Paul Giamatti Interview – SHOOT ‘EM UP

     September 6, 2007

Opening tomorrow in theaters across the country is “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a great movie that’s filled with all the action your 10 bucks deserves. By now you’ve probably heard of the movie from the commercials, the internet, or perhaps my constant writing about the film and saying how great it is.

And since you’re probably sick of hearing about it from me… thankfully I have this new interview with Paul Giamatti, the evil doer from the movie, to let you read below.

During our roundtable discussion we cover everything – why he took the role, what he has coming up (it’s a lot), and how Michael Davis managed to get him to make fun of his hit movie “Sideways” in the movie “Shoot ‘Em Up.” It’s a great interview and one that’s well worth your time.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 here.

“Shoot ‘Em Up” opens tomorrow. Don’t miss it.

Q: How exciting was it to take on this role?

Paul: Good time. It was fun.

Q: What was your inspiration?

Paul: My inspiration? Oh, god. I just thought the script was not boring when I read it. Even action movies are kind of boring when you read them and I just don’t know what the hell is going on in those things. And then I met the director and he just seemed like he was going to make it make sense. I dunno. It just seemed like it would be fun. Y’know. Good bad guy. These guys are great. I thought it would be a good time.

Q: Do you like playing bad guys or good guys?

Paul:I don’t think like I’ve ever actually played a really good guy. So, it’s like I guess I like playing more screwed up people or bad guys, probably more than good guys. I don’t think I could play a good guy like that. I couldn’t do that.

Q: How did you work yourself up to send up ‘Sideways’?

I didn’t even know I was. You mean the line I said about…? Everybody has been asking me that. At the time he just asked me to say it and I said it. Then a week later I was like, ‘Oh, I get it. Oh, that’s funny.’ (Laughs.) I didn’t even get it, but, whatever, I didn’t care.

Q: So ‘Fuck me sideways’ wasn’t in the script? He fed you that line?

I think he did. It wasn’t in the script. So, he must have fed it to me, because I never would have come up with it. He fed it to me at the time and I didn’t even get it, I really didn’t get it until later. ‘That’s funny. That’s good.’ Yeah, so…

Q: Can you talk about working with Mike on his first bigger budget film?

He was great. When I met him, he was what really sold me on the thing. He had all this stuff animated out and he was an animator, so he had animated all the action sequences which was really cool and gave you an enormous amount of confidence that the guy knew exactly what he was going to be doing. So, he was hyper prepared and really unbelievably great on the set and improvising stuff when he couldn’t get everything he wanted necessarily and they did an unbelievable amount of stuff everyday. So, he was just incredibly prepared, but he was really excited and I think because he was so excited I have never worked with somebody who was more decent to everybody on the set, because I think he was just really happy to be there. He would go around every night to each department and thank everybody which I had never seen a director do. An incredibly decent guy. He’s a weird guy, he’s got a weird sense of humor and weird jokes he was always telling us. He kept it really fun. He was great, I hope I get to work with him again and he keeps doing what he’s doing because he’s really great.

Q: Did you get to go to the firing range for any training?

We did a little bit, yeah. Mostly just shooting blanks and stuff like that. They wouldn’t let me shoot any live ammunition. I really wanted to shoot live ammo out of that thing. I wanted to hear that thing go. I wanted to fire that sniper rifle, but they wouldn’t let me fire anything for real.

Q: How was the training?

It was great, I loved the sniper rifle! I could not get enough of that thing. (Laughs.) Smooth action on that thing. That thing was amazing. I loved that. And I got to pick which one I wanted to use, so I picked the all black one, because I thought that cooler. But, I loved that thing, it was amazing. That gun is just amazing.

Q: Did you have a favorite fight in the movie?

Oh, I dunno. I kind of enjoyed all of it. There is a crazy thing where I try to kill him with a piece of a mirror running down a hall screaming – that was fun. (Laughs.) I liked getting shot. I got shot a bunch of times which was great. I dunno. I liked getting hit, punched and knocked over. I mean the stunting kind of stuff was fun. I didn’t have that much of it to do, but I really liked sort of getting hit in the head and stuff like that. It was great. I loved it.

Q: Did you ever get hurt at all on the set?

No. No, I’m amazed he didn’t get hurt. He didn’t get hurt at all. But, I’m more amazing – I mean, I’m not in any kind of good shape, so I’m amazed I didn’t get hurt. But he had all that kind of stuff.

Q: You went from this which was very structured script to Vince Vaughn and “Fred Claus.” Which was very improv…


Q: I’ve heard he was very improv…

Yeah, he was, really. Everything was basically.

Q: I wanted to know if you could talk about whether you have a preference at all.

I had never done something like that. I had never done something purely improvised like that, but I figured that was what the thing was gonna be and so, it would be fun to go with it. Y’know, it’s not my preferred way of working, because I’m too paranoid to do that, but it was fun. It ended up being a lot of fun. I mean, once I really got the hang of it, it was actually really enjoyable. I mean, he, he can just go that guy. So, you just kind of follow him around and you figure it out and then it was actually really fun. And I wouldn’t have known what to do if they’d given me lines, actual lines to say. I wouldn’t have known what to do. So, it ended up being good. I mean, that thing was fun. It was a big, giant thing with big sets and all that kind of stuff. But it was good, I mean, the director was great – David Dobkin. We had a good time. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but we had a good time.

Q: What was your take on Santa Claus?

Well he wanted a kind of, y’know, it’s Santa Claus, but just a kind of overworked, neurotic guy who is working too hard. A compulsive eater who has ulcers and stuff like that. The idea was to make him like a guy who is just running a giant company. Stressed out and stuff like that. Just make him a real guy who happens to be Santa Claus. That was the idea. Prematurely white hair and stuff like that.

Q: What was the most difficult part of this film? With all the action…

No, I mean, the thing about — it was all so tightly controlled you knew exactly what you were going to do, which is nice in a way. You just have to follow the map through once it’s drawn out, so never felt difficult particularly. Everything was fun and I was getting to do a lot of stuff I never got to do before. Break his fingers and stuff, it was great. Yeah, I loved doing all that stuff. No, it never felt difficult. He really had a lot more of the difficult stuff. Those stunts have been a nightmare in a lot of ways.

Q: Well, you keep getting shot and we think you’re gone, but you come back…

I do keep coming back don’t I?

Q: The last time I expected you to get up…

Yeah, right, I have a big hole in me, don’t I? I’ve got like a huge hole in me. I am not getting up from that probably. I loved that. I really loved doing all that.

Q: The idea of talking to your wife like a business call?

Yeah, yeah. Workaholic – doesn’t see his family enough. Loves his job. Loves his family. Loves his job more. Y’know, that kind of stuff. It was just fun. I really had a good time, but it never felt hard particularly. But that again, was because that guy was so prepared. It could have been a nightmare, I’m sure. I mean, I’ve worked on other much action movies where I didn’t have as much to do and it was really boring and hard and a nightmare, but this one moved so fast.

Q: John Adams. Really big production? And you play the title character?

Yeah, huge. I do play the title character John Adams. It was good. It’s giant, it was six months which actually wasn’t enough time to do this thing. It’s going to be like nine hours long or something. I mean it’s a mini-series, y’know and so, it was epic, it was huge. It was ambitious. I think it could be really good, y’know? I almost don’t remember…I was there every day all day long and I never shut up. I just never stopped talking, and so in a weird way it’s kind of like a blank to me. It was just like a shot out of a cannon and then it just stopped.

Q: Can you talk about the research you did for the role?

Yeah, it’s based on this David McCullough biography that won the Pulitzer Prize and was a big bestseller a couple of years ago. I mean, it’s based on that and it’s based on a lot of things obviously. I mean, I read that, but at a certain point I couldn’t read too much, because it still has to be a character and I was getting too much information. It inevitably had to take off from the facts, it couldn’t cue to the facts really faithfully all the time. So, it would get confusing. It would be like, ‘But wait a minute, this didn’t happen then.’ So, I actually had to stop doing a lot of that stuff. But I read some biographies and his letters and the stuff that he wrote himself was actually more useful than the biography. He was a weird character, and in a lot of ways we had just had to create a ‘character’ out of it, because you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to recreate something that isn’t historically accurate.

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Q: Is this going to be a surprising take on John Adams?

Paul: Well, I mean for what people know, I didn’t know anything about him. Most people don’t know much about him. I mean, he was a weird guy, so, I don’t know for anybody who knows anything about him, I don’t think it will be surprising, but I think for people who come to these things expecting this sort of iconic, y’know, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, white, marble bust kind of thing – he was kind of a lunatic, Adams. He was..

Q: He was a hypochondriac…

Paul: He was a hypochondriac, he [had a] violent temper, he was constantly sticking his foot in his mouth. He was kind of a nightmare of a guy.

Q: How did he get elected President?

Paul: Well, it wasn’t that hard, back then. But, he was this huge figure to people and there was a lot of weird political maneuvering around that went on. And there was a lot of maneuvering around that went on and Hamilton and all these guys maneuvered around to get him elected. He was a terrible president. He was a terrible politician. So, we are making a thing about a guy who was basically a failure as a politician. So, it will be interesting.

Q: What got you to the project and I know it’s a hell of a cast…

Paul: Yeah, it was amazing – hundreds of people. And everyone was great in it down to the smallest parts. Amazing cast. They sent it to me and I read it and I said it just seemed insane to be trying to do this, but I just thought – I was interested in the fact that he wasn’t one of these iconic guys and the idea was to kind of deconstruct that thing a little bit and show these guys as more human then they than they were. I dunno, I like period stuff and I’m a history guy and it covers a huge piece of history. They were trying to do a different version of the whole ‘Birth of A Nation’ thing than people are kind of used to. It’s much more a kind of politically history because he sat the war out. There is no battle scenes in it. It’s all him wandering around begging for money. I don’t know how interesting that will be, but that’s what he did for the whole war. He kind of traveled around Europe trying to get people to give money to finance the war. And he was sick all the time and out of his mind and depressed. He was a really weird guy.

Q: What does it take for a character like yours in ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’ to try and kill a baby?

Good times. (Laughter in the room) It was great. My favorite thing was running over the baby with a car. For some reason they though that was the most fucked up thing. They were like, ‘This is going to be the most fucked up thing. People are going to hate this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s great. Why not?’ Running over the baby… I never really saw the babies at all. I was never around them. They kept them away from me. No, it was great. I loved the whole idea of trying to kill a baby. It was fantastic.

Q: Have you seen the movie with an audience?

No, I haven’t even seen this cut of it. I saw an early cut of it. So, I haven’t seen it in awhile.

Q: You’ve heard how people react to it?

People like it I’ve heard. People find it funny, which is good. Which is really good, because it’s meant to be funny. Y’know, it’s got a lot of tongue in cheek.

Q: Do you never watch your movies with an audience?

I usually have to do at the premieres. So, I dunno if that’s a real audience. It’s never really a real audience. Occasionally, I have gone and seen something just on at my own and walked in to see what it is like with an audience. I haven’t done that much though. I usually watch them once and that’s about it.

Q: Do you have any children?

I have a son, yeah. Six-years-old. He’s way to young to see this. I dunno how I’m gonna explain this one to him. I’m worried about him seeing the posters with me and the guy with the gun…‘Daddy what are you doing to that woman?’ Oh, boy. I’ll wait awhile till he’ll see this one. I’m sure he’ll like this though. He’ll like this one someday…

Q: Two more years…

Two more years and he’ll be fine with it.

Q: Did you also do Rob Zombie’s animated movie?

I did. I don’t know whatever happened to that thing, but I did yeah.

Q: What was your character?

I played Satan basically. I played this guy named Dr. Satan. It was kind of like a James Bond villain. I mean, it was nuts, I don’t know what happened to it. Hopefully it comes out soon, but it was a dirty cartoon.

Q: Are you doing a character voice or your own?

Yeah, I think as I remember I did a kind of Vincent Price-y kind of thing. A sort of fey villain sort of thing. I mean, it was funny. The animation was funny too, but it’s all sort of sex and drugs and jokes. Which was good, which I like. We’ll see how it works out.

Q: What about ‘Pretty Birds,’ the next project you start on…

We are doing that now. Yeah, yeah. We are doing it in New Jersey unfortunately. It just takes four hours to get to New Jersey from here. But, it’s unbelievable to get over there. I thought it was going to be much easier. It’s like the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thought this would be an easy job. But that’s based on a real story on these guys who invented a jet pack – a rocket belt and the three of them started stealing it from each other and one of them ended up killing the other one – it’s funny though. (Laughs). It’s very funny. And Billy Crudup is in it, playing the other guy. I play the guy who actually built it who is a real guy who is in prison now for life because he killed the other guy.

Q: Did they work?

The belts? The actual belts? People have them. We actually had a guy who flies them in Colorado for sporting events. They only go up for 30 seconds. They are the most useless thing in the world. But we had him cone out and actually fly in them. It’s insane. It’s the craziest looking thing I’ve ever seen in my life. So, they exist and people do them, but they are dangerous as hell. You can burn yourself horribly…

Q: Did you read the book Where’s My Jetpack?

No, what is that? Is it like how come somebody hasn’t made a real jet pack? They can’t last very long. It’s impossible to make them fly for more than 30 seconds really. You can’t put that much fuel on somebody’s back. No, so, they’re useless, but they are cool looking. They are really impressive, but dangerous.

Q: After this wraps are you already thinking about your next thing?

I don’t know. Yeah, I mean I am always looking for something else to do. But I don’t know what I’m going to do. I probably should take a little bit of a break. I feel a little burnt. I have been working non-stop for about the last year and a half.

Q: What do you look for in a script?

I dunno. I never know. Just something different. I just don’t want to get bored. Gotta keep from getting bored. That’s a big thing for me. I never know what I’m going to like or what’s going to strike me the right way.

Q: This may not sound right, but are you doing ‘Bubba Nosferatu’?

I hope so! Y’know, I would really like to do that. Did you ever see ‘Bubba Hotep’? Great movie. And that director, I love that guy’s movies. All the ‘Phantasm’ movies and stuff. But we are trying to do it. Ossie Davis, yeah, yeah.

Q: Is Campbell still involved though?

Well Bruce Campbell was waffling around about whether he wants to play Elvis or not again. So, that’s the problem. I mean, I’m playing Colonel parker, which will be great, but you gotta have Elvis and you really want him playing Elvis, so, hopefully we can get him to do it. If not, I’m sure they will try and find somebody else. But I think it’s contingent on whether he’ll do it or not. But it’s a great script. A completely insane script. Yeah and I would love to do that. Because I love that other movie. It’s a great movie.

Q: Have you thought of ever revisiting some of your previous characters?

I haven’t no. I mean if this does alright, Michael has an idea for another one, but it wouldn’t be the same character – it would be a different guy. I dunno. Alexander Payne, somebody actually talked about it, and he said he wouldn’t do one except maybe in 15 years if everyone was still alive. He would do it again in 15 or 20 years. That would be kind of cool, but other than that no.

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