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. Bettany's chilling portrayal of a ruthless gangster who will stop at nothing to get to the top proved so potent that American distributors were hesitant to provide the film with a proper stateside release. Though it would eventually make its U.S. premiere via home video, Bettany's unforgettable performance nevertheless made a lasting impression on industry insiders, who clamored to cast the intense young actor in whatever roles they could find for him. 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.