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'Cold Souls' Star On Being Paul Giamatti

In his latest film, Paul Giamatti plays himself, or a version of himself: A neurotic actor who has his soul frozen to relieve him of his crippling anxiety. He joins Fresh Air to talk about life, art and blurring the lines between.

36:40

Other segments from the episode on August 6, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 6, 2009: Interview with Paul Giamatti; Review of George Strait's new album "Twang;" Review of Jennifer Weiner's new book "Best friends forever."

Transcript

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'Cold Souls' Star On Being Paul Giamatti

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

When Paul Giamatti first starting acting, he was probably best known as the son
of the late Yale professor and baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti, but this
character actor with regular-guy looks has turned in so many memorable
performances in supporting roles that he’s now become a leading man.

He played Howard Stern’s obnoxious boss in the film “Private Parts” and had
roles in “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon.” He
landed a leading role as the underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar in “American
Splendor” and won critical as the depressed wine snob Miles in the film
“Sideways.” And last year, he starred with Laura Linney in the seven-part HBO
series, “John Adams.”

Giamatti’s new film is an absurdist comedy, based on the idea that a high-tech
company in New York has developed a way to extract and store the souls of
people who feel burdened by them and want to relieve anxiety. Giamatti plays an
actor named Paul Giamatti who’s rehearsing for the Chekhov play “Uncle Vanya”
and is struggling with the role. He decides to consider soul extraction, and in
this scene, he sits down with the scientist running the program, played by
David Strathairn.

(Soundbite of film, “Cold Souls”)

Mr. DAVID STRATHAIRN (Actor): (As Dr. Flintstein) People come here, well, and
they all want to know if the soul is immortal and how it functions, and we
haven’t a clue, no clue. We only offer the possibility de-soul the body or
disembody the soul. You can see it either way. You can also take a look on the
inside, before we start.

Mr. PAUL GIAMATTI (Actor): (As Paul Giamatti) Look on the inside. I’m – oh, no,
I don’t want to look in the inside.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) It’s entirely up to you.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) Your soul will be stored here, or if you’d
rather avoid sales tax, it can be shipped to our New Jersey warehouse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No, God, no. I don’t want my soul shipped to New
Jersey, no.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) No, I understand. What exactly is bothering
you?

DAVIES: Well, Paul Giamatti, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, this film,
“Cold Souls,” if I have this right, is in part the work of your own production
company. So this is not just an acting role. I assume that you were involved in
this project early on. Tell us when you first heard about this idea, extracting
your soul, and what appealed to you.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, I met the director, Sophie Barthes, at the Nantucket Film
Festival, and she had just won an award for this screenplay. She had – the idea
came from a dream she had, in which Woody Allen discovered that his soul had
been extracted and was, in fact, a legume and not anything very impressive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: So what appealed to me right off the bat was the concept of it.
This idea of soul removal was very amusing to me, and I was very taken with the
whole kind of affectionate treatment of something of a sort of stereotype of
the Russian soul in it, and the Russianness and the Eastern European
sensibility that pervaded the whole thing.

The fact that she’d written it for me was very flattering, but it was the
story, and it was her that appealed to me.

DAVIES: Well, one of the things - without giving too much of the story away -
in this film, you as this actor, decide you’re going to agree to have your soul
extracted by this company that can do it so that you are unburdened, and then
you, as an actor, in playing the part, has to portray someone who is soulless.
How did you approach that?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, I think part of the idea was, at least as the director
conceived of it, was, you know, the guy is very – the character is very self-
involved in the first place. He’s become very wrapped up in his own agony and
angst, and he thinks yes, that this is going to help him. And what does happen,
is that he becomes more self-involved.

There seems to be some way in which, you know, the soul functions as a
superego, as a kind of regulating device or something. So he becomes wildly
overconfident about the idiotic choices that he’s making to play this part.

So you know, it was fun, and a lot of the soullessness, then, is obviously
enacted in this sort of playing out of “Uncle Vanya.” And you know, I just had
to think of what’s the most wrong-headed way to play Uncle Vanya, and that was
to do it sort of like it’s a musical or a soap opera or something, that seemed
to me – but to be able to be so ridiculously, fully confident about it was
really fun.

So she had some idea that in some way, you know, it takes away, I don’t know,
that there’s some notion that doubt and self-doubt and angst are necessary,
maybe, to making the correct choices, to being empathetic in some way and
making the right emotional choices.

