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Paul Giamatti Breaks Down His Most Iconic Characters

Paul Giamatti breaks down his most iconic roles in 'Private Parts,' 'Sideways,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Big Fat Liar,' 'Planet of the Apes,' 'Big Momma's House,' 'John Adams,' 'American Splendor,' 'Billions,' 'The Illusionist' and 'The Holdovers.'

Director: Joe Pickard
Director of Photography: Grant Bell
Editor: Robby Massey
Talent: Paul Giamatti
Producer: Kristen DeVore
Line Producer: Jen Santos
Production Manager: Andressa Pelachi; Kevin Balash
Talent Booker: Meredith Judkins
Camera Operator: Nick Massey
Sound Mixer: Gabriel Fragoso
Production Assistant: Brock Spitaels; Liza Antonova
Hair & Make-Up: Louise Moon
Post Production Supervisor: Rachael Knight
Post Production Coordinator: Ian Bryant
Supervising Editor: Rob Lombardi
Assistant Editor: Lauren Worona

Released on 12/20/2023


I broke my hand during John Adams.

[laughs] I punched the table so hard.

For a lot of that, I had my hand behind my back,

for a lot of that.

It's easy to break your hand.

[upbeat music]

Private Parts. Kenny 'Pigvomit' Rushton.

See, he doesn't actually say the bad thing himself.

He says it through a character.

Yeah, well I don't do a-

Hey, how about you go on the air 3:00 a.m. this morning,

show us some characters, okay?

Howard is a really lovely guy.

Everybody said he was and then he turned out to be.

He was really willing to do anything

and she was a great director, Betty Thomas,

so she let us play around and rehearse a lot

and get used to it and sort of improvise a little bit.

You didn't really need to because the script was so good.

Well, either I'll tame him

or I'll make him so crazy he'll quit.

I felt terrible 'cause I didn't know it was a real guy

until Howard said to me at some point,

Wow, you really nailed this guy.

Did you like listen to him?

And I was like, This is a real guy?

I was like, I feel terrible now.

I made this guy look like the biggest asshole in the world

and he's gonna have to go through his life now

with everybody being like,

Oh, you're the asshole in that movie.

I talked to him once.

So he was running a radio station,

I had to do a interview on it,

and they put him on the air with me,

and I was just like, Hey, how you doing?

It was terrible, terrible.

Listen up. WNBC.

You hear that kinda lift? The NBC.


[Both] The WNBC.

I did this ridiculous accent when I auditioned for it

'cause I just thought I'll do

every stupid southern sound I can think of.

And then when I got the part, I said to Betty Thomas,

so I'll learn a real accent.

And she was like, No,

do that stupid accent that you were doing.

I auditioned like five times.

She saw a lot of people,

over Phil Hoffman who was a friend of mine.

But I was really obsessed with having one

of those big chunky college rings and I couldn't find one,

and I remember getting to set the first day

and the prop woman came up to me

and she had a watch and stuff and she said,

I felt like maybe you would want one of these.

And she had a college ring.

Some reason she thought the same thing.

And that whole performance is that ring.

That whole ring is the whole thing with that guy.

The way my hands move, the way the guy thinks of himself

is all in that ring.

Horrible guy. Yeah, horrible character.

I hadn't done that much in a film before.

That was definitely the biggest thing

that I'd ever done.

[Interviewer] Before that I saw it was,

like, NYPD Blue: 'Man in Sleeping Bag'?

That's correct. Man in sleeping bag.

I was a witness of a crime.

I think my line was, I didn't see anything, man.

You guys see anything going on here last night?

No, I didn't see nothing.

They bring you in for a day and you have three lines.

A lot of the time you've never read the script.

They just hand you this thing. It'll change.

Oh, you have a dog now, or something.

You're like, Okay.

Or you have to be the bartender

and you have an insanely elaborate thing

with all these drinks and you're serving everybody

and you have some lines.

Or you have to go in and break down in one scene.

You're the person who freaks out about their kid

for a few lines in one scene.

You just do whatever the hell they tell you to do.

That's the hardest stuff to do. Always.

And I have huge respect for people who do that,

'cause I had to do it and it's not easy.

[upbeat music]

Sideways. Miles.

