The Perfect Actor
In Barney's Version, Paul Giamatti makes the leap from a career of offbeat roles to the romantic lead as a cigar-smoking ladies' man
From the Print Edition:
Paul Giamatti, January/February 2011
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He considered a career in academia, because of his parents: “That’s definitely an attractive life but I wasn’t suited to the actual work,” he says. “I had no aptitude for the actual work. But it certainly went through my head.”
Instead, he moved to Seattle after college because he had friends who were working there. Some of them ran a theater where Giamatti worked at odd jobs and would occasionally act in the plays they put on. One night an agent saw him perform and offered to represent him and find him work.
“I thought, ‘Sure, I might as well try this,’ ” he recalls. “And I started making some money from that. My whole mindset shifted. I didn’t know if I was good or not but I was making money.
“As much as I say I didn’t know if I was interested acting when I was younger, it was the most fun thing I remember doing, back to when I was a kid. I was in the school play every year and always looked forward to it as something that was fun to do. But it was just this thing I did. When I started making money, I decided to get serious about it.”
That meant going back to Yale, where he enrolled in graduate school “because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I thought that I could maybe have a stage career. So I wanted to train my voice. I wanted to get better at it, to whip myself into shape and get some technique. But I mostly thought I would do stage stuff.”
Writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) was a year behind Giamatti in Yale’s graduate theater program, where they became friends. He remembers Giamatti in a production of Chekhov’s “The Bear” that cemented his regard for his friend.
“Anything by Chekhov is difficult for American actors,” McCarthy says. “But Paul made it so accessible. He just has this uncanny ability to make text his own. It was practically a one-man show.”
After graduate school, Giamatti moved to New York and began working steadily in theater, mostly off-Broadway, and TV: “I was really lucky,” Giamatti says. “I did theater and lots of odd jobs. That really kept me afloat. Of course, I had low expenses, so I was able to make an OK living and managed to do alright.”
The watershed year was 1997, where he won small but noticeable roles in films as diverse as Donnie Brasco (as an FBI technician) and My Best Friend’s Wedding (as a bellman who has a heart-to-heart moment with Julia Roberts)—six films in all.
But the one that turned him into a hot commodity as a character actor was the short-fused station manager who becomes Howard Stern’s nemesis in Private Parts. As Kenny “Pig Vomit” Rushton, he exploded to the camera, “There ain’t no God while Howard Stern’s walking the Earth, I’ll tell you that.”
“I started getting a lot more substantial movie work after that,” Giamatti says. “In fact, I began to do movies more than theater.”
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