DAVIES: Well, you know, I have to say one of the fun things about watching this
and your performance, is that, you know, as the movie progresses, we see
different moments where you’re trying to rehearse for this play, “Uncle Vanya.”
And there’s a part where you’re just struggling with it initially, and then you
have no soul, and you’re just awful. And then you eventually, of course, get a
transplanted soul of a Russian poet and are great.

Mr. GIAMATTI: I guess great. Thanks. Thanks for saying that. I think I’m better
than bad, but still, yes.

DAVIES: Well, it’s – you can certainly see the difference, and I was thinking
about how tricky it must be. I mean, it’s probably easy for an actor to play a
bad actor, but the first one, where you’re not bad but just not quite getting
it, I wonder if that took some effort.

Mr. GIAMATTI: That did take some more effort, yeah. There’s a sort of
intermediary stage where he’s – yeah, he’s sort of lost his balance, and he
doesn’t quite know what – that was a little bit more tricky to figure out
because then it’s, yeah, it’s not the full-blown-bad thing. That was a little
bit trickier, the intermediary stage, but as I say, the full-blown-bad thing is
fun to do, and once I sort of hooked into the idea, as I say, of a sort of
musical or soap opera, it was – you could really just run with it and have a
good time.

DAVIES: Let’s listen to just a little bit of Paul Giamatti in the film, his new
film, “Cold Souls.” Here’s some of your performance after you’ve lost your soul
and are pretty bad.

(Soundbite of film, “Cold Souls”)

(Soundbite of play, “Uncle Vanya”)

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) (As Uncle Vanya) My life is gone. I have talent,
intelligence, boldness. I could have been a Schopenhauer, a Dostoyevsky. I’m
losing it. Mother, Mother, I’m desperate. Mother, Mother.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Let’s go again. Is Schopenhauer
getting in your way or something?

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No, no, no, no, no, no. Schopenhauer, Schopenhauer’s
fine with me, Schopenhauer.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) Schopenhauer, Schopenhauer.

DAVIES: And that’s our guest, Paul Giamatti, in the film, his new film, “Cold
Souls.” You know, the soul is pretty serious stuff, and there are parts, there
are elements of the story here which, you know, which have some tragedy and
some dark and moody moments, and yet it’s funny in ways. I mean, talk a little
bit about finding the comedy in something like this.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, you know, at the risk of sounding really pretentious, you
know, it’s a Chekhov play we’re working on in the movie, and I think she was
looking for a kind of Chekhovian tone. You know, those plays are – he called
them comedies, and they’re funny, even though what’s going on is awfully sort
of tragic, and part of what’s funny about them is the extremity of it.

I mean, Vanya’s so depressive that it’s funny. It becomes absurd and he whips
out a gun and tries to shoot the guy, but he can’t shoot straight. He’s never
held a gun in his life. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing with it, but
he’s reached such a ridiculously extreme emotional point that – so I think some
of the tone was somewhere, in there, was borrowed from that kind of thing.

Yeah, I mean, and it demands a lot of an audience. There are tonal shifts, but
I think they’re consistent. She did a good job, I think, of keeping it
consistent.

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is actor Paul Giamatti. He is
starring in the new film, “Cold Souls.”

Well, last year you had this big project, the HBO seven-part series “John
Adams,” in which you played John Adams and got a lot of critical acclaim for
this. And it was interesting, Tom Hooper was talking about casting you, and he
described Adams as somebody who’s irascible, somebody with anger-management
problems. And he says Giamatti fit in the sense that he has his idea of Adams,
an anti-hero, to explore the flaws of the man in addition to his greatness, and
that you, Paul Giamatti, were great at creating portraits of men struggling
with demons. And you knew that if you’d cast Paul Giamatti, you’d get a fresh
look at the revolution. All that makes sense to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, I hope – I think that was the idea. I was interested – you
know, they sent me that script, it was like a phone book. It was just this
enormous thing. And I really didn’t know much about Adams, and I thought this
guy seemed like a nightmare.

He just seemed like a hug pain in the neck, and I said to them yeah, I’m very
interested in doing this. I think it’s very interesting that you’ve picked a
guy who’s a real pain in ass to be the central character in this, and I’d like
to really preserve that.

