Paul Giamatti on Shoot ‘Em Up


There’s not much more we can say about Paul Giamatti that we haven’t said in our previous interviews with him, but his role in Shoot ‘Em Up is clearly that of the bad guy, which is not something we’ve seen him play very much in recent years. It’s a nice change from the lovable but bumbling characters he’s become known for in recent years. Did you have to get in touch with your inner Elmer Fudd for this part?
Paul Giamatti: Oh, nice! It’s kind of an outer Elmer Fudd actually at this point, but yeah, I guess so. It was a good time though. It was fun doing the Elmer Fudd thing.

CS: Was there any special preparation you had to do for the action stuff?
Giamatti: Nah. I wanted to look paunchy and out of shape. I wanted to look like a guy who you don’t expect him to be doing what he’s doing, but I had to learn how to shoot the guns, that was basically it. That wasn’t too hard. Point. Shoot.

CS: I’m assuming Michael Davis showed you the animation he did for the movie, but was there anything you were nervous about doing?
Giamatti: Nah, (Clive) had to do all the hard stuff. I just stand there and watch him do all the hard stuff. Clive had all the stunts to do. I just stood there and shot at him and was pissed off that I couldn’t kill him basically. I really didn’t have many stunts to do.

CS: Were you at all dubious that he could pull it off? Because when you watch the animation, that’s different than trying to do it with real people.
Giamatti: No, I had a feeling. Knowing that he had it all worked out, I figured the stunt guys would know what to do and they’d get really good guys, and they did, and they got Peter Pau, this really good cinematographer. He knows exactly how to do this stuff like nobody else does, so I figured all these guys seemed like the right guys to do this kind of thing.

CS: How is Michael Davis to work with as a director?
Giamatti: He was great. I mean, he was so excited. I think it took him a long time to get the thing made and to get a feature made, so he was really excited and then really enthusiastic. Like I said, he was meticulous. He had the whole thing worked out insanely detailed. Nice guy, too.

CS: It sounds like it’s important to you to have that kind of confidence in a director.
Giamatti: Especially for this kind of thing, yeah. No, he knew exactly what he wanted everything to look like so it felt like he knew exactly what he was doing, better than you did.

CS: At what point did you understand that this character had to be a villain in a very cartoony way?
Giamatti: It seemed like it on the page anyway, and then when I talked to the director, it seemed like the idea was that he was kind of over the top. The whole thing seemed like it was supposed to be sort of over the top and tongue in cheek, so I figured that was the idea. That’s why it seemed like it might be fun.

CS: Did he ever push you to go past a certain point?
Giamatti: He didn’t have to push me. I was perfectly prepared to go over the top. He probably had to pull me back a bunch of times I think. He probably didn’t enough.

CS: Did you model your character after any specific person?
Giamatti: Not anyone specifically but I think I looked at the BTK Killer, that guy? I guess, I just don’t know, I was sort of fascinated. I think that was happening at the time. I was watching it on Court TV, and I thought, “This guy is just so banal looking and just such a psycho” so I thought it would be nice to look really banal and ordinary, unimpressive, and then be a necrophiliac.

CS: Was this the most despicable character you’ve played in a movie, maybe since “Big Fat Liar”?
Giamatti: I don’t know if he’s the most despicable. I feel like I’ve played plenty of despicable guys, but this guy just happens to have a gun and can kill people, but the other people, I dunno. The guy in the Howard Stern movie I think is pretty despicable. But I guess he is. He kills innocent people, so I guess he’s a bad guy.

CS: You’ve never really played an uber-villain like this before. Is this the first time a character like this has been offered to you or just the first one that appealed to you?
Giamatti:I kind of get offered a lot of psycho parts, you know, weird peeping tom masterbaters (laughs) and a lot of time I think I’m just like… I dunno. Something doesn’t really… you want to know the thing’s going to be good so this was more appealing to me mostly because the director had a really clear idea what he wanted to do, and the other people in it seemed good. It seemed like it would be a fun part, but I have been offered quite a few, but I just haven’t done them. If you’re going to do it, you just want to have fun with it, and too many masterbaters. (laughter)

CS: We’re often told that villains don’t see themselves as bad people though they do bad things, but this character…
Giamatti: Yeah, he likes being bad.

