June 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

PAUL BETTANY

AGE 30

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM As Chaucer in Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale.

HISTORY, SCHMISTORY Longtime chum Helgeland custom-tailored the loquacious part for Royal Shakespeare Company vet Bettany despite the fact that the real Chaucer was ”an enormously fat, bearded dwarf.”

TWIST AND SHOUT To capture the spirit of Chaucer’s cheeky oratory in the film, Bettany looked to John Lennon’s exhortation that ”the people in the cheap seats” clap while the rest rattle their jewelry, at the Beatles’ 1963 Royal Command Performance.

THE NAKED TRUTH ”What you see represents five or six days of nudity — it’s humiliating,” says Bettany of his screen time in the altogether. ”My buttocks get a laugh before I do.”

NEXT Costarring with Willem Dafoe in the indie Morality Play, and with Russell Crowe in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. He’s also harpooned the part of Captain Ahab in Helgeland’s planned adaptation of Moby Dick.

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