Recently, the Guardian’s David Thompson described acclaimed actor Paul Giamatti as seeming “much older, darker and sadder” than his age of 43 would suggest. While the article in question isn’t explicitly negative, I felt that Giamatti perhaps deserved a little more credit for sustaining what has so far been a thoroughly absorbing career.
After distinguishing himself in academia, eventually culminating in a Masters degree in Fine Arts from Yale, he got his big break in the film adaptation of Howard Stern’s Private Parts. However, it took until 2004 for him to reach the level of prominence he has plateaued at now. The role that achieved this came in Alexander Payne’s hit comedy, Sideways, in which he played Miles, a failed writer and wine snob extraordinaire. Post-Sideways, Giamatti has taken numerous leads in non-mainstream films, and has received universal praise for his performances. He has followed a trend of interjecting his work in independent cinema with smaller roles in bigger, more middle of the road films: he had small parts in Saving Private Ryan and Shoot ‘Em Up, and has also had several successful supporting roles in The Illusionist, Paycheck and most famously Cinderella Man, for which he received an Oscar nomination.
While Sideways, along with the recently released Barney’s Version (for which he scooped his first Golden Globe), may be his most prolific work in cinema, arguably his biggest role to date has come on television. Giamatti took the lead in the HBO 2008 mini-series John Adams. Directed by Tom Hooper, recently of The King’s Speech fame, the programme recounted the tale of the American War of Independence, and subsequently the first fifty years of the United States. The show was a resounding critical success and even though the supporting cast was a remarkably strong one, it was Giamatti who stood out the most in the role of Adams himself, earning many plaudits for his performance.
Paul Giamatti’s ability to lift everything he stars in makes him an extremely valuable commodity for filmmakers, and off camera he comes across as a genuinely nice guy. Just don’t order him any Fucking Merlot.