By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It was a mini-“Avengers” reunion Monday at the Creative Artists Agency Century City headquarters. Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Paul Bettany (the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S/The Vision) turned up in public together for the first time since they completed production on “Captain America: Civil War.” The occasion wasn’t Marvel-related, though.
Downey, looking dapper in a dark suit, was on hand to help promote Bettany’s gritty new drama “Shelter,” which he wrote and directed, and stars Mackie and Bettany’s wife, Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”).
“I’ve known Paul since he was a voice in Tony (Stark’s) workshop,” said Downey in his introduction. “Obviously, I’ve known his work as an actor for a long time. Last spring, we were in Atlanta shooting ‘Captain America: Civil War’ on a tarmac. Anthony is doing these wire fly ins. It’s about 115 degrees and it’s just miserable. After a while, I looked over and dear Paul is up there completely shellacked in purple as Vision.
“Naturally, at lunchtime, we got around to (asking each other), ‘So, what else are you up to?’ and so my missus (producer Susan Downey) and I saw this film.
“The one thing I can say about it is it really stuck with us. It got us thinking. The reason why I’m here tonight is you have someone who is known primarily as an actor and he has a life experience that turns into a writing/directorial debut.
“So here’s this guy who I know and most of us know as one of the great talents of his generation, taking this other step, and he goes into it with his missus (Connelly). He told me that going into it—and I’m paraphrasing—was like, ‘Taking a gravel shower, but you came out so clean.’ But he said it was worth it because there’s this crucible that they go through and they’re working with Anthony Mackie.
“I was literally astounded by the subtlety and the complete character he created for this, which he does time and time again.”
“So I really kind of applaud the idea of continuing to support any of us that are saying, ‘Something happened, and then it got me thinking about this idea that is not unlike that.’ I felt it was important to kind of stick a flag in the ground and say, ‘Paul Bettany is a writer/director.’ Jennifer is amazing in this movie and Anthony is, as usual. It’s really fantastic.”
Bettany then explained that he was inspired to write the screenplay after observing a homeless couple that lived near the New York apartment where he and Connelly live. He initially was going to be in the film, but decided it would be better to cast someone else in the lead role. Mackie plays an illegal Nigerian immigrant who can’t get healthcare because of his status. Connelly plays a junkie whom he befriends and tries to help clean up. The camera follows them through their efforts to simply stay alive and find shelter during an unforgiving winter and caught up in a broken system.
“As a director, I hired myself for this movie and then I fired myself,” Bettany quipped. “I think being a good actor is about able to imaginatively trying to place yourself in different situations. If I’d imagined what it would be like showing your movie before different audiences feels like, I probably wouldn’t have done it. In fact, the night before production started in New York City, I was hoping for a miracle like being knocked over by a cab or something. That didn’t happen, so I made the movie.”
Bettany, who met his wife on the set of Ron Howard’s Oscar winning “A Beautiful Mind,” revealed he recently lost his father and has been reflecting on his faith.
“He was a very religious man, a Catholic; I’m not,” the actor said. “But he used to say whenever we saw a homeless person, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ and I love that. I love the admission of how close we all are and how easily it could be us. And I wonder where that sentiment has gone.”
The British actor also pointed out the growing income disparity in this country that also led him to make a film about the growing homelessness crisis.
“This year, in New York City, we’ve passed two huge milestones,” he noted. “The first one was that an apartment sold for $100 million. The other was that 60,000 of the city’s residents are in municipal shelters—24,000 of them are children. That’s going on in a city with more billionaires than any other place on earth. It’s not just the children. We’re all innocent. We’re all deserving of forgiveness and all fundamentally deserving of having a home.”
Though Connelly was shooting another film elsewhere and not at the “Shelter” screening, Mackie was in attendance. The film opens in New York and Los Angeles, on Friday, Nov. 13, and will be available that date on VOD.
“Anthony is amazing in the film,” Bettany complimented. “He was such a rock to me during shooting.”