Golden Globe and Emmy winner Paul Giamatti has been dubbed "The World's Best Character Actor" by Time Magazine. His latest film is David Cronenberg's hotly anticipated Cosmopolis, which tells the tale of a Wall Street billionaire (Robert Pattinson) facing bankruptcy, class riots, and attempts on his life. I recently caught up with Paul to discuss his preparation for the role, the intrigue of urban-based dramas, and modern cinema's depiction of capitalistic excess. Then things got a bit off topic. My bad.
Steven Shehori: You play a disgruntled fellow named Benno Levin in the film. Tell me about his relationship with Robert Pattinson's character, Eric Packer.
Paul Giamatti: Technically you'd call him a stalker. Benno's got a pathological obsession with Packer for all kinds of reasons. He both loves and hates him, and is conflicted about whether he wants him dead or not. The two characters are opposites, but there's something very similar about them. They're almost the same guy; the extreme ends of the social spectrum kind of dovetail and they become the same person in a weird way.
SS: This complicated kinship feeds into the mood of the film; it's pretty dystopian.
PG: It's dystopian, definitely. It's New York, but it's New York where an apocalypse is happening to it.
SS: You're in New York right now, correct?
PG: I am. I'm in Brooklyn.
SS: Hey, maybe you can help me with something. My friend Debbie is getting married in a few days, and I'm heading out to that neck of the woods for the wedding. I've got zero idea what to get her.
PG: I'm the worst person in the world for that kind of thing. I would just go to the place they registered at and get them a soup tureen or something. I'd be like, "Fine, I'll get them the napkin rings!" I'm just lazy and I'm terrible at giving gifts. I get conflicted and I can't make up my mind unless it's really obvious what to buy.
SS: I feel like when I do the registry route, I always come in too late and all the good stuff's taken, so I'm left sifting through the dregs. Then I end up buying five or six crappy things just to try and wow them with sheer volume.
PG: Do they watch a lot of TV? Get them a bunch of DVDs of something. Or are they outdoorsy people?
SS: Naw, they're New Yorkers.
PG: Hmm... Tell me about your friend.
SS: Her name's Debbie. She's a business professional.
PG: Ah, okay. And the guy? What does he do?
SS: Um... I should know this... His name's Eduardo. So at the very least I figure he spends a lot of time just standing around being all Latin and sexy.
PG: Can you get them a trip or something they could take? A nice trip?
SS: I think you're overestimating how much Huffington pays its writers, Paul.
PG: I wasn't talking about a trip to Australia; just a nice weekend getaway. You're right though, that would start to add up, wouldn't it? I'm betraying myself by showing how I don't know anything about trip buying. I wouldn't know the first thing about getting somebody a trip somewhere -- I don't even know why I suggested it. Like I would ever do that or even think about how to do that...
SS: Yeah, I hear you, man.
PG: Hmm... Maybe get them a bike or something?
'Cosmopolis' opens Friday, August 17.
Previous Off-Topic Interviews:
Lost Creator Damon Lindelof
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney
Battlestar Galacatica's Paul Campbell
The Onion Editor Joe Randazzo