes the actor. “Now I actually have to turn up and earn my living. The upside is, you’re working with really creative, funny, interesting people, and we had a lot of fun on set.”
Indeed - so much fun that director Joss Whedon was forced to reprimand the cast. “I can’t speak for Joss, but I imagine it was very tricky,” says Bettany. “There were a lot of characters to cover and to try and give them their moment - he did an amazing job.
“But for us, the set was very funny. They’re a bunch of very creative, entertaining people who are a giggle to be around.”
Apparently, Robert Downey Jr, who plays Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, wasn’t even the worst culprit (that was Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo).
In fact, Downey Jr, says Bettany, who’s worked with him since 2008’s Iron Man, is “incredibly professional, very prepared, very witty and sharp as a tack”.
In this sequel to 2012’s Avengers Assemble, Stark tries to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping programme - but things go awry and the heroes, including Black Widow (Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), have to reassemble to stop the technological villain Ultron from fulfilling his ambition of exterminating the human race.
The turn of events also sees Jarvis transform into a new character called Vision, an artificial life form and “totally naive creature born as an adult, who is super smart and yet he still has the childlike features of experiencing everything fresh”, London-born Bettany explains.
As befitting an Avenger, his new guise is impressive, and the 43-year-old reveals it involved six months of make-up tests “to figure it out”.
“My daughter [Agnes] loved it. She’s three and was very upset when I took it off at the end of the day. She wanted ‘Purple Daddy’ back.”
Bettany, who also has son Stellan with his wife Jennifer Connelly and is stepfather to her son Kai, says he found himself in some strange situations while attempting to keep his character’s get-up under wraps.
“Once you’re in the costume, you’re travelling everywhere on set in this cloak that’s sealed up. You couldn’t see anything, I didn’t know where I was, but people try to take photos,” he explains.
Of course, this being an Avengers movie, Bettany was required to do stunt work - not that any of the choreographed fight sequences fazed him.
“The stunts were so great on this and we were so well prepared. I remember in the old days, it was a little hairy,” he says, laughing.
“On one movie, I got dropped about 25ft on a rig and it didn’t slow down. It was just dropped and it was really painful. But now, they really don’t want to damage [the likes of] Chris Hemsworth. That’s a costly thing to damage.”
After studying at Drama Centre London, Bettany regularly appeared on stage before making his TV debut in 1994, in an episode of detective series Wycliffe.
In 1997, he was cast in a small part in the holocaust film Bent, but it would be another three years before he landed his first leading film role, in 2000’s acclaimed Brit-flick Gangster No. 1.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron is in cinemas now