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Paul Giamatti has made his name as an actor since the early '90s, and it seems like he's in literally everything these days. For example, he's a Canadian ex-con struggling to make a legitimate living selling Christmas trees alongside Paul Rudd in "All Is Bright" (out in theaters and VOD today), accidentally famous home video-shooter Abraham Zapruder in this weekend's "Parkland," Friar Lawrence in the latest film incarnation of "Romeo and Juliet" (out next week), a slave trader in Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" (October 18), and the villainous Rhino in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (due out May 2, 2014).
We got the chance to sit down with Giamatti in New York City prior to the release of "All Is Bright" and talked to him about his numerous upcoming roles, the weirdest time a fan spotted him on the street and the feats of strength he and co-star Paul Rudd did (or didn't) compete in on the set of the movie.
You filmed this movie in March of 2012. What's it like for you to revisit things that aren't your most recent role?
It's always really weird. And it's generally not my most recent role, always something from a while ago. So, it's always really strange. It's kind of cool. It's weird. It's always surprising, because I've forgotten and done a bunch of things in between, so it's kind of cool.
Do you have rules about how many times you'll watch your movies? Like Alfonso Cuaron has that rule that he'll only watch a film one time with an audience and then he's done with it basically forever.
I don't go out of my way to watch them, no.
"Oh, it's Tuesday, let's watch…"
[laughs] Yeah, no. I'll go see it when it premieres usually. When it's showing the first time at a premiere, I'll watch it then. Usually, other than that, I won't ever go out of my way to watch one again. But sometimes I've come across them on TV and I'll sit and watch occasionally ones, but not that often.
Do you laugh at your own movies?
No, that's interesting. I think, when I've seen something much later I actually sometimes find myself -- in fact, I just saw part of this movie that I did and actually did laugh at something I did, which was weird, because I don't think I did the first time I saw it. I'm sure I didn't. In fact I didn't like my performance. And then I was watching and I was like, "Oh, this isn't that bad, actually." It was a movie called "Cold Souls," and it was on TV, I don't know, I was in a hotel room flipping around. I didn't watch it, but I watched about fifteen minutes of it.
And when you're flipping, you're just like, "Hey, this guy."
It's odd, yeah, it's very weird. You're like, "What, is that me on the television?" It's really strange, it's very weird. I do find that when I look back at it, I'm like, "Oh, this wasn't as -- no, this is way better than I thought it was."
That cliche that everyone's their own worst critic is cliche for a reason.
No, no, no, it's true, though. Yeah, I suppose they are. I know some people who just think they're great, whatever they do, which is nice for them.
They do sit there and watch their own movies?
Oh yes, oh yeah, I've worked with some people who just can't get enough.
You're killing me, because I know you can't say.
No, nah nah nah.
What drove you to get involved in this project, what was intriguing to you?
Well, I knew the woman who wrote it, she's Canadian, she's a playwright. She's a very good playwright, she's won many awards. And she writes currently for this TV show called "The Americans," and she had wanted to write a screenplay and she's like, "I see these guys come down here, and I wonder what the hell's up with them." So then she said, "I'll do that, and I'd like to do a movie with a sort of heist, so I think I'll try to do both of those things." She's a very quirky writer, and the script was very much more -- almost kind of surreal, quirky like her plays. Then she worked on it over time and made a much more sort of grounded, realistic thing. But she was a lot of the reason that it was interesting, and so we helped her produce it and did what we could with the little money and time that we could find, and then we got a great director, fortunately, to do it. He was interested.
So it was kind of a passion project?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like to think they're all passion projects.
Passion project, paycheck project.
Right. Paycheck-passion project. Passionate-paycheck project.
There was kind of an unusual mix of different genre elements in the movie, where it was a comedy, but it was also really nice and Christmasy, but also pretty dark.
Yeah, it is dark and it's got a, yeah, a funny tone of its own, which is good, I like that. It goes bad, it goes badly for the guys. They're like rubes, too, though. They don't know what they're doing in the big city, those guys. You know, they're kind of small time in every possible way.
I love that they're Canadian, too, it's like, "We just need to add another element of awkwardness to these guys."
Yeah, it's pretty random. Well, she's Canadian, and I think that's what she thought was -- this idea of these guys that come from somewhere, they just don't know what they're doing. You know, they don't know how to f**king deal with this. Canadians are lovely, they're lovely people. You know, so it's playing on all the cliches of Canadians.
What was it like working with Paul Rudd? Did you guys do a lot of improv or was it mostly scripted?
He does a lot improv, I'm not very good at it. And, so, I would try to keep up with him. And it's never been my forte. He can do anything, but it also happens to be something he's really good at. So, he did do some. The script was also pretty carefully written, and I think [director] Phil [Morrison] wanted to preserve a lot of that. So, I mean, he did, you know, but it's definitely his whole spirit is one of being pretty playful.
Yeah, seems like it was a lot of fun, too. Paul versus Paul. Did you compete in the Paulympics? What events do you think that would have?
Were we doing crazy physical stuff? Do we do, like, um...
You could arm wrestle.
Sure, anything. Throw it out, we'd leave it up to the audience. Pole vaulting.
<strongPaul vaulting. Well played, sir.
I didn't mean it to be well played.
Take it. Own it.
See, I'm not very clever.
You have one of the broadest ranges of roles right now that you're promoting or will soon be promoting: There's this, a dark comedy. You've got "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Romeo and Juliet." Do you plot it out to be so eclectic?
I don't know, but that's great. That's the way I like it. I mean, it's just a part of my job, but I like to be in as many -- I like to be in different things. I feel like I'm supposed to be, you know.
You are an ac-tor.
Yeah, that's what I figure. It's part of my job: to delight people by being in many different things, to bring magic and delight into their lives and homes.