[upbeat music]

We're drinking Merlot. No.

If anybody orders Merlot, I'm leaving.

I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!

Okay, okay. Relax, Miles.

That script gave you everything,

over and over and over and over and over again.

Just every time I looked at it there was more.

And every time we did it there was more.

He's such a good writer.

And Jim Taylor that he wrote it with.

It's all there.

You don't really have to do a whole lot of work.

You just gotta stay out of the way and just let it happen.

I remember I was very specific about the beard I had.

I wanted a beard like Earnest Hemingway's. [laughs]

'Cause I thought this guy thinks he's Earnest Hemingway.

So I had a very kind of crafted beard.

I was very specific about the beard, like a writerly beard.

Put your glass down, get some air into it.

Oxygenating it, opens it up.

It unlocks the aromas, the flavors.

Very important.

All the wine stuff was very telling about the guy.

All the sort of stuff those people do.

All of that life of like the smelling and all that stuff

and that kind of person

who's that kind of obsessive connoisseur

about things tells you something

about what a person's like what.

Let go of the fucking glass, mother fucker.

[crowd gasps and moans]

Is it inevitable that he's gonna chug the spit bucket?

It's coming. You see it coming.

The thing about that that I remember

is that we only had maybe three shirts,

'cause it was a very specific bad Polo shirt I was wearing.

So it had to work.

Yeah, we managed to do it, I think,

in maybe two takes or something like that, maybe three.

Back off, Stan!

[cheerful music]

Give me that bottle. No.

That was really hairy, that hill, actually.

They had stuntmen for us, stunt doubles,

and the stunt doubles had a hard time doing it,

and Alexander was like, We gotta use the actual guys.

But it's much more steep than it looks

and it's all holes and ruts and stones and dirt.

So Tom and I like, [laughs]

so it does really look like we're fucking, like,

'cause it was hard to run down that.

It was harrowing.

[upbeat music]

Saving Private Ryan. Sergeant Hill.

Is he here? Well, I don't know.

Well, maybe with a mixed unit on the other side of town.

It's hard to get to.

The Germans punched a hole in our center

a few hours ago, they cut us right in two.

What's his name again?


I've done other sort of war things,

but that was innovative, what he was doing in that movie.

I don't know how many steady cam operators

there were at one time operating.

And it was not terribly structured, necessarily.

It was very loosely blocked,

so that these guys were running around

catching whatever they can,

almost like documentary filmmakers.

And so they were all falling over

and banging into each other and hitting,

because he didn't want it coordinated.

It was a living scene.

You weren't cutting all the time and stopping and resetting.

Then you're not worrying about hitting marks,

you're not worrying about

where he wants to see the back of your head

and he wants to see, you know,

it's like you just forget about all that,

and you just play it like it's a play.

But it's even more than a play.

It's an immersive play, 'cause those sets were incredible.

John Adams actually had a lot of that too.

I mean, I think I just fell

'cause it was incredibly slippery and muddy.

Everybody was falling all the time.

And I think from that,

Spielberg started developing this whole idea

that the guy, his leg was messed up

and he had a thing in his shoe,

and he started just making that up.

So he would come over and give us a scenario

and some lines.

I didn't really have, there was no part really.

It was very, very sketched in.

And so he must have had some notion

he wanted somebody to fall through the wall,

so all those German soldiers are exposed.

And I guess he then just thought, That's good.

I'll have this guy fall through the wall,

sort of hapless soldier,

this guy who's just exhausted and hapless and falling over.

I suddenly had a character.

I didn't really have a character.

[upbeat music]

Big Fat Liar. Marty Wolf.

[upbeat music]

Excuse me.

[Marty groaning]

I need backup!

I really liked doing physical things.

I didn't play a lot of sports or anything.

I guess I wasn't very competitive,

but I liked how theater and acting could offer me

a way to do crazy physical stuff.

And Shawn Levy, who I'd known in college,

had seen me do a lot of stuff like that.

I can't do a lot of that stuff anymore,

'cause I'm getting old and I injured myself a lot.

[upbeat music]

So I've always been physically comfortable

doing stuff like that in front of people.

I mean, there's obviously an exhibitionist element to actors

that you kinda don't care or think about it

or you like it.

