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Paul Bettany On His Starring Role In 'Uncle Frank'

Nov 21, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Frank is the dashing uncle from a small-town South Carolina family. He lives up in New York. He quotes poetry and teaches it. He wears cologne. He dresses with flair and has an instinctive sympathy for nieces and nephews who can feel a little misunderstood. His niece Beth comes to New York for school in 1973, knocks on Uncle Frank's door in Greenwich Village and meets a surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UNCLE FRANK")

PETER MACDISSI: (As Walid/Wally) My name is Wally. How are you? I've been begging Frank to introduce us.

SOPHIA LILLIS: (As Beth) So how do you know Uncle Frank?

MACDISSI: (As Walid) He's my roommate. Why?

LILLIS: (As Beth) Oh, I thought he lived with Charlotte.

MACDISSI: (As Walid) Yes, he does. We all three live together because it's a big apartment. And rent is very expensive.

SIMON: Paul Bettany is Uncle Frank - coming out soon on Amazon. It's written and directed by Alan Ball. Paul Bettany joins us. Thank you so much for being with us.

PAUL BETTANY: Such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Uncle Frank's been keeping a little something from his family, hasn't he?

BETTANY: Yes, he has. He is failing to live an authentic life with his family.

SIMON: Yeah - he lives with Wally. 1973 - he's out of the closet in New York and not with his family, I guess. Feels a special affinity for Beth, too, doesn't he?

BETTANY: Yes, I think so. I think he recognizes a kindred spirit and somebody who needs to move away to find themselves. And so he helps facilitate that.

SIMON: Yeah - and New York is the historic home of people who want to find themselves. What drew you to this story? Chance to work with Alan Ball must be must be one factor. What else?

BETTANY: Well, it started like that. I loved the script. I mean, initially, I was a little frightened of it. I was wondering why he thought that I was a good idea. And I was wondering if I thought I was a good idea because I think that that becomes increasingly important as I get older - having a really good reason to do something like this. You know, you bruise easier as you get older (laughter).

SIMON: What is it like, when you're in a film like "Uncle Frank," to try and bring two different sides of a character together at once on screen?

BETTANY: Frank has curated a sort of character for himself in New York - sort of erudite professor who dresses well and is witty and charming. And this sort of curated package that he has sort of presented to the world is starting to boil. And he's like a sort of corked bottle that's about to explode. And the further he gets south and the closer to his family that he gets, the more volatile that becomes, until he is outed by his father at the reading of the will. And he explodes. And so the two parts of his life come crashing together. And the whole thing is witnessed by this young woman who's coming of age. And it's really an amazing performance, I think, from Sophia Lillis - whose job it is to sort of witness all of this - as the audience, as it were.

SIMON: One of my favorite lines in films in recent years, I must say, comes from this film. When a character tells Frank, there are people who love you, and Frank says, well, people are idiots (laughter).

BETTANY: Yes, it's a good line.

SIMON: One of the features I love most in the story - it might be good for people to keep in mind this time of year, as we go through the holidays - you don't have to agree with everyone in your family to love them, do you?

BETTANY: Yes, I think that's right. I think there's a - one way to look at this movie is a movie about a family that has very differing ideas on how to live life - manage to overcome that and heal together. You know, at the end of the movie, the sun is out, and God is in his heaven. But not everybody in his family has accepted the situation. And yet afterwards, Aunt Butch, played by Lois Smith, is out having - drinking, you know, iced tea with everybody. Despite her sort of recalcitrance, she's still there. And they are a family. And it's an authentic relationship now, for better or for worse.

SIMON: Paul Bettany, as and in "Uncle Frank" on Amazon. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

BETTANY: Oh, it's such a pleasure. And lovely to speak to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.