ATTENTION J.J. ABRAMS: You'd be stupid not to put Paul Giamatti in the next Star Trek.
Talking to Giamatti a few days before he picked up the Best Actor Golden Globe for Barney's Version, the actor revealed his take on the image of him that's been forged by appearances in esteemed films like Cinderella Man and Sideways:
"It's always been frustrating to me," Giamatti says. "Because really, I just want to be, like, a Klingon or something. I really would love to play a Klingon. It's like, goddammit, will I ever get to play a Klingon?"
Now that he's mentioned it, I can't think of a single person in the world better than Paul Giamatti to play a Klingon. Nor is there anyone better to have played John Adams, or Harvey Pekar, or Pig Vomit. Aside from being funny in nearly everything he's been in (check the overlooked, chillingly pitch-dark Cold Souls; do not check the soggy, shitty Lady in the Water), Giamatti is capable—more than any other Hollywood A-lister—of making his characters seem like actual people that exist in the real world. He's not so much an actor's actor as an audience's actor.
In Barney's Version, Giamatti plays Barney Panofsky, the central character in the film adaptation of Jewish Canadian author Mordecai Richler's final novel. Set and filmed in Richler's native Montreal, Barney's Version is an odd duck of a movie, effectively encompassing a decades-spanning plot, but fragmenting the narrative to make it all fit into 135 minutes. It works almost entirely due to Giamatti's performance as Barney, a television producer who boozes heavily, smokes cigars, and ignores his wife and family whenever a Canadiens game is on. He also spends his entire second marriage lusting after the pretty stranger who turned up at the wedding, and he may have murdered his best friend, Boogie (Scott Speedman).
"That, to me, makes him appealing, actually—a lot of those negative characteristics," Giamatti says. "I like imperfect characters, and characters who don't behave the way everyone wants them to, and who are sort of challenging and provocative. The trick is to actually make you want to sit there and watch him. I think a lot of that was in the screenplay. It was built into him that he's not a total asshole. You have some sympathy for him, [although] I don't know if you have empathy for him."
The best parts of the movie are Barney's scenes with his cop father, Izzy, played by Dustin Hoffman. "I've always loved him," Giamatti says of the veteran actor. "He's a total pleasure to be around. [Nearly] 75 years old and he works his ass off. He's a sweet guy underneath a lot of his bluster... The relationship between the two characters was one of the things I liked a lot when I first read the script."
Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) plays Barney's third wife, Miriam, so of course I ask Giamatti what it was like to make out with a Bond girl. "Oh, amazing!" he says. "I never even really thought about it like that. I think of Bond girls as, like, they're really hot, but who cares about their acting? With her I forget that she was a Bond girl because she's so good."
Now that making out with a Bond Girl and nabbing a Golden Globe—two equally important milestones—are under his belt, Giamatti's got a few projects in the works, including the animated film of Eric Powell's comic The Goon, for which a fantastic trailer was produced but is currently in a holding pattern. "I think that they have a script now. It took awhile to get going," Giamatti reveals. "I'm sure it will happen some point soon. [David] Fincher's producing it, and I can't imagine it won't happen. He's throwing himself behind it." There's also a prequel to Bubba Ho-Tep's and a cameo in another film with Ho-Tep director, John Dies at the End ("a really, insanely great script," Giamatti says). With any luck, there'll also be—somewhere, someday—a role as a Klingon.