Paul Giamatti – Paul’s Version
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted January 14, 2011.
Paul Giamatti cuts an unusual figure in image-conscious Hollywood – however that is one of the reasons that his career has been so fascinatingly diverse. He’ll readily admit he was not blessed with leading man looks, therefore he had to work harder and seduce movie audiences with pure talent and quirky project choices.
The son of former Major League Baseball commissioner A. Bart Giamatti, Paul Giamatti came from a theatrical background and early in his career seemed to be stalled at bit parts in major films – like the hotel bellman who shared a cigarette with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding or the “kissing guy” in Singles.
It was his role as Howard Stern’s obnoxious boss in Private Parts that broke Giamatti from the pack and he has never looked back. Since he has done a dizzyingly varied and eclectic selection of roles in the likes of Saving Private Ryan, American Splendor (playing cult comic artist Harvey Pekar), The Illusionist and The Nanny Diaries. He was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe for his performance in the popular film Sideways playing a character he found pretty reprehensible – more on that later. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Cinderella Man. He also won an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in the HBO miniseries John Adams.
Now he has won yet another Best Actor Golden Globe for Barney’s Version – the long-in-the-works adaptation of the final book by respected Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler. Barney’s Version takes a panoramic look at the life of Barney Panofsky, a cynical Canadian television exec who is married three times – literally meeting the third wife at the wedding with the second – and also survives the scandal of his best friend’s mysterious disappearance.
Giamatti plays the character over a span of 30-40 years, going from a 20-some expatriate experiencing the artistic world in Rome to a jaded aging executive who mourns his lost youth. Barney’s trials and tribulations and eventual illness are handled with surprising humor and pathos.
Rosamund Pike, the British actress who plays Barney’s third wife and his one true love, called working with Giamatti a dream. “I adore Paul,” Pike said. “I really just believed in him as Barney. He made me laugh. I find him intellectually inspiring. I feel we have similar kinds of appetites for life and literature and curiosities and art and that kind of stuff. Then, you know, there was no bullshit with him. There’s no tricks. There’s no trying to save his performance until it’s on his side – until he’s on camera – and all these kind of stupid things that some arrogant actors do. He’s got no ego. I just love it.”
Right before the opening of Barney’s Version, Giamatti sat down with us and some other media outlets at the Crosby Street Hotel in the SoHo section of New York.
How did you first become familiar with the book? Did you know of it before getting involved in the movie?
I knew of the book, but I read the script before I actually looked at the book. I didn’t read the book until the movie was done.
Have you been to a Jewish wedding before in real life, because that’s a big part of this film?
I had one! But it was kind of a low-key, small-scale hippie one. So we didn’t do the whole Hora thing. I did the low-key, cool-guy hippie thing, Jewish one. But I’ve been to them, yeah – never one quite as over the top as the one in the movie. A big, sweaty, crazy thing like that? No.
You just said that the Barney’s Version book was really funny. The movie is actually serious, compared to the trailer. What do you think about that?
The trailer makes it look funnier than it is? This movie is impossible to put into a trailer. That’s the thing. Even with the way they butcher movies to put them into trailers to try to sell them, this one is particularly hard to put into a trailer. I think they are terrified of showing me old, too, in the trailer. I saw it, and I was like, “You never see me old in the trailer.” It’s funny. It’s a movie about an old man! It’s not jokey.