Early lifeBettany was born 27 May 1971 in Shepherd's Bush, London, the son of Anne (née Kettle), a stage singer, theatre teacher, and stage manager, and Thane Bettany, a dancer, actor, and drama teacher. He has an older sister, Sarah, and had a younger brother, Matthew. Bettany was raised Roman Catholic. While his father taught at the all-girls boarding school Queenswood School in Hertfordshire, the family lived on the campus. His brother Matthew died after a fall at Queenswood. Soon after, Bettany left home and went to live on his own in London and his parents later divorced. He lived in a small flat and earned money by playing his guitar in the streets as a busker. After two years, he found a new job in a home for the elderly.
CareerWhen Bettany was 19, he decided to be an actor, and he pursued that career with determination, studying at the Drama Centre London in Chalk Farm. He made his stage debut in Stephen Daldry's acclaimed West End revival of An Inspector Calls at the Aldwych Theatre, playing the part of Eric Birling. He also appeared in the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions of Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar (for which he received a Charleson Award nomination). When Bettany was 21 he appeared in a BBC production of Oliver Twist, as Bill Sikes.
After appearing in the finale of Sean Bean's series Sharpe as HRH The Prince of Orange at the Battle of Waterloo, he made his film debut with a small part in Bent, a Holocaust drama which also featured Clive Owen, Jude Law, and Ian McKellen. He continued doing work in stage and television, these included Joe Penhall's Love and Understanding, which played at London's Flatbush Theatre and then ran in Connecticut. He had roles in the television productions Killer Net and Coming Home, during which he met and dated Emily Mortimer. He did his last theatre work in One More Wasted Year and Stranger's House at the Royal Court Theatre.
He filmed several more movies, including his first leading role in Gangster No. 1. The British Independent Film Awards nominated him for Best Actor, and the London Film Critics' Circle nominated him for British Newcomer of the Year.
Back in Hollywood, writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) was planning a new film called The Sin Eater (also known as The Order). He was impressed by Bettany's audition tape, though Bettany eventually decided to film A Knight's Tale instead. The studio executives were not impressed, but Helgeland was determined to cast him, even writing the part of Chaucer for him. A Knight's Tale would be Bettany's first big Hollywood production, and most American audiences would have their first look at Paul Bettany when he walked onscreen muddy and naked. "My buttocks entered the American market before I did," he joked on the movie's DVD commentary track.
London Film Critics Circle Award for Best British Supporting Actor. After the movie wrapped, Helgeland, determined that Hollywood should recognise Bettany's talent, showed the audition tape to many of his peers, including Ron Howard, who promptly cast Bettany in A Beautiful Mind.
After A Beautiful Mind, Bettany was offered the role of serial killer Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, opposite Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins. He turned down the role in favour of accepting a part with Stellan Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman in controversial director Lars von Trier's Dogville.
Bettany's next major project saw him starring again alongside Russell Crowe in Peter Weir's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. His portrayal of surgeon and naturalist Stephen Maturin brought in more critical acclaim, including a BAFTA nomination, British Actor of the Year (London Film Critics' Circle), and Best Actor (Evening Standard).
On 28 June 2004, Bettany and 13 other actors were included in the 2004 invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Dogville and The Reckoning were released in limited cinemas in 2004. In September of that year, Bettany made his leading-man debut in Wimbledon, a romantic comedy with Kirsten Dunst. The film's cast would also introduce him to Jon Favreau, playing his manager, a relationship that would return when Favreau cast him as the voice of Jarvis in Iron Man. In spring 2005, Bettany went to Vancouver to film Firewall, a thriller starring Harrison Ford and Virginia Madsen, which reunited him with Wimbledon director Richard Loncraine. He spent the autumn of 2005 filming The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's bestselling novel and starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. In the film, he played an Opus Dei monk named Silas.
In 2007, Bettany went to London to star in There For Me, written by his friends Dan Fredenburgh and Doraly Rosen. In 2008, he appeared in the New Line Cinema family fantasy Inkheart, playing the part of a fire-eater named Dustfinger.
Bettany, who was raised Catholic, is now an atheist.