British actor Paul Bettany is flying high as an angel in the new DVD release Legion. He says he chose the role because he loves horror movies – and liked the director’s choice of sneakers. Steve Pratt reports.

AFTER playing a killer monk in The Da Vinci Code, British actor Paul Bettany puts on wings and plays a rebellious angel in the new-to-DVD movie Legion. He stars as Archangel Michael, who defies his divine orders and sets out to save humanity from God’s wrath.

All the action is in direct contrast to his other recent release, playing Charles Darwin of Origin Of Species fame in the biopic Creation. He loves all the play-acting with guns in Legion, as a group of people in an out-of-town diner find themselves centrestage in humanity’s fight for survival.

“Creation is a really important movie for me, but when I was a kid on the playground, I wasn’t running around playing the godfather of evolution. I was running around shooting stuff and it was really nice to give free rein to that in Legion,” he says.

The film sees him directed by Scott Stewart, someone his own age who grew up watching and loving the same horror movies.

“I love movies like Dawn Of The Dead,” says Bettany. “I read the script of Legion and it had the feeling of a siege film with zombies, like when they’re all trapped in the shopping mall [in Dawn Of The Dead].

“I love those sorts of movies, where you really get to know the characters, or you have the feeling that you get to know the characters, before the s**t hits the fan.”

There was another thing that sold the project to Bettany – Stewart’s shoes. “We were having lunch and he had all these visual aids and storyboards, and taking me through his ideas on the computer. But I kept looking at his shoes. He had these Paul Smith sneakers and they were just an exquisitely well-chosen pair of sneakers. I thought he had really nice aesthetic.”

It’s just coincidence that he’s playing a lot of religious/ spiritual roles of late. “It’s really just been the way the cards have fallen. I mean, there are a lot of films about religion and the end of the world out there right now, and a boy’s gotta work. It’s very much in the ether or zeitgeist right now.”

The impressive physique on show in Legion is all Bettany’s.

He’s not a gym person but has a very strong work ethic. “So, if somebody says you’ve got six months to get in shape then my job for six months was to go into a gym for two hours a day and then get paid a nice sum of money at the end of it,” he says.

“I hate hearing actors moan about that. I absolutely promise you, though, the moment the job was over, my abs didn’t look like that anymore. For one thing, I went off and did the Darwin movie, which would have been a very different kind of survivalof- the-fittest movie if I’d been ripped.”

Then he got back in shape for Priest, also directed by Stewart, in which he plays a priest who disobeys church law to track down the vampires who kidnapped his niece.

“I finished that and it was real life again and it was Christmas, so I was totally abusing my body with booze and cheese and bread, which was great,” he adds.

The most challenging thing about the Legion role was a fight scene with another angel, Gabriel. It was fun too. “A bunch of guys would put me on a wire and I’d do a flip like Bruce Lee.

The real skill was trying to look surprised when you landed. They pull a rope, you flip up in the air and land. It’s quite fun if you have any aptitude for athletic kind of gymnastic stuff.

“To be spinning around in the air is sort of the sensation of flying. It’s brilliant fun. Yeah, you bruise and your balls hurt.

You’re in this harness, strapped up industrially with the stuntmen going, ‘can you still breathe?’ Being swung around is quite tiring in the end but it’s a trade-off because you feel like you’re flying, but with enormous pain in your testicles.”

Now he has to choose between making more action films or returning to serious roles. Not that he’s decided yet. “I’m probably quite childish in the way I pick movies,” he admits. “I go, ‘oh, I’ve just done that, I’ll do something different’. I pick the most diametrically opposed thing to what I did last. It’s keeping me happy.”

■ Legion is out to buy on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.