Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite actors. I love how he can jump from genre to genre and make it look effortless. I also love that he’ll go from playing the lead in something like HBO’s John Adams, to playing a small but memorable role in Duplicity. And on top of that, he was awesome in Michael Davis’ gem Shoot ‘Em Up. Anyway, over the past decade, Giamatti has played countless roles and he always impresses me.
Which brings me to his latest movie Barney’s Version – which opens this weekend in limited release. Based on Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning comic novel, the movie is about four decades, two continents, and the three wives of Barney Panofsky (Giamatti). Without saying too much, the film follows Barney’s long and colorful life and it’s really great. Filled with fantastic performances from Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Dustin Hoffman and Scott Speedman, it’s a film definitely worth seeing. For more, watch the trailer here.
Anyhow, the other day I got to sit down with Giamatti twice. The first interview was solely about Barney’s Version, and the second and more in depth interview was about his career and future projects. So if you’d like to read, listen to, or watch Giamatti talk about his career, how he picks projects, The Goon, The Hangover 2, George Clooney’s next movie The Ides of March, HBO’s Too Big to Fail (he plays Ben Bernanke), and a lot more, hit the jump:
Before going any further, I’m happy to announce we have a new way of offering our interviews. When we can, we’re going to offer our video interviews with a full transcript as well as the MP3 file. This way the reader will have the choice of either reading, listening to, or watching the interview. So if you want to just listen to the interview, click here for the audio. For the video, it’s in the player below. And for the full transcript, it’s further down the page.
However, since I know some of you just want the highlights, here’s a few choice bits of info:
Says he’s developing a project with HBO and the BBC about the making of the atomic bomb.
He starts shooting George Clooney’s The Ides of March in about a month and a half. When I asked who he plays and what it’s about he told me:
“It’s a movie that, it’s based on a play that George Clooney is directing, and he’s going to be in, and it’s about two rival political campaigns, and Ryan Gosling plays the sort of, the central character who was the manager of one of these political campaigns. And it’s a sort of real study of how those campaigns work. And it’s a disturbing study of how they work. But its also very much about his kind of, moral journey. I play the manager of the rival campaign. And I make his life difficult in some ways.”
Talked about playing Ben Bernanke (the chairman of the federal reserve) in HBO’s Too Big to Fail. It’s about “the whole collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Goldman Sachs thing, the whole sort of, you know, two years ago, three years ago now, financial snafu.” He got to meet him and describes how he prepared for the role.
Said he just wrapped on The Hangover Part 2. He wouldn’t reveal who he plays but said:
“It was true to the script for the most part. They did improv stuff, and they’re the experts at it, especially Zac, I mean, well they all were. Brad is too. So they did some. But it was kind of plot pointy stuff that you couldn’t play around with too much.”
On The Goon, which David Fincher is producing, he said:
“I believe they now have a script for that and so probably at some point it will happen. But you know, they did this sort of teaser thing. And you know, these things take a while to do. And I think it generated enough interest that they then really worked on the script and now there is a script.”
And with that, here’s the full interview. Hope you like it. Look for more Barney’s Version interviews every day this week.
Paul Giamatti: No I kind of enjoy this actually.
I just spoke to you a second ago, and we talked about the project at hand. I’m curious more about…you have been very busy working project to project. What is your criteria for picking projects and knowing you want to be involved in something?
Giamatti: Well, I don’t, that’s a tough answer because I’ve never had any kind of plan. I don’t… I think that criteria sounds kind of simplistic, but I think that really, the first and foremost, the story has to actually interest me, more than even the character. It just has to because, you know, it’s a directorial medium, in a way that acting doesn’t matter. The story is the most important thing. So if the story actually engages me and I keep reading the script, because I can’t tell you the number of scripts that you get five pages into and then you’re done, you know, it’s just not, not keeping you reading. So if in the first place I keep reading it, then I’m always aware something is going on, then if i start doing the lines to myself as I read it, something else is going on, and if i get to the end of it, and I enjoyed it, I’m interested, you know? That said, I do look for variety for myself, I’d like to try to do as many different kinds of things as possible because I like all kinds of movies.
Well that’s something I really admire about your career. First of all, most people, myself included consider you a great actor.