Like love scenes are harder to do

than like physical shtick like that.

I haven't had to do a lot of love scenes, so it's all right.

[suspenseful music]

Really, at that point with something like that,

he just was letting me do so much ridiculous stuff,

and I enjoy being big like that.

It's really fun, you know?

You don't get the opportunity so much

to just go over the top like that.

And he knew I could.

It just was, it was having fun.

There was a whole sort of facial hair thing.

I was always trying to grow facial hair for parts.

I remember I did Big Momma's House

and I grew a mustache for this cop and they made me shave it

and I was really like, Why the fuck

do I have to shave this?

They were really anti facial hair

and I grew beard for that.

Shawn was like, They want you to lose the beard.

And I was like, I can't lose the fucking beard.

And he really fought for me

and what he got was the compromise of just that chin beard,

which was great, actually,

'cause it's a stupid looking beard.

I think it needed that 'cause it actually looks funnier

like that with the orange hair.

And the costumes, the more over the top

and ridiculous the costumes we could get, the better.

[upbeat music]

Planet of the Apes. Limbo.

Oh, the monkey? The ape?

I was like who the hell is Limbo?

[interviewer and Paul laughing]

I was like, What the hell is Limbo?

Was I in a picture called 'Limbo'?

[upbeat music]

What, are you trying to put me out of business?

Oh, these are the skankiest, scabbiest,

scuzziest humans I've ever seen.

Yes, Limbo the ape, Limbo, the orangutan.

I was obsessed with the Planet of the Apes movies

as a kid.

And so the notion that I could be in one of those

was mind blowing to me.

I didn't audition for that.

Tim Burton came to me with that,

'cause I guess he was like, You look like a monkey,

so I'll have you do this.

It was one of the funnest things I've ever done.

And working with Rick Baker was amazing.

I was covered head to toe, shoulders in a fat suit,

and my feet, my agents were like,

Don't you think you should play a human

so they can see your face?

And I was like, If you tell them I wanna play a human

than this, I'll fucking kill you all.

I was like, I'm gonna play an ape.

I don't need this aggravation.

Sell him to me.

Are you crazy?

He's wild. They're both wild.

Then I'll buy them both.

Oh no, that would be expensive.

I had a very fast makeup artist named Bill Corso.

He's one of the best makeup guys,

special effects makeup guys in the world now.

And he was very fast.

I had the most elaborate one

and he did his in about two and a half hours.

Most people were about four hours in the chair.

And I had these crazy giant teeth.

I asked them to give me some teeth to practice with,

'cause I wanted to be able to talk.

A lot of people adiated it later,

'cause they were just,

you couldn't fucking understand anybody.

They had these giant teeth.

But I really wanted to learn how to talk

with the teeth in.

And a gay man, if I had any kind of way of talking,

that gives you everything.

I didn't want to take it off, never.

I wanted to stay in it all the time. I loved it.

Getting to do all that monkey training

and all that stuff, the physical stuff.

Talk about everything was there for me to do.

He made it feel not like a gigantic,

huge studio production.

It felt very intimate and fun.

He wanted your ideas, he wanted you to just do weird stuff,

and he was very sympathetic to the makeup

and we'd have to sit around for days sometimes

and not do anything in that makeup.

He'd have his assistant bring people movies to watch.

He cared about it. It was great.

[upbeat music]

Big Momma's House. John.

I didn't remember that name either.

You just want us to sit around here,

picking ticks off our asses.

I know.

Nobody's tried to kill you for the past couple of days.

The stress must be overwhelming.

I was like, I'm gonna be a cop,

so I'm gonna grow a mustache.

And I wanted to kind of have like a not great mustache.

You know, he's a guy who can't really grow a great mustache.

And they made me shave it.

I was probably unconsciously drawing on those kinds of guys

in those kinds of movies.

You know, the kind of nerdy guy, the nerdy white guy.

Without giving me a big Southern welcome.

Come on. Yeah, come on now.

Whether a straight man's supposed to actually be funny

or not is an interesting question.

'Cause Abbott and Costello, he's not funny, Abbott,

but like Laurel and Hardy, the straight man's funny.

