Paul Giamatti has worked for such acclaimed directors as Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”) Ron Howard, Tim Burton (“Planet of the Apes”) and Alexander Payne (“Sideways”). But for his latest film he signed on with journeyman filmmaker Michael Davis for a plum part. In “Shoot `Em Up,” Giamatti pursues Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci as they try to shelter a newborn baby from his army of assassins.
In a recent phone interview, he explained the irresistible appeal of appearing in a whacked-out action movie as a sadistic killer who’s continually hassled by interrupting phone calls from his wife.
Shoot 'Em Up
Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie
(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 7 Sep 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (General release); 2007)
Tell me why you took this role. What interested you about it?
I enjoy action movies, I’m a fan of them and I’ve always wanted to do one. It was a very odd script, kind of unapologetically trashy, which I liked. And they said “Clive Owen’s going to do this,” which made me look at it a little bit more closely. I thought Clive would be fun to work with.
How did you determine that this crazy movie wouldn’t turn out to be schlock?
I don’t think I’d be all that annoyed if it turned out to be schlock. I have a certain appreciation for schlock. I’ve never been too worried about whether I’m going to be taken terribly seriously or not.
Your work in some films is so subtle and this here you’re so pyrotechnical and show-offy. What style of acting is the most satisfying?
Either thing. Whatever it demands is what’s going to be making me happy in the moment. I will tailor what I do, I guess, to the demands of whatever genre it’s in. It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be all that subtle in this. There wasn’t supposed to be a whole lot of shades of gray in this guy.
Michael Davis said that you patterned your mad killer after a famous political character on the current scene.
Indeed. That would be Karl Rove. I remember thinking what would be interesting was to make him the most unimpressive-looking guy who happens to be incredibly powerful and that was who came to my mind. But I wasn’t trying to do an imitation of him. The phone conversations, too, came out of that idea of a blandly presentable guy who’s blowing people’s heads off while he’s on the phone. I don’t know if you can really see it in the movie, but I formed a fantastic comb-over. The makeup woman shaved the top of my head and I have a real comb-over going.
There’s a naughty line in the script that directly refers to your best-known film, “Sideways.” How did that come into the film?
Michael suggested it and in actual fact I didn’t get it until about a week later. And I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll say that.” Then later I said, “Oh, I see why he wanted me to say that.” I didn’t get it but I’m glad other people do.
In your next film, “Fred Claus,” you play Santa. You seem to be an actor who’s very interested in not repeating himself.
I would love to not ever have to repeat myself. When I acted on the stage I never played the same kinds of roles. It’s harder in movies to get away from certain things but I’ve gotten the opportunity to and I’ve been very happy to.
This is an unusually physical role for you. What was the most demanding sequence to shoot?
Clive really did most of the hard stuff. I kind of stand there and shoot. It was tricky wrangling that big, huge pistol. A pain in the neck, that thing. The barrel’s got to be a foot and a half long. It was difficult to run around with that thing and whip it out in an impressive way. But the scene where we’re charging up the stairs, shooting at him, we did about 17 times. And that actually was a bit of a pain in the (rear).
The confrontation scenes are so preposterously intense. Did you and Owen have a tough time not cracking up?
We cracked up through the whole thing. The scene where I was breaking his fingers, we couldn’t stop laughing. Because there’s these ridiculous prosthetic hands that I was breaking. It was very funny to do.
The character you play is not only a mad sadist, he’s a necrophiliac and a henpecked husband. So I have to ask: is it autobiographical?
I would say the henpecked part is not true.
Unless I’ve missed something, I think this film’s shot of you copping a feel off a woman’s corpse is the closest you’ve come to doing a love scene.
Actually I think it probably is. I’ve done a couple of movies that haven’t come out where I get to do a proper love scene, but that’s indeed probably the tenderest love scene I’ve had. No question about it.
When you make a film that is unapologetically violent, is there any kind of ethical consideration to that decision?
Unfortunately for me, no. Maybe I should be more circumspect about things like but I happen to have an appreciation for things like this. I would probably sing a different tune if somebody goes out and kills a bunch of people because of this movie, but I would hope that doesn’t happen. Perhaps I should be more ethically minded, but unfortunately I like this sort of thing.