I wanted to be sure that I actually – I was very actively interested in making
it hard for the audience to like him, and I thought this will be interesting
because our conception of these guys is so – we’ve made such heroes out of them
and such sort of marble busts on them. They’re on the money, you know. And I
thought we all love what these guys did, and I’d like to make it tricky for
people. I’d like to have a little tension and anxiety induced in people by
saying, but he’s a nightmare. He’s a pain in the ass but he did these great
things. And so I was definitely interested in that, and hopefully that comes
across.

DAVIES: All right. Let’s get a little taste of this character. This is a moment
where you, as John Adams, the struggle between England the colonies has come to
the point where it’s time to consider declaring independence, and you are
explaining to Thomas Jefferson - played here by Stephen Dillane - why you want
him to write the Declaration of Independence.

(Soundbite of television program, “John Adams”)

Mr. STEPHEN DILLANE (Actor): (As Thomas Jefferson) But we must first achieve
this long-hoped-for separation, and to that end, we must have a declaration of
principles.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) Should you not write this thing yourself?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) No, no, no, no. I do not have time. No, I head the
Board of War and Ordinance, as well as serving on 22 other committees. And the
outcome of this great question is far from certain, so my energies must be
spend leading the debate on the floor.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) And why me?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) Reasons enough, sir.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) What can possibly be your reasons?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) First, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian should
be at the head of this business, as it’s the most powerful state. Second, I am
obnoxious, suspected and unpopular, and you are very much otherwise. Third, and
perhaps most important, I have read your summary view of the rights of British
America, and I have a great opinion of the elegance of your pen and none at all
of my own.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) You are too modest, sir.

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) Well, you are the first to find me so, sir. No, I
am not, by nature, a humble man, but circumstances sometimes require a change
of habits.

DAVIES: And that’s our guest Paul Giamatti with Stephen Dillane in the series
“John Adams.” You know, you were quoted in a recent piece in the New Yorker as
saying that you seemed to get roles of playing characters who are in a constant
state of agitation. But you also play a lot of guys who have issues of, you
know, self-confidence and self-doubt. And Adams, although he may have his
neuroses, is not like this. This is a guy who desires and understands how to
wield power. Was that kind of a different turn for you?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, that was interesting, and yeah, I think he broke through a
lot of neuroses to get to that place. But certainly, in terms of kind of
conducting the revolution and doing all of that stuff, yeah, he was a pit bull,
and he was, he was deeply self-confident. And yeah, that was fun to do. And
again, there’s something contradictory in that because he was neurotic, as
well. So it was a nice sort of contradictory thing to do and to also be able to
play that self-confidence, so lots of facets to the guy, you know.

DAVIES: This was, I understand, a pretty grueling effort. I mean, you were in
every scene of this, and it was a seven-part series. And you went – you know,
you underwent this physical transformation of, you know, all the costume and
the wigs, and I don’t know. Was there some denture thing that you had to wear?

Mr. GIAMATTI: They painted my teeth brown, yeah, because everybody – he had no
teeth, basically, by the time he was, I think, 35. Nobody had teeth. Very few
people had teeth, so – and I thought, I can’t go with the whole crazy denture
thing with, like, two jagged, snarly teeth. I thought, you know, painting them
will be enough. So we painted my teeth.

DAVIES: Well, talk just a little bit about kind of the physical trappings, and
does it make it harder or easier to find and hold a character when you’re
wearing all that stuff?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Oh, well, it’s – yeah, it was tricky. It would have been nice to
have had some time to kind of have gradual stages of – you know, when I first
got there, I had worn some of this stuff, but I’d sort of worn the makeup at
one time, and then I’d been fitted for the costume at a different time, and
then I’d seen all the props I was going to have. And when I first got there,
they loaded it all on me, and it did – it was a funny balancing act. It felt
like a kind of, you know, rubbing your stomach and tapping your head and

whistling “Dixie” kind of thing all at the same time, but I eventually got it.

I like things like that. I like period things. The costumes give you a huge
amount, and I like having an accent to work on and things like that. Those
things make me feel comfortable. Yeah, coordinating all of them can be tricky,
especially if you’re, you know, if you have limited time it can be tricky.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Paul Giamatti. His new film is “Cold Souls.” We’ll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is actor Paul Giamatti. He starred
in “Sideways” and the HBO series “John Adams.” His new film is “Cold Souls.”

When you’re shooting, do you watch TV and movies and other stuff, or are you
one of those who likes to kind of wall yourself off and stay on focus?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I tend to want to wall myself off. If I’m going to watch
something, I’d like it to be something that feels like it’s the right mood, you
know, and not necessarily, you know, on the nose, but I’ll read and watch
things that will keep me sort of in the right area.

