The actor talks about his new film and also drops the line on The Illusionist and Rob Zombie's El Superbeasto

Where is Paul Giamatti's Oscar? He's consistently turned in the best acting performances over the last few years. He's absolutely brilliant as Cleveland Heap in Lady in the Water. Paul plays a janitor with a tragic secret, who's forced to face down his fear to help the mythical Lady in the Water. Paul continues his great work in the upcoming The Illusionist and voice-over work in the animated The Ant Bully, and Rob Zombie's El Superbeasto.

Your character in this film is very textured. The stuttering, avoiding eye contact, were all of those things in the script?

Paul Giamatti: It was my interpretation of the script. It's great. You know the guy's a doctor, but you only hear that once. You never hear it again. It becomes significant at the end of the movie. There were times Night [Shyamalan] would say to me, "Don't forget the guy is a doctor". Because I would react in a way that seemed more like a janitor. It was important to keep in mind how this guy behaved. We had this kind of back-story, that he was from U-Cal Berkeley, a slightly crunchy kind of guy with the glasses and stuff, but mostly the script is there. And he [Shyamalan] rehearses a lot. So it gives you the opportunity to get a lot of detail into it.

So the rehearsals were very helpful?

Paul Giamatti: The rehearsal time is nice. I'm fine not doing it too, but it's nice to rehearse, and he wanted to rehearse. The story had to be so clear. Night wanted to make sure that everyone was telling the story as clearly as possible because if they weren't, there was kind of no point to it. If the audience isn't following the story, then they're literally going to miss the whole point of the movie.

How did this part come to you?

Paul Giamatti: Night was very secretive about the script. I met him for lunch, and he was real cagey about the script and what it was about. He just wanted to hang out and have lunch. It was pleasant, but he was real cagey. Then he sent me the script. It was weird, but it was really good. It was really odd, in a good way.

Would you have done the movie without seeing the script?

Paul Giamatti: I would have been sold anyway. I would like to have known what was going to be going on. I'd like to know I'm not going to be naked and painted like an idiot. I would have been sold anyway, because I like his movies.

Shyamalan says you were hard to get?

Paul Giamatti: I don't recall it that way. [laughs] To him, it might have felt like five months, but I think it was about a week. I wasn't playing hard to get. I think my wife was on me about spending time with my kid. So I just didn't get around to reading it for a few days. Night is an enthusiastic guy, so I think he was like, "Come on, man. Do you want to do this, or not?" I feel bad now, knowing that I left him in suspense like that.

The story is so original. What was your reaction to the script when you read it?

Paul Giamatti: He didn't explain it to me, I had to read it. He wouldn't tell me what it was about, and I didn't ask. He said, "It's a fairy tale," that's all he said to me. It's an ambitious idea, to literally make the action of the movie the unfolding of the plot. Because all anybody does in the movie is sit around and tell each other the plot. It's a really weird thing to try to do. But he pulls it off, I think.

You're in the water more than any other character...

Paul Giamatti: Right, that's me. There were times when I had to hold my breath for a long time, definitely. That part when I have to breathe out of that glass [underwater]. It gives a surprising amount of air. I was amazed by how much air I got out it. I was like, "This is going to look ridiculous, I'm not going to be able to do this."

What was it like working with Bryce Dallas Howard? And did you talk to Ron Howard during the filming?

Paul Giamatti: He was like, "What are you doing with my daughter in this movie?" She was great. She's fantastic, and she is an incredibly open and vivid and vibrant person. She's a really good actress. There's meant to be a somewhat sexual undertone to some of it. There's a kind of attraction and it works that way, then it turns into a father/daughter thing. So that makes it a little bit interesting, but she was great.

What was it like acting opposite Shyamalan?

Paul Giamatti: I had seen him in his other movies, and I always thought he was good. I never thought about the fact he wasn't an actor or anything. He's really good, and he's totally natural. He's very hard on himself, wants to make sure that he does a good job. He's interested in it and he has a good time doing it so it actually kind of never occurred to me that he wasn't an actor.

Did your love of books and sci-fi help inform the character?

Paul Giamatti: Yes, I love science and all that stuff. It definitely gave me the opportunity to sit around and read whacky books, even though it didn't necessarily have anything to do with the movie. It felt like the right idea. There's this whole weird menacing world going on while the normal world is also going on.

You've become quite an in-demand leading man. How does that feel?

Paul Giamatti: I don't think I'd ever be comfortable taking my success for granted. Things are definitely different, but that doesn't mean they're going to stay that way. I don't trust anything. I'm too paranoid.

What can you tell us about The Illusionist?

Paul Giamatti:The Illusionist gave me the opportunity to play a different character. I got to have an accent, wear a cool hat, have a pipe, jump out of carriages, yell at people... it was great! [laughs] That was really fun, doing the period thing. You don't get to do that very much anymore. The interesting thing about The Illusionist is that at the end, it could all be in my character's head in the end. That was kind of cool.

What's this cartoon you did with Rob Zombie, El Superbeasto?

Paul Giamatti: I recorded this thing called "The Haunted World of El Superbeasto", which is basically this really dirty cartoon. It's just a lot of sex and drugs and violence... which is good! [laughs] I think we need a cartoon like that. It's like those 70's cartoons, like "Fritz the Cat". I play this guy, Dr. Satan, who is trying to take over the world and may be gay or something. I don't know. Working with Rob Zombie was great. He's a really smart guy, and the script is very funny. We had a good time doing that, it was the most fun I've had doing one of those kinds of things [voice over work].

Are you wondering, "Where's my Oscar?'

Paul Giamatti: No. No. I'm cool without it.

Lady In the Water swims to theaters July 21st and is rated 'PG-13' for some frightening sequences.

Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman