Paul Giamatti Interview
Paul Giamatti Interview

Starring In

Barney's Version (tbc)

Release Date

30 Dec 2010

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During the nineties Paul Giamatti broke into Hollywood by taking on supporting roles in films such as The Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan and Man on the Moon. Over the past decade the American actor has moved onto bigger and better things, starring in both blockbusters and independents, from American Splendour and Sideways to The Illusionist and John Adams. Having just played the eponymous lead in Barney’s Version, based on the book by Mordecai Richler, Paul Giamatti spoke to View’s Matt Turner when he was in London about his late-coming success in the film world, working with Dustin Hoffman and the influence of Alzheimer’s on his character.
Were you familiar with the book before you read the script?

Paul Giamatti:

No. I knew of the book and I knew about him, but I hadn't read it.
Did you enjoy playing Barney?

Paul Giamatti:

Very much so. I liked him a lot. I mean recognising that he's a bastard in a lot of ways. I definitely liked the character a lot, certainly playing him. From the 'inside', it was a lot of fun. There's a lot of vitality to it. From the inside, it's totally fun. I realise subjectively, he's a dick.
It's my pleasure playing a guy who's difficult, aggressive and belligerent...
And how do you play that and keep him likeable enough for the audience to sympathise?

Paul Giamatti:

The likeable things about him are built into the script: the relationship he has with his father, things like that. The way he is towards his first wife. She's crazy but Barney marries her for the wrong reasons – he marries her to take care of her, he has this sense of responsibility. Just in the course of the script, you can humanise him. It's not so much me, the character's there, you have to get it right. It's not me bringing it out, necessarily.
What do you think drives Barney's outward gruffness?

Paul Giamatti:

I think he's not terribly tolerant of bullshit, I think that's what it is, he has this intense sort of bullshit meter. No, no, I think part of it is he is vulnerable and sensitive and he wants to cover that up – he wants to be sort of hiding that kind of thing because he's probably more sensitive than he would want to let on so I guess people who are like that try to cover it up sometimes with being gruff, stuff like that.
You've played a few laconic characters. Why do you think that is?

Paul Giamatti:

I don't know. I think part of it is people have just seen me do it. And that just starts to be what people come to me with. I think it's partially that. I've been through so many cycles in my life; I went through a period where I played nothing but priests. I played priests ALL the time. I don't know why, I just did. I was in my mid-20s and I played priests all the time. So, I don't know what it is, how much of it is just people coming to me because they've seen me do it.
Is that how people expect you to be, grumpy and laconic?

Paul Giamatti:

Oh, yeah, sure. Definitely. Absolutely they do, but maybe that's a good thing because then people don't bother me in the airport so much. Maybe they think I'll go nuts on them or something like that. It's an interesting thing.
What did you bring to Barney?

Paul Giamatti:

I don't know. I suppose yes, they do see me as having a sort of misanthropic quality, so they probably wanted to bring that out. Anything I would have brought, I think, was probably my enthusiasm to play a dick. It's my pleasure in playing a guy who's difficult, and aggressive and belligerent, which are things I don't think I am, so it was nice to be able to do those things. So my enthusiasm, I guess, is what I brought to it.
Even though you are playing a bit of a dick, as you say, you still get to play a romantic rush to the train station scene. Was that a first and if so, how was it?

Paul Giamatti:

Yes. I think so. I did something in that movie The Illusionist where I chased somebody to a train station but that was different, it wasn't romantic. It was like a thrillery thing. So yes it was my first.
So how was it for you?

Paul Giamatti:

Oh, it was great! I had to run the wrong way down the escalator, which was the most challenging part of it. But other than that, it was great. It was fun being able to do that kind of thing. Absolutely. I loved it, yeah.
There's a nice twist to the scene in that the characters burst out laughing and acknowledge they can't believe it's happening.

Paul Giamatti:

Absolutely.
Rosamund Pike is very well cast.

Paul Giamatti:

Absolutely. When I heard they were thinking about her for the role they had a group of about five people they were considering, really thinking of, and she was one of them and I immediately said, 'Well, you don't even really have to think about anybody else.' I've been kind of obsessed with her since I first saw that Bond movie she was in and I just thought she was amazing. And so I had this weird determination that I was going to somehow work with this woman at some point and I was ecstatic when they cast her. She's a great actress and she's a great person and I just loved acting with her.
Hats off to the make-up people for ageing her so effectively.

Paul Giamatti:

It's hard. She's gorgeous and it's hard to age someone like that up. It's much easier with a character-y person like me, so they did a really good job of it and she did an amazing job too.
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