Few actors have made their presence in a movie mean as much as Paul Giamatti.
The one-two punch of “American Splendor” (2003) and “Sideways” (2004) propelled the Brooklyn resident to unlikely leading-man status. Since then, he has stood out by playing difficult parts in unconventional projects, taking on everyone from John Adams to Cleveland Heep, protagonist of M. Night Shyamalan’s much-maligned “Lady in the Water.”
Giamatti’s charisma has rarely been more deeply felt than it is as luckless-in-love Barney Panofsky in the film adaptation of beloved Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s “Barney’s Version,” opening Friday. That role has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
amNY spoke with the 43-year-old actor.
Do you think Barney is a jerk? I suppose he doesn’t conform to any sort of heroic mold that maybe you’re supposed to have in movies or something. ... There [are] worse people in the world. Frankly, too, the jerky aspects to him were some of the most appealing stuff as an actor to play.
Given that Richler is such a Canadian icon, did you ever question why you, an American, were cast? The first thing I said to the producer and the director when I met them was, “There’s no Canadian actor you want to have do this?” It wasn’t self-deprecating; it was a genuine question.
What’s it like to have Dustin Hoffman play your father? It was surreal in some ways to be sitting there acting with him playing my father. He’s a really great guy. He has an unbelievable energy, enviable — it would be a wonderful thing to have when I’m that age. I don’t know that I ever will.
With all the work you do, how do you keep things fresh? I’m lucky that I have choices, which helps. One of the reasons I like being an actor, and always have, is not knowing what I’m going to do next. Variety is a kind of goal, actually, for me.
What do you make of awards season? It’s a little insane. It’s definitely kind of crazy — maybe excessive, I don’t know. But yeah, it’s totally flattering — and the best thing about it is, for a movie like this, it raises the profile of [it]. That’s actually the most actively interesting thing to me about it.