From Cinderella Man to Sideways, Paul Giamatti’s distinctive hangdog face has popped up in more than 40 films. So it’s pretty surprising (not to mention embarrassing) that we nearly don’t spot him as we bound down a hotel corridor heading to the interview. He may be unrecognisably trimmer, sporting designer specs and thoughtfully sipping tea before each answer, but Giamatti’s just as endearingly grouchy off screen. And he’s got a few things to get off his chest...
You’ve won a Golden Globe for your new film Barney’s Version. Do you relish awards season?
It’s not my favourite thing in the world, to be honest. I can’t deny that it’s flattering and nice but it requires me to do a lot more work than I like doing [laughs]. I don’t love that. Who likes working harder than they have to? It’s like, you do the movie and I think, “Why don’t you guys do the rest?”
What was it like to have Dustin Hoffman play your rowdy father in the film?
It was odd. But I knew him before, so I knew what to expect a little bit. He’s great and he’s not unlike the character in the movie.
What, constantly checking out ladies as they walk past?
Sure, sure [laughs]. But also he just doesn’t really give a sh*t what anybody thinks about him or what comes out of his mouth. While we were doing this wedding scene he was just telling dirty jokes the whole time. He really doesn’t give a sh*t, it’s amazing.
Can you feel yourself becoming a bit more like that with age?
Yes, actually. I feel myself not caring so much and it’s liberating to not really care. And what’s nice is that as an actor in a lot of ways you get carte blanche to have that attitude.
Barney’s Version also features enough booze to rival Sideways…
Yeah. Even on stage I used to play drunks. The whisky was just coloured water, it tastes like sh*t and you do have to drink a lot of it, which is a drag. In Sideways we actually had to drink real wine because you couldn’t fake the way it looked in the glass, the ‘wine legs’ I think they’re called. It just wouldn’t have looked right unless we used the real thing.
So did you have to be quite careful, then?
There was one dinner scene where I had to drink a sh*tload and by the end of the night I was completely hammered. Fortunately I didn’t have to do that much talking but I got really f*cked up, it was great. You can tell that I’m kind of messed up. Maybe that’s why the Academy didn’t nominate me for that movie, because I’m clearly drunk [laughs].
How’s The Hangover II coming along?
Good, I went to Thailand to film it. I liked the first movie a lot and it’s a funny script for the sequel. They haven’t screwed with the formula, they haven’t made that mistake. It’s very similar.
But you’re not replacing Mel Gibson, as was originally rumoured?
No, I have a different role. I don’t know what the hell went on with that but I’m not supposed to say anything about my part. They’ve freaked out on me already for talking to people. Apparently Bill Clinton’s in it too. But I’ve read the script and I cannot figure out where he’d be.
What’s the strangest role you’ve been offered?
Well I’ve done some strange things. A lot of weird crap. I used to get offered bizarre serial-killer roles, and I don’t mind but often the parts aren’t good. I got offered the role of a guy who ate cat sh*t and he was always beating off. I was like, “Do you know what, man? This I cannot do.” It was sick.
Do you look back on films such as, say, Big Momma’s House with any regret?
I totally don’t. I actively wanted to do that movie. It was funny. Now they’re doing a third one? Holy sh*t. I’m amazed. I’m amazed that thing has gone so far. Thunderpants is a good movie, too. It’s a great example of what you can do with no money — they didn’t have a dime.
Barney’s Version is at cinemas nationwide from 28 January
Main image: Rex