The versatile 39-year-old actor is one of the favorites, along with George Clooney for "Syriana," in the best supporting actor race at the Academy Awards. Giamatti is nominated for his work in "Cinderella Man," where he plays Depression-era boxing manager Joe Gould, who risks everything on a comeback by Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe).
The acclaim comes one year after Giamatti was named best actor by several critics' organizations and the Independent Spirit Awards for his work as the lovelorn wine snob Miles in "Sideways," but failed to receive an Academy Award nomination.
It's also possible Giamatti will find himself back in the awards hunt next year as well. He's set to appear in three films so far in 2006 ("The Illusionist," "The Hawk is Dying" and "Lady in the Water") and he's currently in Toronto filming "Shoot 'Em Up" with Clive Owen.
Q: So what's the new movie about?
A: I play a kind of seedy hit man for a gun lobby. It's a great part. It's a very strange script. It's a very odd action movie.
Q: That's certainly a different kind of role from Joe Gould or Miles, or even Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor."
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
A: I would go nuts if I weren't able to do different things. I wouldn't know what to do.
Q: Is your phone ringing more often with job offers since the SAG Award and the Oscar nomination?
A: Yeah, it is very nice. [The Oscar nomination] makes a huge difference. I have no complaints. The thing I am doing right now, it's a wonderful, different kind of character. I am getting offered all different kinds of things, which is the best thing for me.
Q: Why do you think it is that character actors seem to have more longevity than leading men and women?
A: It's very interesting that whole idea of people who have to have a persona with them. It is a very hard thing in the culture to avoid people beginning to assign a persona to you. There is so much media coverage of stuff now that you begin to get pulled into some [persona] whether you want to or not. I fear a little bit losing that ability to be able to be [a character actor].
Q: "Cinderella Man" made over $60 million, but it was considered a disappointment. I thought it was a good movie.
A: It's a great movie. I am a sorry Russell didn't get nominated. I think he's awfully good in it. I think he's fantastic in it.
Q: You had great rapport together.
A: I feel a little silly without him being nominated. I am nothing in that movie without him.
Q: No, you're not!
A: Well, you know what I mean.
Q: Gould is impeccably groomed and nattily dressed. Do you work a lot on getting the look right for a character?
A: That's very important to me — all of that kind of stuff, costumes. I try to look as different as I can from thing to thing. But I don't love to wear a lot of prosthetics. With "Cinderella Man," there were pictures of [Gould] and I actually sort of took the hairstyle that he had. What was great is that you would see the guy and he had this impeccable hair that was in place all the time. You would see him running around the boxing ring and his hair would never move. I thought that it was kind of funny that he was so neat. There was a different sense of the guy's nattiness, which I thought was kind of nice.
Q: Was the real-life relationship between Gould and Braddock the same as depicted in the film?
A: It is fudged quite a bit. He wasn't actually Braddock's corner man. He was his manager and they were friends. The relationship was true, but how he managed the career was totally different.
Q: Did you and Russell rehearse or hang out a lot to hone your characters' relationship?
A: We didn't do a whole lot of rehearsals or hanging out. We kind of hit it off right off the bat; I think we didn't want to overwork anything. We fell into it at the first read-through and we didn't want to mess around with it too much.