The breakout star of ''A Knight's Tale'' tells about Ron Howard's upcoming ''A Beautiful Mind.''

By Lori Reese
Updated June 07, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Paul Bettany: Chris Delmas/Zuma Press

Not long ago ”A Knight’s Tale”’s Paul Bettany had trouble landing meaty parts in Hollywood. Why? ”Because I’m British and not Rupert Everett,” he tells But now that he’s working alongside Russell Crowe on the upcoming Ron Howard-directed drama ”A Beautiful Mind,” that’s likely to change. Indeed, ”Mind” is just one of two serious gigs the lanky London born actor, 30, landed hot off his critically praised role as a quick-witted, gambling-addicted Geoffrey Chaucer in ”A Knight’s Tale.” He’ll also appear opposite Willem Dafoe in the upcoming English thriller ”Morality Play.”

We caught up with Bettany while he was filming ”Mind” in New York City, and asked him what it’s like working with Hollywood’s thespian elite.

You began filming ”A Beautiful Mind” just as ”Gladiator” and Crowe won their Academy Awards. Did that excitement affect production at all?
No, he won the Oscar and came right back to work. Whereas I would have been running around naked going, ”I’ve got an Oscar! I’ve got an Oscar!” He really wasn’t, he was just charming and humble about it.

How did you get the part, and who do you play?
I owe Brian Helgeland, [”A Knight’s Tale”’s writer/director] everything. Brian took Ron Howard at gunpoint into the screening room and showed him ”A Knight’s Tale.” Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a Princeton mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for Economics and had a very troubled, disturbed life. I play his best friend, an English major, who nurtures him.

You’ll get to use your native accent. How will the movie explain it?
Right, I’m an English person studying English in America. My parents are diplomats or something. That’s the conceit. The real reason is that if I played an American, they’d have to justify using an English actor.