You walk the streets of New York City, bringing delight to everyone you meet.
That's absolutely what I'm all about. Entertainment and laughter, absolutely.
Out of all your roles, which do you think is most like you?
Oh, I don't know. That's hard to say. I mean, I don't know.
OK, then reverse it: Which would you most like to be?
Oh, god, I don't know if there's many I'd want to live in. There's a movie I did called "The Illusionist." It's five or six years old. It's actually an interesting movie, with Edward Norton. And the character in that, it's about a magician, and I play a detective in that. I don't know that I feel like I'm the most like that character, but I certainly enjoyed playing that character. I'd like to, you know, it'd be fun to live in that kind of world. Like, you know, steam engines. Horse and carriage.
And you have quite a catalog to choose from for this one, which of your movies do you think deserves a second look? One you'd like audiences to go back and watch again, either because it was underseen, underrated, under-anything.
There's a bunch of movies that I'm in that are like that. There was a movie I did called The "Hawk is Dying" which maybe 10 people on the planet saw. Although apparently it was very successful in Spain and Greece. It's a strange movie, understandably. It's unfortunate that the first cut of it was really, kind of great, and then the guy had to recut it to get it distributed. So, it's OK now, it's not what it was, but I think it's got a lot of interesting stuff in it.
What did it lose from the original cut? What was just too much for the studio?
Pretty much everything about it. There's a little too much of everything for the studio. I mean, I remember it was a movie where the first good 15 minutes -- and this was something they could not deal with -- 10, 15 minutes, nobody really talked. And you didn't know what was going on. So, this completely freaked them out. Of course, you figured out what was going on as you watched what was unfolding in front of you, but they couldn't deal with this good while. And so that had to be pretty much eliminated and, like, voice-over added.
That kind of thing. There was a lot of that kind of stuff. And the narrative was all, kind of, slightly out of order-ish. And there was very little music in it, there still is very little music in it. If you ever see it, you'll see why it was a problem. You'll see very quickly why it was a problem. And in the movie I'm supposed to catch a hawk with a trap, and that happened, like, a half an hour into the movie, now it happens in, like, the first five minutes. Kind of part of the point was he's having a hard time catching the hawk, but didn't matter to them. They're like, "Catch the hawk, so people can see the birdfest." Terrible, terrible what they did to it. But it's got a lot of cool things in it, this movie. I liked making it a lot, and I think it's too bad people didn't see it.
I like that. So you're a very recognizable person, and you're around a lot. I feel like everyone in New York has an "I saw Giamatti" story.
Really, I'm seen around town?
Oh yes, you're Page Six material.
Am I really? Page Six material, that's not good. What have I been doing, off-color things?
No, just walking. Existing.
There I am, just walking. I do, I walk a lot. I didn't think I'd be spotted around town. Am I just reading and walking?
Like riding the subway and reading.
I do ride the subway a lot, and read. Wow. I'm just fascinated that anyone even notices.
Do you get marked a lot, do people come up and talk to you?
Yeah, I get people, sure, yeah.
What do they say to you?
"Oh, what a delight!" I've delighted them, I've entertained them. I don't know, people are generally pretty nice and not too intrusive or anything. People want to take your picture a lot, which is fine. People recognize me from different things. I never know what it is, which is nice, that people are going to recognize me from. You know, it's fine. It exists. Nothing I can do about it, so it's fine.
Is there ever anything that someone's said that's totally thrown you off, like a role that they recognize you from, or a quote they say back to you that you're just like, "Oh, that's interesting."
I'm sure there have, I'm sure there have been lots of things like that. Like I said, I never know what it is that people are going to know me from. People get me wrong sometimes, and I'm trying to think of some of the bizarre wrong things that people have gotten me for and nothing's coming to my mind right now. Oh, I don't know. Yeah, actually, I think about it now -- I did have a guy come up to me in an airport come up to me with his children and ask me, because his kids loved me so much -- and I was in a kid's movie that kids love a lot -- and he asked me for my autograph and I gave it to him, and he got angry at me because I was not Rob Schneider, and he was like, "Who the hell are you?" and I was like, "You came up to me and asked for my autograph, dude." And he was really kind of angry about it, like I'd just deceived the children, that I had just tricked the children. And I was like, "It's your mistake, not mine." You know, and it was very weird, he got really angry about it. So, that was probably the stupidest thing that happened to me. It was ridiculous, it was just ridiculous. I mean, it was a while ago, probably like 10 years ago.
And all you can say is like, "Um, sorry."
I was! I was really kind of like, "Sorry, dude. That I'm not the guy you…" Yeah. "Do you want me to write his name instead? What would you like me to do? I don't know what to tell you."
And obviously "Spider-Man" is coming up--
It's a big deal. Do you feel like you've gained any super heroic powers from that?
No. [laughs] My guy doesn't have any, like, he has like a suit, he has like a thing that he busts through. He's a lunatic, but I don't -- no. He's not really that kind of villain. He doesn't have super powers. But villains often don't. Villains often have, like--
Batman doesn't have powers, he's just smart and rich.
But he's a good guy. It is interesting of Batman that he doesn't really have anything.
Spider-Man doesn't really have anything but the suit.
And the spider bite.
Right so, he's super agile, and he can climb on things. But that's the suit, isn't it, that's sticky? It's not him. Can he climb? Yeah, I guess he can, actually. He actually generates the web, that comes out of him.
And one last question that we like to ask everyone: Using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what would your porn name be?
I'd be Greta Central. Is that good? That's odd. I could choose another- Greta Illhouse is the other one.
I like that you would be a Greta.
Greta was the name of our cat.
Did you name the cat?
No, I was too young. I think it was my parents. It wasn't me. No, I was very small. A good cat, though, great cat.