You know, I did this movie, “Cinderella Man.” It’s a boxing movie set in the
‘30s, and I did some boxing research, and I hung around with boxers, and that
was good. But I did a lot of, you know, I read – I was reading stuff from the
period, and I was watching all different kinds of movies from the period and
that – sometimes just to help me keep me in the mood because I like to watch
movies. I don’t think I could wall myself off entirely, but if I can find
something that’s in the right mood, I’ll try to stay there.

DAVIES: When you were shooting “John Adams,” were you a Revolutionary War
character’s mentality, for what was it, eight months?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, well, that was – I mean, I did do a lot of reading about
that, and there was lots to read. At a certain point, I had to stop because it
was information overload, and I had to just be able to get on with the part.
And I kept reading the letters throughout it, just to kind of keep me in the
right mood. But my presence was so constant in that thing that I, by default, I
had no – I was just locked in the revolutionary thing all the time because I
was always in that damn costume and always on the set, and always - I never
shut up. And so it was full immersion whether I wanted it or not, you know.

DAVIES: You know, what makes the series interesting, of course, is - I mean, I
think the stuff about the revolution and the battle with the British is, of
course, fascinating - but there’s also this, you know, deep and complex
relationship, you know, with your wife, who’s so ably played by Laura Linney.
And there was a moment in the film where you, as John Adams, you’ve been in
Paris for a long time, for many, many months, and she comes over, and there’s –
their relationship has been strained by Adams’ long absence and his little
correspondence with his wife. But they get together and find themselves in a
moment of passion. So it was sort of this interesting portrayal of an 18th-
century relationship and 18th-century sex. I wonder if you could say a little
bit about that scene.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, that was really nice. It’s also kind of middle-aged, 18th-
century sex. I mean, it’s kind of older people, and they’ve been separated.
Yeah, you know, originally that scene, we were supposed to walk in, and it
didn’t go really beyond us just kind of kissing, and Laura and I talked
beforehand about it and said why don’t we just kind of keep going, and
hopefully they’ll keep going. And so we did. And we didn’t know what we were
going to do, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: I had sort of talked to one of the – they had sort of historical
consultants around, and a lot of those people did have sex with all their
clothes on. They didn’t remove – I think the French were the people who took
all their clothes off, for the most part, but I don’t know that Americans did
at the time - at least this one person said to me.

So I had that in my back pocket, and I went yeah, we can – we’ll keep our
clothes on. The toughest thing was what do you do with the wig? What is – how
do you sort of – what’s the deal with the wig? And we thought, well, maybe
that’s a kind of – Laura said maybe, you know, the bald head is a sort of
erotic thing for the woman. So she does this kind of wonderful slipping of the
wig off and rubbing my bald head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, I don’t know, we imagined a lot of it. I mean, we kind of made it up.
But we really kind of just went for it without telling them we were going to do
in the first take of it, and we just kept going. And the scene went on a lot
longer. Thankfully, they cut it way down - although it makes me look like I
don’t have staying power, which bothered me - but it was a much longer scene,
and we just kind of went for it, and I don’t know what audiences made of it.

I think some people were a little taken aback at seeing these great Americans
having sex, as if they never did, and then these people really did. I mean,
they wrote – in their letters they talked about their sex life, and she – they
were very sexual people with each other. I think. It certainly seems like it in
their letters. So we just thought we would go for it. I figured, you know, why
not?

DAVIES: Well, it’s a scene that stuck with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Did it give you nightmares? Or was it was a good thing?

DAVIES: It just made me wonder: Is that what it was like back then?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I wonder. I don’t know, you know. I mean, the women didn’t wear
underwear, which was interesting, but they didn’t take much of their other
clothing off, and so, you know, it had some fascinating things to it.

DAVIES: And not to belabor this, but the director and the crew did not know
that you and Laura were going to go beyond the kissing.

Mr. GIAMATTI: No, no, but they just kept filming, which was what was great
about them. They were a crack crew, and I knew that the director would probably
enjoy this, watching us go at it, just because, you know, he had an eye towards
taking things in a different direction and not being so reverent. And so we had
a feeling he would probably be all for it if we kept going, and so we did. And
then, eventually, you know, they decided to then actually work it into the
scene, and it became the scene, and then they shot it appropriately.

DAVIES: Paul Giamatti’s new film is “Cold Souls.” He’ll be back in the second
half of the show. I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.

