An army of Superman robots
Doing your college thesis on Herman Melville
Monkeys with violent libidos
Highbrow science fiction
Reading a Philip K. Dick book aloud
When Paul Giamatti talks about books—particularly the pulp fiction of his youth—his entire personality changes. He’s no longer the shy character actor soberly discussing his craft. He becomes a bundle of manic energy. He waves his arms around, his eyes wide as saucers, and laughs with such force that it seems he might burst. You half-expect him to pounce from his chair and come flying at you like some lit-geek equivalent of Gollum.
This enthusiasm is largely hidden in the Giamatti we’ve seen in the movies. In films like Sideways and Private Parts, he’s played mostly bitter and cantankerous schlubs, beaten down by despair and lacking any real joy. Brilliantly crafted characters, sure, but none of them very revealing of the off screen Giamatti. The closest he’s come to giving us a glimpse of the man behind the mask was 2003’s American Splendor, where he portrayed comic-book author (and avowed literary buff) Harvey Pekar. When Giamatti starts talking about cartoon superheroes and sci-fi paperbacks, it’s hard not to wonder if his performance in Splendor was, at least in part, a channeling of his inner fanboy.
I met Giamatti at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where he was promoting his latest films, The Illusionist and The Hawk Is Dying. Despite the frigid temperature, we sat on the outside patio of the Marriott Hotel. When he wasn’t bouncing around excitedly in his chair, Giamatti nibbled on granola bars and picked the crumbs from his belly.
THE BELIEVER: As a kid you were obsessed with baseball umpires. What does that mean, exactly? Did you want to be one? Were you fascinated by umpires as authority figures?
PAUL GIAMATTI: I don’t think it had anything to do with their authority. It was more a fascination with the appearance of the home-plate umps. They wear those old-school chest protectors and the mask and they’re always dressed in black.
BLVR: It almost sounds like the costume of a DC comic super-villain.
PG: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. There’s something weirdly sinister about those cats. And of course I’ve always been drawn to the ancillary supporting players in drama. If you look at a game of baseball as a narrative of some kind, the umps are the bit players. They’re the character actors. In almost any situation, I’m invariably interested in the people that nobody pays much attention to.
We hope you enjoy this excerpt.
To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.