Interview: Paul Giamatti Talks Classic Monsters, ‘John Dies At The End’

This Friday sees the long-in-coming national release of “John Dies At the End,” the horror-comedy feature from Don Coscarelli. And one of the performers joining Coscarelli in his latest foray in indie horror is the award winning actor Paul Giamatti who also serves as executive producer on the film.

We’ve talked up “JDATE” quite a bit here at MTV Geek, but this was our chance to talk to the man who effortless occupied the Revolutionary era shoes of John Adams about hanging out in a grubby Chinese place as a reporter and hearing a story about meat monsters, killer botflies, and of course, Soy Sauce.

Giamatti’s been interested in working with “Phantasm” writer-director Don Coscarelli for years–the great unmade movie for many horror fans is “Bubba Nosferatu,” the planned sequel to “Bubba Ho-Tep,” with Giamatti in the role of Colonel Parker. Giamatti describes that as one of the projects the two attempted to collaborate on for some time that just didn’t get made. And then came “John.”

“I just had the script–I didn’t read the book or anything. And I couldn’t believe how it never let up, how it got increasingly weirder and weirder and weirder,” Giamatti offers when I ask what drew him to the role. Wong’s book-to-screenplay mostly followed the course of its two slacker protagonists (David and John) as they’re dropped into the middle of an interdimensional invasion by way of sentient narcotic, Soy Sauce. “I just thought it was terrific, and if I could help [Don] make this movie, I would.”

It goes on like that a bit during my brief conversation with Giamatti–Coscarelli’s name comes up, and the actor gets quietly… “affectionate” isn’t the right word, but there’s an element of deep admiration between the filmmaker and the actor. It’s the admiration of a longtime fan and fellow professional who’s paid his dues. Both have been at the filmmaking game for a while: Coscarelli has a 20-year head start beginning with his first feature in 1976 while Giamatti worked in small parts throughout the 90’s before taking the spotlight as Howard Stern’s foul-tempered boss in 1997’s “Private Parts.”

Giamatti recalls seeing the first film in Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” series as a kid (he estimates he was around 11 or 12 at the time), drawn in by “this weird, other dimension” which spawned villain the Tall Man and his tiny, robe-wearing minions. It came at the perfect time for Giamatti, who says that at the time, he was just getting into science fiction, even if he didn’t grasp the dark humor in the movie which sees an ice cream man and a teen challenging the forces of darkness, something the actor says he picked up on after repeat viewings as he got older (and as the series got odder and odder still).

He jokes that Coscarelli is “super anal” about everything, a lifetime of indie horror filmmaking training the director to plan out each detail of a shoot. As an actor, Giamatti says this makes him feel safe. You show up, you know what you’re going to be doing, and the director sets the tone and keeps things going in a way that instills confidence in the cast and the rest of the crew.

For Giamatti, Coscarelli stands apart from other filmmakers who came up during the late 70’s/early 80’s indie horror boom which saw the rise of the likes of Sam Raimi. “[Don had] a very singular vision,” Giamatti adds, saying that the filmmakers’ work cut across different genres while also drawing on very human themes (Giamatti points to the the theme of aging in “Bubba Ho-tep”). “In some ways, part of the pleasure of doing this is getting to be in one of those kinds of movies I enjoyed watching.” Giamatti says that he grew up watching the old black and white Universal features, which were just making their way to TV for the first time in the tri-state area. “I was obsessed with the Wolfman and Lon Chaney Jr. in particular,” he says, adding “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and other black and white classics to his horror diet as a kid.

He lays a good deal of the movie’s success–straddling the horror/comedy boundaries with a wry sense of humor–on lead actor Chase Williamson who plays protagonist/narrator David Wong. “He is and was really key to this thing working,” Giamatti says, placing what worked in the film on the younger actor’s shoulders (again, he compliments Coscarelli, adding that he film wouldn’t work without the rest of its cast of funny veterans like Clancy Brown and Glynn Turman in small but pivotal roles).

When I asked if we might see another film set in the universe created by David Wong, Giamatti places it in the fans’ hands: “If this one is appealing to people to any reasonable degree, it’ll probably make it easier to make another one. So hopefully people like this one.” He laughs, “Even if not, Don is very good at making these things no matter what.”

“John Dies At the End” is currently available on VOD and will be in theaters on Friday January 25 from Magnolia Releasing.