The Hot Seat: Paul Giamatti
He's one amazing actor...with a thing for wigs.
Tue Mar 15 2011
Illustration: Dan Park
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
Your new film Win Win is about high-school wrestling. Did you play sports in high school?
I was a sprinting backstroker on the swimming team.
Was that the cool sport?
[Slowly] Well, no. It's definitely its own thing. The serious, serious swimmers—they're kind of pathological and weird.
Did you shave?
Oh yeah. And sandpapered. Didn't you know? You do the sandpaper thing, it takes some layers of skin off.
Did the sports help with high-school popularity?
Not necessarily. You practiced a lot, so most of my friends were guys on the swim team. But it's funny, I didn't have a whole lot of friends outside of that. Swimming is one of those weird, individual sports that attracts eccentrics, so there were a lot of interesting guys.
Was your dad, who later became baseball commissioner, into sports at that time?
My dad was a professor [then]. He wrote some sports articles, and he was always a big baseball fan, but there was no pressure. My brother and sister were really good athletes; my mother was a really good athlete. So that kind of thing went on, but there was no pressure.
What was it like having a dad who was baseball commissioner?
He wasn't commissioner for that long.
But he was commissioner at an important time—when Pete Rose was suspended for life after his gambling scandal.
It was a very important time, but the thing is, I wasn't really paying that much attention. I mean, I remember going to some games with him, which was great, and going to see some playoff games.
Did you get to meet any major-league players?
Oh sure, I can remember meeting Mookie Wilson, which was a big, big thrill for me.
How did that conversation go?
[Laughs] I don't know that we had much of a conversation. I think it was just a nice handshake and "How you doing?"
Have you been to a Brooklyn Cyclones game?
I love that. I've taken my kid to a couple of them. It's got this weird, genuine, small-town feel that's not fake-feeling at all, so it's really interesting. That guy who does the announcing, the crazy promotional stuff—it's really kind of great.
I read that even though you acted in college, you didn't really get into it as a career until later. What was your first job?
I helped sell juice-making machines.
Like with Jack LaLanne?
[Laughs] No, not Jack LaLanne, but very similar. I can't remember the guy's name. He was like Jack LaLanne, he was, like, 150 years old.
With the jumpsuit?
No jumpsuits, but tight Polo shirts, and he was really old but he looked amazing. It was out in Seattle. I would go to the office and there were a lot of people on the phone and shipping things out, orders and stuff. So I think that selling juice machines was the first thing I did out of college.
Did you become a juicer yourself?
I did. I got a free juicer, but it was such a pain in the ass. And the technology of them then—it was good but it was a huge pain in the ass.
Yeah, it takes like a dozen apples to make a shot of juice.
That and then you have to clean the thing forever.
You often play these characters who learn (or don't learn) some big life lessons. Have you accumulated any sort of wisdom from being in those people's shoes?
I don't know that I have. [Laughs] I think it's interesting to realize: I don't know how much people actually change. I mean, I think there's a continuum that doesn't change. You can have all kinds of things in between, but I don't know how different people really are when they kick the bucket from when they were young.
You have some impressive upcoming films: the historical action flick Ironclad, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, George Clooney's Ides of March and of course The Hangover 2. But more impressive is your medieval bob in Ironclad.
[Laughs] That's an amazing wig. The woman who did the wigs on that did the wigs on John Adams. Her name is Jan Archibald and she's sort of a genius, because as crazy looking as that wig is, it really looks like my hair. She matched my hairline and everything. And you know, when I got there, she said, "I have this wig, and you don't have to wear it, because none of the other guys are wearing wigs. They're afraid they're going to look goofy." But I was like, "Fuck that, I'm gonna wear the wig! I don't care if I look goofy, this is what the guy looked like. I'm gonna have some balls and wear the wig!"
They were all too afraid?
Yeah. And also, the wig becomes great as the movie goes along. It never stopped raining, and [He gesticulates around his head] it gets completely insane and I just look like Klaus Kinski, and it's blowing around my face, and it became this great part of the character—all matted and disgusting.
You played John Adams and then King John. Is that moving up or down from playing a President?
They're both really crappy. He was a crappy President and he was a crappy king.
That's what you look for in a role?
[Laughs] That's what I look for—crappy world rulers. They were both really bad at their jobs. So I'm not sure, I think John Adams is a step down from King John, actually.
It's hard to make a good sequel. How are they going to overcome that with The Hangover 2?
Well, they didn't mess with the formula, particularly. They were just like, Screw it, we'll do a very similar thing. Whether that will be good or bad, I don't know. Probably better than trying to mess with it too much.
You're a horror fan, right? If you could play a horror-movie villain, what would it be?
I would love to play the Wolf Man.
Because of the hair?
[Laughs] I don't know, I thought the whole man-turning-into-an animal thing would be fun.
Do you believe in supernatural stuff?
[Pauses] Oh, now we're really treading in dangerous waters. That's very hard—I don't know if I can go there. I would tell you without the [recorder] on. I would say that I was completely skeptical about it for a long time until something happened recently, but I'm not going to tell you what it was. I'll go on Celebrity Ghost Stories.
Win Win opens Fri 18.