Paul Giamatti

Studio 360

image: Adam Bell / SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMS

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With "American Splendor" and "Sideways," Paul Giamatti perfected the role of the cranky, frustrated failure. In his new film "Cold Souls" he stars as an actor named Paul Giamatti who gets his soul removed to find relief from his oppressive emotions. He explains that acting is kind of like borrowing another person's soul: "A lot of the time I get degraded, desiccated souls."

He has played a lot of neurotic, curmudgeonly, in-spite-of-yourself artist who are undone by life, like the frustrated writer Miles in "Sideways," and Harvey Pekar, the comic book artist, in "American Spelndor."  As a result, roles like this have become archetypal Paul Giamatti roles.

"That is an interesting thing with actors in general.  You take the step of assigning them what they seem to be. But, there is probably an element of me that has some of that in it, especially the guy in 'Sideways.'  If I was like that, I'd end it -- I'd throw myself under a bus.  That guy was just miserable," says Giamatti.  "But, to what extent am I bringing something to it, or to what extent it is being asked of me?  It's a tricky thing."

This character crankiness is, in part, is what drew Giamatti to the role of John Adams in the HBO series.  "Yes, he was definitely cranky, a very cranky guy.  I was just saying to somebody that when I got that script and read it, and I knew nothing about him, I just was going off of what was on the page, I said, 'This guy was kind of a nightmare.  I would really like to play him that way.  I would really like to make sure that this is as hard for the audience as possible, to like this guy, because he is going to be doing these wonderful things that we all look upon with such reverence.'"

Paul Giamatti's father, A. Bartlett Giamatti eventually became the comissioner for Major League Baseball.  He passed away before his son gained any fame in the acting world.  While he didn't offer specific advice to his son, he said, "Just do something that you really love."  

When asked if he loves acting, the actor offers an answer with some hesitation.  "I do.  Love is complicated, isn't it?"

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