I suppose you kinda try different things

and see just what works.

But I mean, there was not a hell of a lot

of a cap on that movie.

I don't know that I was

grounding Martin Lawrence particularly.

I mean, I think he was gonna do whatever he wanted to do.

But he was talking about really crazy physical stuff

and he was amazing.

All the people in it were really great.

Octavia Spencer's in that movie.

She has a little part.

Time for what?

It's time Rita's gonna have a baby.

I mean, I haven't talked about Big Momma's House

that much in my life.

[upbeat music]

John Adams. John Adams.

The vice president would find we agree on most matters

if he could be convinced that I mean what I say!

So far, I failed in that task.

I mean, he had no teeth.

By middle age, most of those guys, 30, they had no teeth.

We didn't go that far, 'cause I was like,

There's enough going on in this

without me having no teeth at all.

I think that was a big part of it.

I had to talk so much.

This feeling of this guy that nobody

was really listening to him ever.

And in some point as it develops after the revolution,

really nobody's listening to him,

and it's almost like he's talking

to himself a lot of the time.

You question my loyalties?

Oh no, Mr. Hamilton, I question your sanity.

Now, either you are stark raving mad or I am!

Good day, Sir!

Hamilton, well, now he's everybody's hero.

But he was a more complicated figure

when that thing was being made.

All that stuff was taken from letters and diaries,

a lot of the dialogue.

I really rip into him.

I rip into a lot of people on that thing.

It's fun, you know?

Especially that language was really great.

That stuff really sticks in your head

and it comes out rhythmically.

It's got music to it

and you can really feel it in your body and in your mouth

and it just fires off at people.

And they talk, those people talked the end in sight

and they'd hit the end.

It's really fun, rhetorical language like that.

Does a lot of the work for you.

[upbeat music]

American Splendor. Harvey Pekar.

What kind of existence is this?

Is this all a working stiff like you can expect?

You gonna suffer in silence for the rest of your life?

I didn't really know.

They didn't really know

what they were gonna do with the animation stuff.

They knew they wanted to do it,

they just didn't really know

until after they had all the film footage together.

I dunno if it's ahead of its time,

but it was doing all this kinda reality stuff

right at the front of that stuff happening.

So if you're the kind of person looking for romance

or escapism or some fantasy figure

to save the day, guess what?

You got the wrong movie.

That's great.

Okay, so now you got four takes.

You ought to be able to patch one together from there.

That was tricky too because he was gonna be in the movie.

Oftentimes you get a part like that

and if people don't know what the person's like,

it doesn't matter, you can do whatever you want.

You did kind of have to imitate him well.

So that was a weird task.

I met him right before we started filming.

I knew who he was and I remembered him

from his Letterman appearances.

So I saw some of that.

We were the comic book version of those people,

so we had to be a little exaggerated.

It was actually really helpful to look at

all the different artist representations

of him in the comic books,

and I was like, oh that's kinda cool

to see the way he sits.

He had this funny kind of way of moving

and being in the world that was very kind of animal-like.

The thwartedness of the guy, that vocal thing,

the weird trap voice thing was actually a big part of it.

This guy who just couldn't express all of his rage.

What do you mean?

You mean you're dumping me?

For what?

[Interviewer] How do you think about/how do you get

into playing the explosive rage?

Well, what starts to happen

is people want you to explode with rage.

I don't necessarily want to explode with rage all the time.

Then I get those parts.

How that happens, I don't really,

I don't know that I can say.

I mean, I suppose in some way

I'm unconsciously marking myself up into it.

I dunno.

You just go for it, you know? You see what happens.

And sometimes I think as an actor,

I will just blow it out as far as I can

to just go as far as I can first

and then bring it back.

Although a lot of people like it

when you go as far as you can.

Rage is a really tricky thing to play.

[upbeat music]

Billions. Chuck Rhoades.

[upbeat music]

I was hoping not to go back to Boyd, but now we have to.

I'll need your help.

Why would I-

You already decided

before you told me the Connerty piece.

We here at Rhoades Airlines know

you have many travel options

and are grateful that you have chosen to fly with us.

I thought the kinda cat-and-mouse-like

collar crime thing was interesting.

