The rumpled Everyman on "actorcourse" at Yale drama school, Philip K. Dick, and being constantly described as "schlubby."
Paul Giamatti has been described by Time as "The World's Best Character Actor," but his intense performances in films like American Splendor and Sideways attest to his ability to carry a movie all by himself. His latest project, John Dies At The End, marks his second collaboration with legendary cult horror director Don Coscarelli (the first being the long-stalled Bubba Nosferatu) and is coming to theaters January 25, though it's currently available via On Demand.
How did you get involved with John Dies at the End? Had you read the book beforehand, or was it once Don was involved that you got interested?
No, I hadn’t read the book. I didn’t know about the book at all. Don came across the book while he was browsing for zombie fiction on Amazon — I gather — read it, and immediately saw the potential it had for being made into his kind of movie. Don and I had been working on trying to get another movie made —
Would that be Bubba Nosferatu?
Aha! Yeah, it was. And we got close to it a couple times, but the money fell through, stuff like that, and he’d been putting John Dies At The End together on the side, and so he sent me that and said, “Let’s put Bubba Nosferatu on hold, and maybe we can do this movie.” He seemed to think this would be easier to do. And then I read it, and thought, “By any standard, how would this be an easy movie to make?” But he was confident that it was, and though it was a super-ambitious movie, he pulled it off.
You’ve done a lot of book adaptations, and you come across as a pretty serious reader in interviews. If you could adapt any book into film, what would it be?
Ah… Hmm, that’s a great question. I immediately think of something sci-fi…
You’re a big Philip K. Dick fan, right?
Yeah, I was just thinking that. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel called Martian Time-Slip that’s actually one I really like and happen to think you could make a great movie out of. That would be nice for somebody to do. And you know, John Dies At The End actually seems like a better Philip K. Dick movie than a lot of Philip K. Dick adaptations that have gotten done.
There are a lot of weird parallels between the two — there’s the drug aspect, the whole identity-crisis sort of situation.
Absolutely, the multiple realities, the drug thing — and the protagonists. Although he never really had like, teen-slacker guys in his books, what’s always been funny to me about adaptations of Philip K. Dick books is that they have some smooth, slick Hollywood guy playing the part, but really, they should get like, Steve Buscemi playing the part, you know? That’s how he wrote his protagonists. They’re like, goofballs, just regular guys.
You’ve said in interviews that you’re often offered strange roles, like one as a man who eats cat shit and is constantly jerking off —
Ah, that’s amazing! Another interviewer just asked me about the weirdest role I was ever offered, and that’s it! That’s the one. They said, “Do you have a line you’ll draw?” and I said, “That role.” And I even forgot about the cat shit part of it!
NEXT: "There’s a part of me that has always found it kind of weirdly rewarding to think, "It’s so jarring for people to see me on the screen with those women."
It’s hard to read blurb after blurb about you without seeing certain adjectives pop up repeatedly —
Like “cat shit?” Oh wait, “cat shit” isn't an adjective, it’s a noun.
Well, I meant, uh, “schlubby.”
You know, it’s really funny, I never got the “schlubby” thing until I started doing movies. I did so much stage, and nobody ever said “schlubby” or anything like that. That actually just started. It’s funny, it’s fine — I can’t really do anything about it, you know? And I never think of any of the characters as schlubby, particularly… but, you know, what are you going to do?
It also seems like interviewers often make a big deal of the women you’re paired with, whether it’s Virginia Madsen in Sideways or Minnie Driver in Barney’s Version. That’s such a coded way of saying, “What was it like working with someone so much better-looking than you?”
[laughs] Well, there’s nothing coded about it, really. It’s not really that subtle.
Does it ever get to you?
Nah, not really. I mean, what would be the point? Nothing I can do about it. It’s fine. There’s a part of me that has always found kind it of weirdly rewarding to think, "It’s so jarring for people to see me on the screen with those women." I just find it funny, like, “What are people supposed to look like?” I guess they’re supposed to look like… not me, I guess. [laughs] But, people want to have a narrative, they want to be able to write certain things about you for their article, and who am I to take that away from them?
Looking back, Sideways actually seems like the outlier in your filmography. You so rarely play a romantic lead — how was that different for you? And would you return to that?
Sure. I had an amazing time making Sideways. The greatest thing was that none of us ever thought anyone would have any interest in making this movie, so we were all sort of just having a good time. We were all like, “Who would put the four of us in a movie about wine? And then who would watch that movie?” And you know, I like doing different things in movies. I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. I would happily do another movie like that, sure.
You’ve been married for sixteen years. What is your one piece of marriage advice that could also double as acting advice?
[laughs] Oh, uh… no. Jeez. I’m not the guy to be giving marriage advice. Nope.
Well, how did you meet your wife?
Drama school. She was at the Yale drama school, and so was I, though she was in a different department.
Is there an insane underbelly of intense, promising-young-actor sex at Yale?
Sure. Actorcourse? Yes. Totally. That’s really one of the main reasons to go to drama school. Maybe even the only reason.
Bubba Ho-Tep question: Let’s say you, Bruce Campbell, and Ossie Davis are all single and all walk into a bar intent on meeting women. Who does the best?
[instantly, raising his voice] Which one of does the best? Me! Done. Easy question!