Something that really impresses me about your work is the diversity, the fact that you can do action movies, and then you’re doing period dramas, and bouncing from project to project. Do you sort of, ever think, OK, I just did an action movie, now I want to do something, no action, a lot of talking.
Giamatti: Well I have a sense of thinking, I wouldn’t mind doing, blah blah blah. I mean, I may not find that right away, but yeah, I mean, I’m conscious sometimes of thinking, oh it would be me to do something more…whatever it is, so I mean er, that diversity, I’m really lucky that I get to do that. I don’t know how it’s ended up that way, but I’ve kind of lucked out in that way. But, if a period thing comes a long, I’m gonna be, my agent or someone will say, you know, we’re sending you a period, it’s a medieval movie. I’ll be sensitized right off the back, going, oh, this will be interesting. If it sucks, I won’t do it, but if it’s interesting I’ll do it, because you just don’t get the chance to do stuff like that all the time.
Something that’s happened I’ve noticed in the last five or ten years, has been the jump in quality programming on television. You did something spectacular with John Adams. Did that sort of wet your appetite as to what TV can currently do?
Giamatti: Yeah, absolutely. It totally did. And just looking at the stuff, I don’t watch enough of it, but looking at the stuff that exists out there, it seems totally great, absolutely, and I would be, I would totally do more TV stuff.
Giamatti: Sure, absolutely, and there’s a thing that I’ve been developing with HBO and the BBC about the making of the atomic bomb, that we’ve been developing. And yes, there is over things that I would love to talk to, not just them, but any number of the cable stuff in particular, not that the network stuff is great too, but the cable stuff seems like they get a little more space to do stuff. But I’m happily interested. If somebody would come to me with something interesting, I’m all for it.
Well I definitely sort of wanna touch on…I looked at IMDb –
– before sitting down with you and I noticed like eight, nine things that are in the future for you.
Giamatti: Probably not true a lot of them.
Well some of these are movies like, Win Win, or Ironclad –
Giamatti: They’re done. Those are done.
Yeah, totally, or like The Ides of March?
Yeah exactly, so can you sort of talk about what you’ve recently wrapped on and what you’re coming up with. Where you are right now with your…
Giamatti: I did a couple of things recently. I did a movie called Too Big To Fail for HBO which is about the whole collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Goldman Sachs thing, the whole sort of, you know, two years ago, three years ago now, financial snafu.
I want to ask you a lot of other questions, but regarding that, is that something that you as an actor go in and say, I wanna research everything that I can about this?
Giamatti: That was something where yes, it’s always a case by case thing, but this was definitely something I said I do need to research this. Because I don’t know enough about it, to my shame, I admit it, I don’t understand a lot of things about economics. And the character I was playing, I felt like I needed to find out a lot about this guy. I play Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the federal reserve, who is a very interesting guy, but he’s a very very difficult guy to read. I mean, if you’ve ever seen him in public he’s impenetrable. So i thought I have to somehow find out more about this guy to see what I can do to sort of activate it. Because he can’t be like that off camera. I don’t know what he’s like off camera.
Did you ever find any audio or video of him off camera?
Giamatti: Well I met him, which was interesting, but I almost felt like the situation of meeting him was like he was on camera again. You know, I mean, like he knew that he was a little bit, I think he closed down a little bit because it was like being scrutinized by a camera by me. But he was a very nice guy. The most interesting stuff that I found was stuff that he did before he was the chairman of a federal reserve, because he was an academic, where he was talking at like, the London School of Economics, and he was much more, he was different because it was a different venue. He was different, and relaxed and more –
Giamatti: I don’t know, probably this year sometime.
Jumping back in to the other things you were going to mention until I rudely cut you off –
Giamatti: No it’s alright, what was I going to mention? I did the second Hangover movie, which I just did in Bangkok, which I think they just wrapped in Bangkok.
Todd made a comment about comparing it to Apocalypse Now, too much money, too much fun. Too much everything.
Giamatti: Ha! A lot of fun definitely, I don’t think it quite got to the Apocalypse Now level, that would have been fantastic. My God, I would love to do something like that. You hear about those things and I remember seeing that movie, that documentary, and thinking, my God, I would just love to do something like that. But I just don’t feel like that happens any more. I just don’t feel like somebody’s, a studio’s going to let that happen anymore.