Back with actor Paul Giamatti, who's starring in the new film "Cold Souls."
He's also appeared in "Private Parts," "American Splendor," and "Sideways," and
he starred in the HBO series "John Adams."

We can't talk about you career without talking about "Sideways," directed by
Alexander Payne. And let's hear a little bit of your - a clip here. This - your
character, Miles, who is a struggling writer and schoolteacher and depressed
wine buff, here he is in a conversation with a romantic interest who's played
by Virginia Madsen. She begins by asking him a question.

Ms. VIRGINIA MADSEN (Actor): (as Maya) Can I ask you a personal question,
Miles?

Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Miles) Sure.

Ms. MADSEN: (as Maya) Why are you so into Pinot?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MADSEN: (as Maya) I mean it’s like a thing with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Miles) I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s a hard grape to grow.
As you know, right? It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you
know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and

thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention,
you know, and in fact it can only grow in these really specific little tucked-
away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers
can do it really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's
potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.

DAVIES: Tell us about this character, Miles, that you play.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Oh, it was a hard part. It was a very, I found it one of the more
difficult parts I've ever played and maybe to some extent because I hadn’t
really had such a sort of full-blown central character to play in something. I
mean I'd done some other large parts, but this was really, you know – again,
I'm in every scene of that movie and it was a lot to take on. And yeah, he's an
interesting guy.

Again, you know, here's a guy that's hard for the audience to swallow. You
know, he's a very prickly, difficult guy. He's a bit of a loser. You know, I, I
- he's the only character I played that I think of as a bit of actually a
loser. I mean he's so self-sabotaging and so unable to connect in any sensible
way with people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: He does with Virginia's character eventually, which gives him,
she gives him and the audience some hope for him. But you know, the in for this
character was the wine stuff, was his interest in the wine. That was the key to
the guy. And as much as it's a kind of pompous thing and it’s played as a bit
of a sort of pompous thing, there's a genuine, genuine refined sensibility in
the guy behind it all, which is what I think attracts her to him. So underneath
it there's something very, very refined about the guy, and you kind of hope
he's going to go the right way and follow that part of his character and not
the awful parts.

DAVIES: Did you hang out with wine buffs to get that, the feel for...

Mr. GIAMATTI: I did a bit. Yeah. No, I did, and not really to, I mean all the
wine stuff I had to say in the movie was in the script. I was more interested
in the sort of behavioral stuff. You know, the way you rotate the glass and
tilt it and look at things, and it's all this highly codified - it's like, you
know, this Japanese tea ceremony kind of thing, you know? It's wonderful, the,
and the personality that loves it is a personality that loves all that kind of
minutia and detail and paraphernalia and all that kind of stuff, so - and
there's a lot of wonderful stuff in there.

DAVIES: Well, you had played a lead before, but this was a romantic lead. Was
that a difference that mattered?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah. Oh, sure. Yeah. And I liked the fact that it was very
adult. You know, it wasn't - you know, I'm not, I’m not the typical leading man
guy and - but that was never used as a gag in the movie. It was never used as,
you know, it was just presented as this happens to be this guy and this woman
just finds him attractive for whatever reason. There wasn't any sort of thing
about it. It was very, it was adult, and I liked that about it.

DAVIES: Well, I want to play another clip from a film of yours that I really
liked, one that's not so well-known. And rather than set it up, I want to just
play it and then we can talk about it. This is one of my favorite Paul Giamatti
film moments.

(Soundbite of movie, “Duets”)

Mr. ANDRE BRAUGHER (Actor) and Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Reggie Kane and Todd Woods)
(Singing) Oh, she maybe weary. And young girls they do get weary. Wearin' that
same ol' shaggy dress. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when she gets a-weary. She gets
weary. Try a little tenderness. Tenderness…

DAVIES: And that is Paul Giamatti with another actor, Andre Braugher, in the
film "Duets." Tell the audience about this film.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: This is a movie I also - I have a lot of affection for this movie
too. It was directed by Bruce Paltrow, who's Gwyneth Paltrow's father, and it
was a very funny kind of, you know, there’s a very kind of ‘70s feel to this
movie and I got it, and it's dark and odd and strange, and I don't know if it's
a great movie but I really like it. And in it I play a kind of mid-level
salesman type who's burnt out from traveling and he becomes obsessed with
karaoke while he's on the road and he leaves his family to kind of pursue,
pursue karaoke. And yeah, so it's a culty movie. There's people who really love
this movie, which is nice.

