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Q&A – Paul Giamatti on Dustin Hoffman, the Golden Globes, and His Acting Obsessions

Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t recognize the film Paul Giamatti supported at the Golden Globe Awards. Barney’s Version, an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s epic murder-mystery novel, is huge in Canada and even more beloved overseas but has yet to catch on in the States. Give it time. As Sony Pictures Classics continues to roll the film out, audiences are bound to be charmed by Giamatti’s irascible lout of a main character, a murder suspect who’s more interested in wooing the love of his life (Rosamund Pike) than he is with proving his innocence. Here’s Giamatti on the ups and downs of Barney’s Version.

Q: Barney’s Version earned you your fourth Golden Globe nomination. What does the recognition mean to you at this point in your career?

A: Oh, it’s always hugely flattering and a little surprising. I can never believe that that kind of thing is happening to me. I’m astounded every time. For this in particular — it’s really great because it means it may help to raise the profile of this movie. This is a movie that can slip by and nobody would see it. If the Globes helps to get attention for it, that’s the best part of it. This is not an American movie, even. It’s Canadian. And truly Canadian. Actually, it’s a Canadian and Italian movie. Half of the money was Italian, and we shot it in Rome because they are obsessed with this book. It’s a huge, huge phenomenon in Italy. So this is a foreign movie, actually, with American and British actors in it, but it’s not American. So it needs help. It needs all of the help it can get. But the themes are universal, and audiences respond to it, so getting as much attention as I can for it is just vital.

Q: Actors often say they’ll take a role because it gives them a chance to play someone who is the complete opposite of their own personality. Is that the case with you and Barney Panofsky?

A: I would definitely say there is a lot of truth in that, yeah. I
think a lot of the appeal when I first read the script lay in the fact
that this guy lives at a level and in a way that I don’t and don’t
have the [courage] to, to be honest. But he definitely feels very
different than me, which was the pleasure in playing him.

Q: Did you ever get to a point where you felt like you had figured Barney out?

A: No, not really. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that with
any character I’ve played — that I’ve ever figured it out or nailed it. But what was interesting about Barney is that there was a real
pleasure I took in this guy’s routines. You know, even though I wasn’t
drinking real whiskey, just boozing and drinking and smoking his cigars
really became very pleasurable for me after a while. I certainly don’t
feel like I figured him out, but he’s not to be figured out, I don’t
think. I mean, as an actor, I probably should have deciphered him, yes.
But as a character, I don’t think that you can totally figure him out.

Q: That must make it tough to just walk away from the journey once the shoot is over.

A: Oh, sure, yeah. And as miserable as it could be with this guy
sometimes, there was a kind of energy and an aggression — not
necessarily a negative aggression but a positive force that was kind
of a bummer to let go of. I was pretty sad when this ended, and that’s
not always the case. I can really enjoy a process, but sometimes the
character — even if it’s a great character — is not as much fun as
this guy was.

Q: There is such a rhythm to the dialogue in this film.

A: It’s just great. And, you know, a lot of it was taken from the
book, but a lot of it was completely invented by our great
screenwriter, Michael Konyves. It’s a really strong script. And when
you get a script like that, it’s your job just to stay out of the way
and not [screw] it up. It lifts you up. You don’t have to lift it up,
which is usually the case with a lot of screenplays.

Q: Your romantic chemistry with Rosamund Pike was both uplifting and heartbreaking.

A: She’s a great actress, man, who fortunately is becoming more
known in America. She’s British, but she does the best North American
accent I’ve ever heard an English actress do. I’ve actually been really
kind of obsessed with her for a long time and always thought, Why
isn’t this woman the most famous actress around? And so when they told
me they were thinking of her for this part, I was like, That’s the
perfect person to play this part, and I really want to work with
her!

Q: You also have to connect with Dustin Hoffman, who plays your father.

A: Sure, but him I knew beforehand. I did a movie about ten years ago called Confidence. It was a thriller I’m in and he’s in, though we never acted
together. But I knew him already, which helped. But he’s a guy who
looks to have an instant chemistry and instant intimacy with everyone he
meets. There’s no beating around the bush or small talk
with that guy. He gets right into the deepest [stuff] with you as soon
as you meet.

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