You never know…
Giamatti: What could possibly be like that? I imagine like, if you’re going to do a Herzog movie or something, maybe it could happen on that happen, if it’s going to happen anywhere it’s going to be on something like that.
I think it’s gonna happen on, someone like Todd, it could happen on that.
Giamatti: It could happen.
Because he has a lot of artistic freedom, and he’s not spending so much money that the studio is micro managing. You make like a billion dollars with a comedy or whatever the number was…
Giamatti: You can do whatever you want.
Giamatti: It’s true. It would be interesting to see if it would go off the rails that kind of thing like that, but I think the nature of the movie will contribute to it going off the rails, and well, that could go off the rails that kind of movie.
Giamatti: You’re not supposed to. I don’t know that I’m even at liberty talking about it so much.
Well let me ask you, did you have a lot of fun working with the guys?
Giamatti: Yeah, absolutely they were great. It was a really good time.
And let me ask you this: was it very improv or was it very script structured?
Giamatti: It was, it was true to the script for the most part. They did improv stuff, and they’re the experts at it, especially Zac, I mean, well they all were. Brad is too. So they did some. But it was kind of plot pointy stuff that you couldn’t play around with too much.
Ok, well, I don’t want to intrude on that story so I will leave that alone.
Giamatti: Thank you sir.
I have other questions, you’re not done yet.
Giamatti: Yeah, go on, please.
What’s going on also with The Goon? Is there an update on that?
Giamatti: I believe they now have a script for that and so probably at some point it will happen. But you know, they did this sort of teaser thing. And you know, these things take a while to do. And I think it generated enough interest that they then really worked on the script and now there is a script.
That’s with David Fincher right?
I started learning about it more once I heard Fincher was involved.
Giamatti: It’s a big deal one. It’s got a really big following.
Oh no, totally. So yeah, jumping in to some over things, I believe you’re going to Sundance this year?
Giamatti: I am.
So do you enjoy going to the Sundance Film Festival?
Giamatti: I’m ok with it. It depends. You know, yes. It’s chaos. It’s fun. It’s nice to go with a movie like this that is-
We should mention the movie.
Giamatti: It’s called Win Win. It’s a very nice movie directed by this guy Tom, written and directed by this guy Tom McCarthy who did The Station Agent and The Visitor.
Giamatti: And he wrote Up too. He wrote the movie Up. He’s a great guy. It’s a great movie. The nice thing is, it’s not in the competition. It just goes and premieres there. And that’s nice because the competition thing can be rough. To have to go through that process can be rough.
What, oh, sorry –
Giamatti: No no.
I was going to say, You’ve obviously been in so many projects now that I would imagine that you are not anonymous anymore. People are probably recognizing you.
Giamatti: It’s something that comes with the job. It’s something that I accept. I mean, I don’t…it’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’s nice. People are 99.9% of the time very nice about it. And it’s always a respectful, nice thing. So I like my anonymity and my privacy, but it’s kind of gone in some way, so you just have to accept it. So it’s a nice thing so you just go with it.
What’s, after doing so many projects and doing so much stuff, is there a point when you’re thinking, I’m taking a six month break to recharge or are you not built that way?
Giamatti: I’ve done that. I’ve done that in the past and I will do that again to sometimes stop. I really enjoy working, I like working, I like to be occupied and I like to work. But I’ve done that in the past. I have more of the ability to do that now, and I’m a little less afraid.
Giamatti: If I do it, if I choose to do that, I’ll be ok. I have the sense now that I’ll be able to find a job again. So to choose to do that I do feel a bit more comfortable. And I have occasionally done that recently. It’s a great thing to be able to do.
Giamatti: It’s a movie that, it’s based on a play that George Clooney is directing, and he’s going to be in, and it’s about two rival political campaigns, and Ryan Giamatti: Gosling plays the sort of, the central character who was the manager of one of these political campaigns. And it’s a sort of real study of how those campaigns work. And it’s a disturbing study of how they work. But its also very much about his kind of, moral journey. I play the manager of the rival campaign. And I make his life difficult in some ways.
Clooney is very good behind the camera.
Giamatti: He is very good behind the camera. I look forward to it.
Exactly. I’m gonna get killed if I don’t let you go, so I’m gonna say thank you so much.
Giamatti: Thanks man.