CS: Even your character in “Nanny Diaries” doesn’t see himself as a bad person.
Giamatti: (laughs) No, he doesn’t really care. Neither does this guy, I guess. This guy kind of gets off on doing this stuff, loves doing his job, loves killing people and loves doing what he’s doing. I guess the guy in “The Nanny Diaries” doesn’t really give a sh*t what anybody thinks of him, I don’t think.

CS: The nice thing about this character is that he has a home life constantly haunting him, but you’ve got killing to do.
Giamatti: Right, yeah, workaholic, “I got a job to do. I can’t come home right now.” Yeah, that’s the thing, he’s a workaholic, he loves his job.

CS: I liked when you’re picking the birthday card for your son.
Giamatti: Yeah, yeah, everything’s just slightly inappropriate.

CS: But there’s an honesty to it that makes him intriguing.
Giamatti: Yeah, good, he thinks that’s the right thing to do. He just doesn’t care. He’s a psycho.

CS: Clive mentioned that they stayed very close to the script on the shoot. Was there anything you brought to it or added?
Giamatti: The character was sort of sketched in in a lot of way and we talked about what he was going to look like and things like that more than anything, but he adhered pretty tightly to what was there ’cause the action was what was important. He had all that stuff meticulously laid out, so it was mostly what the guy was going to look like and what he was going to be. I thought it would be interesting if he was super-smart or thinks he’s really smart and bureaucratic, unimpressive-looking guy, that’s probably what I brought to it.

CS: Was the line “f*ck me sideways” always in the script from when you first read it or was that added once you came on?
Giamatti: No, I think he added it while we were shooting it, and I didn’t even get it until a week later. (laughter) I just thought he wanted me to say “f*ck me sideways” so I was like I didn’t get the reference. It took me a while, I’m just slow. I really didn’t get it.

(Note: the next four questions and answers are somewhat spoilerish)

CS: What about the scene where you got to break his fingers? That was pretty intense.
Giamatti: That was fun, yeah. (laughter) That was great. I was very excited when I read that in the script, and I thought that I liked the idea of it. All this gunfire and all this stuff and then it just comes down to just breaking this guy’s fingers, just really like basic torture technique. I thought this is good. I really like that.

CS: Did you do a lot of takes of that scene?
Giamatti: I don’t think we did have to do a lot of takes of that. He shot it in a lot of ways, because he wanted it to end up getting kind of… as he feels more pain, it gets more trippy and stuff like that. We had these prosthetic hands and they worked very well. They could reset them and I could break them again. It didn’t take that long, no.

CS: You also have a torture scene with Monica Belluci.
Giamatti: Yeah, I wish I could have done more with her. She was great. She was completely game for me burning her, but no, it was great and really fun shooting bottles of her breast milk and stuff. It was fantastic. She was great. I wish I had more to do with her, because she was really game for whatever.

CS: When you read the scene in the script where your character is fondling the breast of a dead woman and enjoying it, did you have any qualms about doing something like that?
Giamatti: Nah, nah… that seemed funny to me, but I’m a f*cked up guy. (laughter) When we were shooting it, she could not stop laughing. I just met this woman and I was on top of her going I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing exactly to her, but she couldn’t stop laughing and we all couldn’t stop laughing about that. But no, I didn’t. I just thought this was a good detail for this character. This makes this guy really gross and sick and weird, so I thought, “Why not? You don’t see that in a movie every day.”

CS: Did you go directly from this movie to the “John Adams” HBO movie?
Giamatti: No, I don’t remember what I did after this. I can’t remember.

