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Paul Bettany

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Acting’s a lot like sex. It’s a lot of fun to do and embarrassing to have to talk about afterwards,” says “Master and Commander” co-star Paul Bettany.

He leaves no doubt, though, that he enjoyed his role as ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin in the 19th century naval epic.

The part gave him the formidable task of playing counterweight to Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey — an intellectual, even maternal figure on the ship ruled by a macho, stern father figure.

But the job was tough because Bettany has little in common with the stoic Maturin.

“He’s the sort of person if you put him in solitary confinement for 10 years he’d come out pretty much the same way he went in, whereas I would come out barking mad,” Bettany says. But he does share Maturin’s rebellious streak, and that kept him from joining in with Crowe’s boot camp and rugby matches for the cast.

“Everybody thought that was terribly method of me, but it in fact it was more akin to laziness,” he says.

However there was more than laziness to the decision. Bettany was getting in touch with Maturin’s solitary nature, and once in Mexico for shooting he went farther, choosing to live alone in a clifftop house rather than in the company’s hotel with everyone else.

“The result of which was that I was crushingly lonely and by the time I got into work I just wanted to talk to everybody.”

He also sought out scientists and doctors who taught him dissection and surgical techniques. He admits that there’s more than a little bit of trial and error in the process of finding a character.

“You work out what you have to aim for and you try your best to achieve it. Acting happens between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ and you can never be sure what helps you get there. You do things sometimes that fail utterly to help you. But the research and everything is not a chore. It’s sort of fun.”

Coming attractions: “The Reckoning,” “Wimbledon”

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