I thought it was interesting playing

this kind of like dark crusader for justice guy.

This guy who was, in his mind, doing the right thing,

but kind of going about it by any means and stuff.

He was a bit villainous, a bit,

which was kinda cool.

But he was also a good guy,

this very heady, intellectual sort of guy.

But he also has this kind of animalistic thing about him.

It's a lawyer, you know?

And it's like, I don't think I'd ever played a lawyer,

not like that before.

[Chuck speaking Italian]

I am Italian, so I mean, I grew up hearing Italian.

But I don't speak it, so I did have to learn it

and do it as well as I could.

It was some kind of weird dialect too.

I think the whole thing was weird dialect.

It was harrowing to do in the moment,

'cause I was like, am I gonna remember?

This is gonna take forever to shoot.

But it was okay.

I mean, that kind of burst of language is fun.

[upbeat music]

The Illusionist. Inspector Uhl.

Don't fool yourself that you can play in their game.

I've served on the edge of it for many, many years,

and I can tell you with certainty,

there's no trick they haven't seen.

It's not worth it.

That was like a kind of wish fulfillment thing too,

like Planet of the Apes,

'cause it was a sort of Sherlock Holmes world

with sort of pipes and black gloves

and gaslight and horses and carriages,

which was something that I was so excited to do.

Then I got a German accent

and I had a slouch black hat and everything.

And I was a bit sort of villainous,

but not really, actually.

The guy turns out to be a very sort of decent guy,

just sort of doing his job, which was cool.

I liked that too about it.

Being in Prague, the whole thing,

immersive in like a whole world

and that kinda mystery thing

with a weird supernatural thing,

I could have played that character forever.

[upbeat music]

The Holdovers. Paul Hunham.

[upbeat music]

Need I remind you that it is not my fault

that you are stuck here?

Do you think I wanna be babysitting you?

Well, in that instance,

there was a lot of unconscious memories I had,

the many, many people I'd grown up with.

My father was an academic and my mother taught high school

and all my grandparents were teachers.

And so I grew up around a lot of that stuff

and I went to school like that.

There were some specific people that I had in mind,

but I was familiar with the kind of bookish world,

the cigarette smoke, the pipe smoking.

That kinda guy I was very familiar with.

It's the script, man.

I just read it over and over again

and it just keeps giving you stuff.

It's the similar kind of high toned language

to like John Adams or something like that.

I mean, that guy lives in another century.

He doesn't live in the contemporary world, that guy.

Dr. Gertler says I don't always give consideration

to my audience.

Ah. And who is Dr. Gertler?

My shrink.


Has Dr. Gertler ever tried a good swift kick in the ass?

[Interviewer] Talk to me about the eyes.

I'm not at liberty to reveal.

[Interviewer] You're not allowed to talk about them?

Yeah, I'm not at liberty to reveal.

I think they wanna maintain the mystery

of what the eye was.

It works, which is really great.

And whatever we were doing there definitely contributed

and helps with the character.

That was an external thing that definitely made it work.

And a little James Beam.

Alright. Go ahead.

Ooh. [giggles]

Presto. Cherries Jubilee.

[Interviewer] People have been calling The Holdovers

a cozy movie.

Does that square with you?

Squares with me.

I don't think it squares with Alexander.

I think Alexander, for some reason,

takes exception to it being called cozy.

And I think he's just being a bit of a curmudgeon.

I think he knows exactly what people are talking about

and I think he likes it.

I mean, it's in there.

It's funny and it's heartbreaking

and there is inevitably something that feels that way,

'cause of the snow and the New England thing

and stuff like that and the Christmas thing.

There's certainly enough spikiness in it

to counteract the cozy in it, but it's in there.

[Interviewer] You mentioned wanting

to play a Bond villain.

Yeah. If you were to build up

a Bond villain for yourself, how would you do it?

Wow, that's an excellent question.

I'd want an accent of some kind.

I'd definitely want an accent.

It'd be nice to have an animal with me of some kind.

Not necessarily a cat, but something.

Any animal, maybe.

Not a parrot or something.

Something real. I don't know.

An accent though of some kind I'd have to have.

Furs would be good.

A guy who's all in fur coats and stuff, that'd be great.

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