DAVIES: Yeah. I thought it really worked and it's got this great cast, with
Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Bello, and Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News...

Mr. GIAMATTI: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...who plays a karaoke hustler who goes into bars and pretends not to
know anything and then gets the prize money. And you know, that song that you
sing with Andre Braugher, "Try A Little Tenderness," I mean it really gets
good. You - it sounds like you know what you're doing. Have you sung...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Have you done some singing in your life?

Mr. GIAMATTI: No. I really hadn’t. I remember when I went in to audition for
that movie and they said that's great and the part is yours and that's
wonderful. And then a little while later they came to me and said, by the way,
do you sing? And I said no, no. And I was assuming they would have somebody
else sing the part. And - because I hadn’t ever really sung and I still don’t
consider myself a singer.

But I'd never done musical theater or anything like that, and I think I was - I
went to sort of hang out with Andre while he practiced the song and they had
the guy there who was going to sing my part, and he said, you know, it would be
so much better if you don't lip sync this. Why don't you just try it?

So I sang it and they were all like, hey, that's not bad. And so I ended up
singing and I loved doing it. I absolutely loved doing it, which was great
because that's what happens to the character in the movie. He doesn't know he
can sing and he starts to sing and he loves it. And so it really all kind of
fit together nicely for the character.

DAVIES: All right. Well, if the audience wants a Paul Giamatti weekend, this is
a must-see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Wow, that's a dark weekend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: I don’t know about that.

DAVIES: I read in an interview that you described yourself as a messy actor. Do
you recall that? Do you know what you meant?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I don’t recall when I said it but I can imagine I did say it.
Yeah. I suppose, you know, discipline, I'm not the most disciplined person in
my life in general, and probably one of the places where I was the most
disciplined or am the most disciplined was in acting, and it may be one of the
things I liked about it. It's sort of I could, I focused and could focus and
found things to focus on.

But yeah, I'm, I, I'm all for messiness and things. I mean it’s not the
greatest virtue but I'm - I like things being a little ragged at the edges
sometimes. Maybe it’s just an excuse for crappy acting. I don't know but I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: ...but I like it in other sort of works of art too. You know,
it’s funny how literature is all about the kind of clean lines now and so few
people write big, baggy, loose, crazy books. I mean Thomas Pynchon's got a book
coming out, and I always look forward to his because they're kind of a mess,
you know, and there's something I really like about that and it’s - I think
that for a long time cleanliness of line wasn’t necessarily the object in art.
Not always. Not all forms of art, and I don't know. I like things being a
little loose and baggy sometimes and not so on the nose all the time.

DAVIES: You know, you’ve had a lot of great supporting roles, and I read in
2004 that you said I think I have the mentality of a supporting actor. I don't
have the chemistry of a leading actor. In some ways I find the supporting thing
harder, actually. Is that still true?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, I suppose. I mean, you know, it's a bit of an adjustment to
have to play. I mean there's sort of – there are things that come with playing
the lead that don’t have anything to do with acting, you know, you're required
to be a bit more of a cheerleader or the team leader guy, and that took a bit
of an adjustment for me.

But I also think maybe part of what I meant by that and still feel is true is -
I think, you know, it's like being a sprinter or a distance runner or
something. You know, there's kind of chemistry that I think you have, and I
think I maybe work better sometimes or felt more comfortable working in a
smaller space and having to kind of paint in more vivid colors in a smaller
space suited me, my brain chemistry more.

It's, you know, the larger canvass is its own tricky thing to try to master, so
I think maybe I was just disposed to being more confined in a funny way. It is
harder because you're given a lot less opportunity. You know, you’ve got to get
in and get out, and you know, you don't get as many takes and thing like that.

But again, I think something about that suited me more, the kind of, this kind
of burst of energy and that laying back. You’ve got to be ready for the long
haul in the lead and that's its own tough thing.

DAVIES: Well, Paul Giamatti, it's been fun. Thanks so much.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Thank you.

DAVIES: Paul Giamatti stars in the new film, "Cold Souls." Let's bring him back
singing with Andre Braugher to finish off that performance in the film "Duets."

