To play the titular TV producer in “Barney’s Version,” an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel, actor Paul Giamatti made a point of avoiding the source material. “When I’ve done research stuff, I find that I can get very clogged up by it sometimes. I think I’ve always stupidly assumed that the same thing would happen with a novel,” he says. “But maybe not. Maybe it would actually be better if I read the novel.” In this case, the novel is about an obnoxious alcoholic who falls for another woman at his own wedding. Fittingly, Giamatti talked to us about playing obnoxious guys — and what he’s doing in the second “Hangover” movie.
‘Barney’s Version’ covers more than 30 years of your character’s life. How do you approach playing that many different ages?
When I was younger, in drama school, I always played the old men in things. I find the whole thing interesting with old people, everything about it. To go backward, to age down, is harder to do, especially when it’s a guy like me who’s got no hair and things like that. Going forward for me, for some reason, is easier. To decay and fall apart seems like an easier line to follow. The makeup helped a lot, because all you need to do is look in mirror and go, “Oh, right. I’m that age now.” It sounds really stupid and simplistic, but actually it really is helpful.
What did you latch onto with the character?
It was his aggressive self-indulgence — or somewhat romantic self-indulgence. I wish I was a more self-indulgent person. I mean, I suppose I am probably a pretty f—ing self-indulgent person, but I’d like to think I’m not. There was something really vital and aggressive about the guy — not necessarily violent, just this kind of motor running all the time.
Barney is very aggressive, but he only raises his voice a couple of times in the movie.
I’m glad you noticed that, because I tend to yell a lot as an actor. And I actually watched the movie and I was like: ‘Wow, I think I only yell once in this,’”?Giamatti says. “I thought, wow, I did a better job acting here than I thought I did, because you are taken aback by [the shouting] when it happens.
You also recently filmed ‘The Hangover 2’ in Bangkok. Who do you play in that?
You know, there’s a lot of these people. … [pause] I play a kind of bad guy, sort of.
Anything like Ken Jeong in the first one?
A little bit like him, yes. In fact, I have something to do — I’m connected to him in a way. I think they don’t want too many plot points revealed, but I have something that involves Ken Jeong’s character.