A good summer movie may be remembered for its hero, but great summer movies are defined by their villains. And most can’t quite measure up to the bad guys from the Star Wars galaxy, including Darth Vader, Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett.
Paul Bettany talked to TIME about joining that pantheon of evildoers in Solo, a prequel out May 25. Set before Han Solo meets Luke or Leia, the movie chronicles Han’s descent into the smuggling world and his encounters with shady characters, including Bettany’s scarred gangster Dryden Vos.
Who is Dryden Vos?
He’s a gangster, a godfather figure. He’s got a long reach, and he demands his tribute before any sort of business deal goes forward. And, of course, Han gets mixed up with him.
Han Solo has always operated in a moral gray area. Is it fair to say that Dryden and the other Solo characters aren’t so concerned with the dark side and the light?
It feels very different tonally from the other Star Wars movies. This is definitely a world where Han shoots first. And that’s as it should be. It’s absolutely what attracted me to Han when I was a little boy. Thinking, Oh my God, he’s so bad. He’s just out for himself. But then he can’t help but show up at the Death Star when you need him. He’s worked out that the galaxy is cruel and you need to be cruel to get by, but he can’t quite do it because he has a heart.
Do you have a favorite Star Wars villain?
I have to say Darth Vader. It’s a beautifully complex character. Look, I could lie and say I became an actor because of Fellini films. But the truth is, in 1977, I saw Star Wars and the whole world changed. The first day on the set of Solo, I was walking down a set of stairs on a Star Cruiser and there was an R2-D2 carrying a champagne glass. I felt like a kid in a toy shop.
What makes a good villain?
A good villain has to have a clear philosophy about how the universe operates. They can’t just be doing bad things because they’re evil. They have to be thinking, Everyone else is getting theirs, so why can’t I get mine?
You joined Solo midway through production after Ron Howard took over the film. (Disney parted ways with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller over a difference in “creative visions.”) Were you worried about the production?
It all happened very quickly. I got the call from Ron Howard, and I was on the set two weeks later. I was worried about it going in, but all my fears went away the moment I arrived. I got off the plane, and I was in the makeup chair 20 minutes after that. Ron was like a laser. It was virtuosic what he did in a very short amount of time and in very trying circumstances. It was lovely seeing an old friend be so brilliant.
This appears in the May 14, 2018 issue of TIME.