(Soundbite of movie, “Duets”)

Mr. BRAUGHER and Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Reggie Kane and Todd Woods) (Singing) Yay-
eh-eah. But it’s all so easy. All so easy. All you gotta do is, try a little
tenderness. Try a little tenderness. Yeah-eah, wo, yeah, heah, yeah. You got to
squeeze her. Don't tease her. Never leave her. Y'got to, got to, got to, gotta,
got to, got to, try a little tenderness. Hey, hey. Hey, hey. Hey, hey. Yeah,
yeah. Hey, hey. Yeah-hey. That's all you gotta do now, ooh. You got to squeeze
her, don't tease her, never leave her. Never leave her. Gotta, wow, nana,
wanna, ak-ow. Try a little tenderness, yeah. Yeah, yeah, oh, don't lose her.
You got to squeeze her, don't tease her, never leave her. Never leave her.
Gotta, wow, try a little tenderness.

(Soundbite of applause)
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George Strait: Country Pop Stardom With 'Twang'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Country singer George Strait has a new album called "Twang." His previous
collection, "Troubadour," won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Country Album,
adding to Strait's impressive industry statistics.

He's surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles in the number of platinum-
selling albums. But rock critic Ken Tucker says Straits' achievement goes well
beyond commercial success.

(Soundbite of song "Twang")

Mr. GEORGE STRAIT (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) When I get off of work on
Friday after working like a dog all week, I go to meet the boys for a cold one
at a little joint up the street. They got a jukebox in the corner full of old
country tunes. Feed it five dollars worth of quarters is the first thing I
always do. ‘Cause I need a little twang, a little hillbilly bending on some
guitar strings...

KEN TUCKER: With his starched white shirts, 10-gallon hats and chiseled
handsomeness, George Strait is a throwback to a bygone era of heroic cowboy
singers and actors, a twangy descendent of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. What
makes him unusual is his consistency and enduring popularity.

(Soundbite of song, "He’s Got That Something Special")

Mr. STRAIT: (Singing) I used to be the one who she was always holding onto.
Like a fool I told her way too tight. He was glad to see me let go, he’s all I
see now in her eyes. He’s got that something special but that something special
used to be mine. She sees more in him than she ever saw in me. She thinks he’s
got everything she’ll ever need. He’s got that something special but that
something special used to be mine…

TUCKER: Of course, consistency isn't the stuff of legends. Strait has never hit
the newspapers with tales of wild living in a country tradition of everyone
from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash to George Jones. Strait is not an outsize,
brash showman like Garth Brooks.

Strait's true precursors are Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold, gentlemen crooners who
peaked in the 1960s as mannerly alternatives to Beatlemania. But those
comparisons don't quite fit. Strait is his own man, ornery and independent in a
quiet, but firm way. Neither Reeves nor Arnold, for example, ever recorded a
song about killing a killer as genial as this new one called “Arkansas Dave.”

(Soundbite of song, “Arkansas Dave”)

Mr. STRAIT: (Singing) He rode up on a winter day, steam rising off a streak-
faced bay. He said, you probably know my name. If you don’t, it’s Arkansas
Dave. He talked of fifteen years ago and how he got the bay he rode. Said, he
killed a man in Ohio, first man he killed, first horse he stole. It was a long
road…

TUCKER: Strait and Tony Brown, his producer since his 1981 debut disc “Strait
Country,” have perfected a clean, crisp sound that bypasses decades of trends.
That’s one reason he could score hits during the heyday of outlaw country music
in the ‘70s and currently amidst the bloated melodrama of acts such as Rascal
Flatts and Montgomery Gentry. Strait’s latest hit single, “Living for the
Night,” is a crooning ballad co-written by Strait, his son, Bubba Strait, and
veteran Nashville songwriter Dean Dillon.

(Soundbite of song, “Living for the Night”)

Mr. STRAIT: (Singing) Every day is a lifetime without you, hard to get through
since you’ve gone. So I do the only thing I know how to, to get back. I’m
living for the night.

TUCKER: That song is no masterpiece, but it’s a pretty piece of work and
unusual in this respect. It’s the first song Strait has written since his 1981
debut. And this new collaborating method with his son, Bubba, has resulted in
the best song on “Twang,” the honky-tonk waltz called “Out of Sight, Out of
Mind.”