CS: But did you want to do something completely different?
Giamatti: It would be nice if I can do that yeah, if I could find something really different. It would be good. That’s nice to do that, but it doesn’t always work out, no. Definitely doesn’t always work out but if it’s good if you can, yeah.

CS: But you can’t get anything more different than this.
Giamatti: No, no, this is definitely weird. I can do anything after this and it would be a contrast probably to this.

CS: Have you finished shooting “John Adams” yet? We’ve talked to so many actors involved with it in the last three months.
Giamatti: Just about two weeks ago, yeah. (laughs) Everybody’s involved with it, I know, it’s insane.

CS: How ambitious is this project?
Giamatti: Pretty ambitious. There’s something like 700 parts in it, it was insane. No, it couldn’t have been that many. What am I talking about? (laughter) It was a couple hundred parts in it, but yeah, everybody’s in that thing. It was really ambitious. I don’t know what it’s going to turn out like. It’s a huge epic thing that they wanted to do and I think they may have pulled it off. It could be the most boring thing that anybody’s ever seen, but I think they pulled it off.

CS: Is that going to be shown in November?
Giamatti: Next spring. I mean, it’s going to be like 9 hours long, so I think it’s going to take a while to edit.

CS: What was it like working with Laura Linney on two different projects?
Giamatti: It was great. We were married in both of them, but they were different marriages. I was really happy that she was going to be doing it, and it was nice too that somebody I knew and had worked with before was going to be doing this part, because she’s kind of the most important person in the thing in a way. She was great, yeah.

CS: How was it working with your “American Splendor” directors on “The Nanny Diaries” considering it was done through a studio vs. independently?
Giamatti: It was great. It was nice working with them again, they’re really good people. I have a cameo in it basically. I was there for three days, but it was really fun. Those people are nice. It’s nice to work with people like that who you feel comfortable with.

CS: Did it seem different from doing “Splendor” because of the studio involvement?
Giamatti: Yeah, for them it seemed different, yeah, because for the other thing, nobody was ever around, nobody cared about it really, which was great. But this one it seemed like they had to deal with those guys more.

CS: You’ve mentioned playing Philip K. Dick in a biopic about his life. Has anything progressed with that? Have you met with his estate at all?
Giamatti: Yeah, his daughters are probably going to help and produce it, and there’s a guy writing it right now as far as I know.

CS: Do you want to do it either way and just work with him on the script to get it to where it works for you?
Giamatti: Oh, yeah. I’d love to do it if they still want me to do it when it comes around, when it’s all done, I’d absolutely love to do it. We’ll see what the guy comes up with.

CS: You’ve carved such a huge niche for yourself in the kinds of movies you do. Have you changed the way you look at your career or the things you want to achieve in it?
Giamatti: I guess, yeah. I mean, I would like to do as many different kinds of things. I get bored really easily, so if I can have variety, that’s great. That’s basically all. I don’t have any big plan.

CS: How close are the movies you enjoy watching to the movies you appear in? Are the tastes similar?
Giamatti: Yeah, I think so. I like this kind of thing. I’ve always liked this kind of thing, so yeah, I think a lot of the time they are the kind of thing that I would maybe go see for the most part.

CS: Do you remember the first movie you ever saw in the theater?
Giamatti: I don’t know what the first movie I ever saw in the theater was. (makes sound like he’s wracking his brain) That’s a good question. I didn’t know what the movie was, maybe “101 Dalmations” or something, but that couldn’t have been the first one. When was that movie? I dunno. I remember seeing this movie “Scrooge,” the Albert Finney movie, but again I don’t know. I can remember seeing “The Conversation” and “All the President’s Men” but those were when I was a little bit older. “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” I remember seeing at the drive-in, so maybe that was one of the first ones, I don’t know.

CS: Do you have any interest in writing or directing?
Giamatti: Not particularly, not right now. Those require a lot more patience than I think I have, you know, the actual focus. Directing seems ridiculous to me, way too much work, way too much work.

Shoot ‘Em Up opens nationwide on September 7. Now, go and read the Interview with Clive Owen.