“I’m not very smart,” said actor Paul Giamatti at a press conference on Monday,
at the 26th Haifa International Film Festival.
The quirky actor, known
for his offbeat looks and remarkable talent, was there promoting his latest
film, Barney’s Version, an adaptation of a novel by Mordecai
Richler. “I’m very impressionable.”
Giamatti, 43, made the
obviously incorrect self-characterization as he answered a question from The
about preparing for his roles playing two different real-life
characters, underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar in American Splendor
Adams, the second US president, in the miniseries of the same name.
was trying to make a point – “I wasn’t really playing the people... When it’s
someone who’s still alive I can study them and take things from them, but I try
to do them as characters. I have to do the script” – but Barney’s Version
producer Robert Lantos jumped in to contradict him.
“You’re one of the
smartest people I know,” said Lantos.
“I’m not really a smart actor,”
But Lantos wouldn’t let it go.
brilliant actor,” he said.
Anyone who has seen Giamatti’s work, or who
will see him in Barney’s Version
, will be inclined to agree with Lantos –
Giamatti may well be the smartest actor working today. His background is an
obvious tipoff. His late father was A. Bartlett Giamatti, a literature professor
who became the president of Yale University and then the commissioner of Major
Giamatti himself was educated at prep schools, Yale as
an undergraduate, and the Yale School of Drama. Although he might have
seemed destined for character- actor supporting roles, he broke out with the
(2004), in which he played the lead, a frustrated writer and
oenophile, and received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his
In Barney’s Version
, he plays Barney Panofsky, a supremely
self-serving man who stumbles to happiness and then loses it in a story that
spans nearly four decades and features Dustin Hoffman as his cheerfully amoral
father. Barney is the kind of guy who meets the love of his life at his second
wedding reception and doesn’t feel a moment of grief for the bride he soon
Asked how much of himself he sees in this anti-hero, he said,
“I liked playing him because I’m none of those things. I’m boring and sedate. I
don’t see a whole lot of similarity between myself and him. I don’t want to see
Explaining his take on the complexity of the
character, he said, “He’s childish in all senses of the word. The best ways and
the worst ways. He’s a self-thwarting romantic.”
In preparing for the
role, Giamatti said he focused on the script rather than the nearly 500-page
Richler novel, and chose not to take a second look at Richard Dreyfuss’s
acclaimed performance in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
best-known adaptation of a Richler novel to date.
“I didn’t see it again,
because I didn’t want it to get too imprinted in my head. But what I
vaguely remembered of it probably came out anyway,” he said.
Asked how he
feels about going back and forth between low-budget, independent films and roles
in Hollywood blockbusters (such as Duplicity
, a thriller about corporate
espionage in which he played a supporting role to Clive Owen’s and Julia
Roberts’s leads), he said cheerfully, “I’m all over the map.”
with the blue screen for special-effects heavy big-budget movies reminds him of
the stage acting he did in the early part of his career: “I like stuff I’ve done
like that. I’m lucky enough to get offered these things.”
Next up for
Giamatti is his part as US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in the HBO
docudrama Too Big to Fail
“He [Bernanke] doesn’t have much personality.
He’s like a lizard. He doesn’t move. It will be fun to play him,” he
Giamatti said he was also looking forward to shaving his head for
Giamatti said that his dream project, and one that he has tried
to develop over the years, would be a film based on the life of
author Philip K. Dick.
“He was a very interesting guy and a very
complicated guy,” he explained.
Sounds like the perfect role for this