"Barney's Version" star Paul Giamatti is the first to acknowledge that he isn't a typical Hollywood leading man.
He may not look like his co-star Scott Speedman, but he's still managed to rack up an impressive list of performances in "American Splendor," "Sideways," and the HBO miniseries "John Adams."
"I'm continually amazed that I'm employed," Giamatti told TheWrap's editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman at Wednesday night's screening at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks. "I guess I sort of thought I would be a stage actor and I would subsidize it by playing homeless police informants on "Law and Order," which is sort of what I did. I played a lot of guys who were like 'I don't know, man! I didn't see nothing, man,' and a lot of FBI technicians with headphones going 'we lost him!"
Fortunately, Giamatti is front and center in Richard J. Lewis' adaptation of Canadian author Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel "Barney's Version." The actor plays Barney Panofsky and displays tremendous range as the character ages from his 30s to his 60s.
Giamatti said one of the reasons he was drawn to the project was that its scope. "The vitality of it was fantastic and that was a big selling point. I really did get to do everything."
While Giamatti said he knew who Richler was and had heard of the book prior to filming, he hadn't actually read it.
Instead, Giamatti watched all the footage he could find of Richler.
The tone of "Barney's Version" changes from scene to scene, and the film can't easily be defined by a single genre, but it struck Giamatti as a comedy, first and foremost. "I saw it as essentially funny, so i wasn't consciously trying to bring humor to it. I was trying to bring out what I thought was there already, but it certainly doesn't go where a comedy usually goes."
Joining Giamatti on his big screen journey are Dustin Hoffman and Rosamund Pike.
"i think [Hoffman] could've played this part now if he wanted to, just as he could've 30 years ago. He's a bit like this guy, because he's fantastic and nuts in a really great way. I don't know to what extent he was doing some old-school actors' studio thing to me or something, because he seemed so much like the guy sometimes that I couldn't tell whether he was doing something or whether that was really him or not."
Giamatti and Hoffman previously co-starred in the 2003 crime thriller "Confidence." "I didn't have much to do with him in that movie but i got to know him a little bit. Working with him is a trip because he pulls the scene apart and remodels it and puts it back together in a crazy way you never expected it to turn into."
As for Pike, Giamatti said he was "really excited" to work with the actress, who first caught his eye as Miranda Frost in the 2002 James Bond flick "Die Another Day."
"She's an amazing and incredibly smart actress and she would always ask the necessary key question to a scene that I would never think of because I'm just a mess and she's really steady and smart and grounded," said Giamatti.
As for what's next for Giamatti, the actor just wrapped a role as Ben Bernanke in the upcoming HBO movie "Too Big to Fail," about the collapse of Lehmann Bros. and AIG. "It's a drama, so I think you're going to get a more sympathetic portrait of these guys, being the clowns that they were, but you're going to get more dimension seeing them behind the scenes," said Giamatti.
Speaking of financial collapse, Giamatti admitted that it would be hard to get a movie like "Sideways" made today, especially with the original cast. "I think maybe you could get it made, but you wouldn't get it made with the four of us in it. That's how much things have changed and how fast. You could maybe get it made, but you'd have to get someone like George Clooney to play my part."
After being asked to elaborate, Giamatti explained that "people were kind of filled with fear when the bottom dropped out of the world's economic markets. It's just trickier to make smaller movies now."
"I have a little production company and I can certainly see the difference. We produced "Cold Souls" a few years ago for $3 million, which is nothing, and we couldn't get that movie made now. It's just too much of a risk for somebody to put even that little amount of money into it," he added
Regarding a potential biopic of influential sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, Giamatti said he didn't know if it would ever happen. "Dick's estate wants to make a movie about him, and while I'd love to do it, it's a tricky story to figure out how to tell properly."
Next up for Giamatti are supporting roles in "The Hangover Part II," and Clooney's political drama "The Ides of March," which is an adaptation of the play "Farragut North."
And for those old-school Giamatti fans who are wondering, yes, the "Private Parts" actor still gets called Pig Vomit all the time, especially in New York.
Sony Pictures Classics will open "Barney's Version" in limited release on Friday, December 3.
(Photograph by Jonathan Alcorn)