(Soundbite of song, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”)

Mr. STRAIT: (Singing) I always heard people say it. But I guess I never fully
understood it. I thought that they meant you’d be easy to forget. But it’s
driving me crazy. Out of sight, out of mind…

TUCKER: The twang in Strait’s Texas-born voice and his prominent pedal-steel
and fiddle back-up have kept Strait from crossing over to pop stardom, which is
just the way this courtly, modest performer likes it. Having sold 67 million
albums and counting, he has nothing to prove. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t
prove consistency can be a viable, vital artistic reward.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
“Twang,” by George Strait.
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'Best' Chick Lit Is Nothing To Scoff At

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Although it’s easy to categorize Jennifer Weiner’s new novel called “Best
Friends Forever” as a beach book, book critic Maureen Corrigan says you’ll
never make it out to the beach once you start reading it.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: If you think chick lit is unworthy of critical attention, go
away. If, however, you believe, as I do, that there are only two categories of
books in the world, good books and the other kind - thank you, Duke Ellington -
then I’ve got a terrific summer read to celebrate. It’s the new novel by chick
lit writer Jennifer Weiner, and the only thing lame about it is its title,
“Best Friends Forever.”

Weiner’s latest novel is already wedged into a special bookcase with the other
books I reread every so often just because they make me happy. Novels like
Jeanette Haien’s “Matters of Chance,” Susan Isaacs’ “Shining Through,” Kingsley
Amis’ “Lucky Jim,” and of course “Pride and Prejudice,” the mother of all chick
lit.

What most of these and the other novels on that shelf have in common is that
they’re smart, witty fairy tales for grown-ups. Bad things may happen to the
flawed heroine or hero of these stories, but in the end, the deserving dark
horse triumphs.

Most of Weiner’s previous novels and short stories fit this plot profile, but
what sets “Best Friends Forever” apart is its tough emotional wisdom. If there
are any doubts that a work of mere chick lit can be deeply revelatory, “Best
Friends Forever” should banish them. It goes without saying that this novel is
also very funny.

Weiner has made her literary mark by generating a roll-of-the-eyeballs attitude
toward elusive boyfriends, haughty health club staff and the countless other
walking torments that populate her heroines’ suburban landscapes.

When this novel opens, 32-year-old Addie Downs has just returned from yet
another blind date courtesy of the Internet. The loser du jour confessed over
dinner that he’d been violated by space aliens. Because Addie lives such a
solitary life - her parents are dead, she works at home making paintings to be
turned into greeting cards, and she’s currently, as she says, friend-free - she
printed out a note and taped it to her fridge before she left for the aforesaid
doomed date.

The text, in full, conveys Addie’s bruised-but-droll worldview. It reads - I
went to meet Matthew Sharp on Friday, November 23rd. If anything happened to
me, it’s probably his fault. P.S. I would like a military funeral.

Happily, Addie is not destined to remain alone that evening. Even as she’s
snuggling into post-date PJs, a knock comes at her door. It’s her old best
friend, Valerie Adler, whom Addie hasn’t seen since they were both seniors in
high school and Valerie dumped her for the cool kids. Blond, thin, gorgeous
Valerie, who’s now a TV weathergirl, has just come from their local high school
reunion, the reunion Addie resolutely avoided.

Valerie is wearing a bloodstained coat, and she thinks she may have -
accidentally on purpose - run over the loutish former class football hunk after
enticing him to take off his pants in the reunion hotel parking lot. Please
help me, the long-lost Valerie pleads. You broke my heart is the bitter
accusation that rises to Addie’s lips. But in a gesture that affirms female
solidarity over historical memory, Addie gets into Valerie’s waiting Jag and
the two ride off into an excursion back into their shared past as well as into
a present-time comical riff on “Thelma and Louise.”

Since Weiner’s narrative jumps around in terms of chronology and point of view,
the story, as it evolves, complicates a reader’s first impressions,
particularly of Addie. Sure, she’s doing okay now, but how would she have
struck even the most sympathetic of onlookers on that day, a few years ago,
when she weighed in at around 350 pounds and found herself helplessly stuck
inside a booth in the town diner?

Slowly, within the main light crime story, Weiner intersperses flashbacks to
Addie’s shy childhood, to the daily ebbs and flows of intense adolescent girl
friendship, and to the personal tragedies that, until a couple of years ago,
had turned Addie into a morbidly obese recluse, all belief in life’s
possibilities vanished. Addie is one of the most compelling nice girls popular
literature has ever produced.

And because Weiner understandably loves her own creation, she grants her the
gift of a redeeming second act in life. Addie’s story rates a second and
perhaps even a third read, too, because its unrelenting depiction of
loneliness, as well as the myriad ways people can surprise themselves and each
other deserve to be savored again and again.

DAVIES: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed “Best Friends Forever” by Jennifer Weiner.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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