In: Harlesden, Greater London, England
A former Westminster Bridge busker who shot to fame in such stateside efforts as A Knight's Tale and A Beautiful Mind (both 2001), actor Paul Bettany's willingness to challenge himself by jumping genres has given him rare exposure on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in London, Bettany was raised in Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire from age nine. Introduced to acting by his father (a teacher and ex-actor who gave up the stage for the classroom) and fueled by a love of cinema (Casablanca  and Brief Encounter  provided Bettany with early inspiration), the aspiring actor would subsequently pursue studies at London's Drama Center. Though the popular misconception that he was raised in a "theater family" continues to shadow the actor, Bettany has publicly stated that, by the time he was around, his father was working as a teacher and his mother's days as a singer were long behind her.
Following his stage debut in the West End production of An Inspector Calls, it wasn't long before Bettany made his television debut in the U.K. mystery series Wycliffe in 1994; and his feature debut in 1997's harrowing war drama Bent showed much promise. Alternating between film and television work with such efforts as The Land Girls (1997) and Coming Home (1998) in the following years, Bettany continued to climb the credits until his breakthrough performance in 2000's Gangster No. 1. Though Bettany would return to the role of supporting player for Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) (2000), that same year's depraved black comedy Dead Babies once again found him taking the lead.
The following year would introduce the talented young actor to American audiences in the adventure comedy A Knight's Tale, as well as in the biopic A Beautiful Mind, in which he played the college roommate of troubled mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe). In addition to providing him with an introduction to future wife Jennifer Connelly (the couple would wed in January of 2003), the film made an impact with American audiences. That same year Bettany appearred opposite Willem Dafoe in The Reckoning, and a supporting performance in director Lars von Trier's 2003 thriller Dogville kept audiences hungering for more. Later re-teaming with A Beautiful Mind co-star Crowe for director Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Bettany would next make his first foray into romantic comedy territory opposite Kirsten Dunst in Wimbledon.
Action/adventure roles would prove to be a bread and butter for Bettany as the 2000's continued, with roles in Firewall, The Da Vinci Code, Inkheart, The Tourist, Priest, and even a turn as the voice of Jarvis in Iron Man (a role he would return to for subsuquent sequels, as well as The Avengers). ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi