Giamatti gets his big break

Actor finds "Splendor" in his new film

Paul Giamatti sat eating grapes, inadvertently dropping half of them on his hotel room floor at the St. Regis in Washington, D.C. He intermittently drank from a bottle of water, which he habitually held over his mouth while speaking. After a day of interviews he appeared somewhat disheveled. Though he remained rather monotone during his discussion of his starring role in the new film "American Splendor," he concluded excitedly, recounting his brush with death during the filming of Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes."

"They didn't give me the well-trained horse," he explained. "They gave Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Wahlberg the well-trained horses; they gave me the crazy horse. And then they had me mounting it from the wrong side. And then they had the stirrups really high so I couldn't get my feet in there. So I jump on the back of this horse, and it, you know, went crazy. It started spinning around."

Such action was noticeably absent in "American Splendor," which was released in the United States on August 15 and is anything but a big-budget, stunt-driven film. The film, which is essentially another Hollywood comic book adaptation, details the rather monotonous life of comic book writer Harvey Pekar. The major difference between this and other comic book movies, like "The Hulk" or "Daredevil," is the absence of action.

Instead, "American Splendor" is about a boring man who writes a comic book about how uninteresting and depressing he finds life, which is bound to appeal to many audiences. Giamatti recognizes the potential mass appeal of the film, but also was not expecting people to respond as well as they have.

"It's weird that people liked the movie so much because you just watch this guy grouch for two hours," Giamatti explained. "But I can relate to that. I think everyone can relate to that."

Giamatti did note that the character he plays onscreen is more like the comic book version of Harvey than the actual person.

"It's a character, it's always a character," Giamatti said. "In this instance he's already created a character so I guess I am more like [Harvey] is in the [comic] books."

Giamatti also detailed the sensitivity involved in portraying a real person, and in his case, playing a real person who constantly watched filming on the set and narrated the film.

"It's a weird thing, you know," Giamatti said. "It's a delicate thing. You don't want to intrude on anyone's personal life."

But ultimately Harvey's presence on the set turned out to be beneficial and Giamatti had very little trouble dealing with the pressure of acting like him.

"Once I realized that he was just having a good time and that he was happy to be there, it was okay," Giamatti noted. "He's definitely an odd person when you meet him. You feel like he's glaring at you or something. But that's kind of just the way he seems to come off at first. He's actually a very nice guy."

Giamatti was not the only actor in the film playing a real person; actress Hope Davis expertly portrays Harvey's wife, Joyce, with whom Harvey has a very interesting relationship.

"She was really good," Giamatti said of Davis. "She captured the character. She was smart about the way we played the romance. They love each other, it's just in a different way. I think their attitude was 'I need to be with somebody and you're better than nothing.' Literally, Hope said that Joyce said that to her when they met. I liked what he was selling, he liked what I was selling. That's kind of where they are about it."

"American Splendor" is certainly nothing like "Planet of the Apes" and there really is no comparing the two, but when asked what kind of movie he prefers to make, Giamatti instantly went with the former.

"This kind of movie is nicer just because it tended to be a little more relaxing," he explained. "I like this movie a lot. I just feel like it's the one movie I've been in where they knew what they wanted to do and they did it. They pulled it off. They didn't compromise on it. It turned out at least as good as, if not better than, they wanted."

"American Splendor" is currently in theaters.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle