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He Will Rock You
Currently starring in the wild cheese-fest musical Rock of Ages, critics’ darling Paul Giamatti talks to Roe McDermott about character acting, over-analysing and why he’d rather not be famous.
Roe McDermott, 22 Jun 2012
Widely hailed as one of the greatest character actors of our time, Paul Giamatti was a steadily working theatre actor who spent much of the nineties slowly working his way up the Hollywood ladder. But it was his wonderfully complex roles in 2003’s American Splendour and Sideways that led him to being crowned as one of indie cinema’s true stars. He has recently played high-profile supporting roles in films such as George Clooney’s The Ides of March, The Hangover II, and this month’s delightfully cheesy musical Rock Of Ages, where he plays the sleazy manager to Tom Cruise’s outrageous rock star. He’s also become a leading man, giving critically lauded performances in last year’s Win Win and Barney’s Version. But despite this success, the friendly but intense actor reveals that he doesn’t really understand his Hollywood-given USP.
“This whole ‘character actor’ label - I don’t really know. It seems like a weird distinction - isn’t every actor a character actor? What’s the opposite – a non-entity actor? At one time, it really meant something a lot clearer to me. It meant the guy who always played the fussy boss, or the angry cop or whatever, it was a speciality. But it doesn’t seems to mean the same thing anymore. It just means ‘the bald guy’ or something! I don’t think of myself as anything in particular – I’m just an actor.”
Having played complex, and often quite nasty characters in – well, nearly everything to be honest – I ask the actor what the appeal is of playing these deeply flawed, often unlikeable characters. Is it exploration, an exercise in examining his own flaws and neuroses, or is it escapism, allowing him to forget himself by delving into the very foreign world of someone else’s messed-up mindset.
“It’s a mix of both. I don’t feel like I’m particularly like any of these guys, but know I probably am in more ways than I realise. But those roles aren’t really the most fun things to escape into. Whether I’m like them or not, they often force me to deal with some pretty difficult emotional material. I find that playing the really strict bad guy can be fun – if I get to have a gun and get to pistol-whip somebody that’s always fun! That’s more escapist than dealing with characters’ insecurity or narcissism or neuroses. I never feel like ‘Oh this character is just like me’, but obviously I draw on a lot of things about myself, things I normally try not to tap into.”