Paul Giamatti talks “John Dies at the End” and “Twelve Years a Slave”

Paul Giamatti stars in "John Dies at the End."

Most people think of Paul Giamatti’s characters as tightly-strung fussbudgets with sweaty palms. Paul Giamatti the regular guy, is quite a different story. As we meet to discuss the latest film that he both acted in and produced, Giamatti is every bit the relaxed, engaging professorly type anyone would be thrilled to grab a coffee with. But his taste in movies runs contrary to that appearance. “John Dies at the End” (“JDATE” for short) is a project he chose to produce. Based on the exploits of two young men who have a run in with a street drug dubbed “soy sauce”, the story – originally cult-favorite novel by David Wong — spans the space-time continuum and involves a monster made of meat products, aliens and a demon who calls himself S—tload. Clearly, this is not your average studio picture. We asked the award-winning actor to explain his choice of film to produce. And why it’s all for you, really.

I never realized you were a sci-fi fan.
I do like stuff like that, yeah. And I like horror stuff like that. [“John Dies At The End”] is totally like a Philip K. Dick book. I think it’s better than most of the movies they make from his books. This seems more like one of his books than a lot of the things they do. Those things shouldn’t be all glossy with movie stars in them. They take a lot of the weirdness out because they don’t want people to be weirded out by it. But what’s the point to doing it, then?

This was a tiny budget movie, but the special effects are great.
Well, [director Don Coscarelli] knows a lot of these guys — the prosthetic stuff and the monsters. He knows really good guys who do this stuff and they did a lot of it for free I think because they like him so much. And the other stuff, yeah that stuff has gotten really good, so you can pull it off and it looks fine.

Aside from a little movie called “Thunderpants” this seems to be the strangest movie you’ve ever done. Would you agree?
Have you seen “Thunderpants”? It’s worth seeing, actually. It’s kind of a great movie and it’s funny — it’s similar to this because it’s an amazing example of doing something with absolutely no money at all. I swear to God it’s worth seeing that movie … Weirdest movie I’ve ever done? I have some friends who are artists in Germany, like painters and they make weird movies. I’ve made some of those and those are weirder. They show them in galleries in Germany. They show genuine weird-ass art films. I don’t know what was going on in them, but they’re just super crazy.

What’s the difference between movies you’re interested in acting in and ones you’re interested in producing? Is there a difference?
Maybe. I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think probably weirder stuff — I don’t get as many weird scripts to act in that I would like, so maybe I do get to executive produce weirder stuff. A lot of the stuff I get to act in is much straighter.

By getting such a niche film made, it almost seems like you’re trying to do film a favor—
[Laughs] That’s what my whole career is about. I’d love to do film a favor with my presence on screen. I think of it as a big favor to the world of film.  The couple of movies that I have been a part of producing have all been things that were really weird and probably wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t given it some push, for whatever degree I can push something along.

You’re also starring in “12 Years a Slave,” which co-stars Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. Like “Django Unchained” it’s an epic film about slavery but with a very different slant, right?
The idea behind it of kind of showing slavery without any kind of — trying to actually orient yourself back in the period and not be looking at it retrospectively and depicting it as a completely normal thing, that this was just a fact of life. To try and pull that off — it will be interesting to see if he can pull that off, because I imagine it will piss people off in some ways and it’s freaky too. I mean the attitudes about it, even among the slaves, it’s interesting. I haven’t [seen ‘Django Unchained’] but it seems interesting in light of this movie. It’s a completely different-sounding kind of movie. It sounds like that movie, because of the guy who made it, there’s a certain amount of, probably a kind of distance you have on it, where the whole point with “Twelve Years a Slave” is that you don’t have any real distance on it. There’s no contemporary way of thinking about any of this between you and what’s going on.
I play a slave trader in it and we kind of developed it, to some extent, made up a lot of it when we shot it.


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