Paul Giamatti on Building His Career: “I was always willing to just go, ‘OK, sure, I’ll do that'”

Paul Giamatti in Billions

“I’ve done everything an actor can do except porn and performing in an amusement park” – Paul Giamatti

In Showtime’s Billions, Emmy Award-winner Paul Giamatti plays a ruthless U.S. Attorney on the trail of a hedge fund manager (played by Damian Lewis). It’s the type of dramatic role that Giamatti excels at — driven, angry, and towing the line between hero and villain. In an interview with Yahoo!, Giamatti talks about not being the leading man type, how he built his career, and the particulars of playing his Billions character.

Giamatti knows that he doesn’t have the looks of a leading man like Brad Pitt, so he looks up to actors who have less of a traditional look. He remarks, “Brad Pitt’s great, but I love Boris Karloff. And Ernest Borgnine! He didn’t look like Brad Pitt either, but he played cool parts. Ned Beatty: amazing actor! I did a film with him once (a 2002 effort called Thunderpants) mainly so I could work with him. I thought: ‘Maybe that’s the kind of actor I could be if I get good enough.'” He later adds, “Those guys were having a really good time, I think. I take joy in it, too. I think for a long time I wasn’t willing to admit that, because it makes me sound like a bubblehead. I wanted to sound more SERIOUS. But I have serious FUN! And I like to stay busy. I want to get better at what I do.”

In his early days as an actor after graduating from Yale, Giamatti began his career in Seattle. He remembers, “I did theater and industrial films. I did an infomercial, for reverse mortgages, I think. I’ve done everything an actor can do except porn and performing in an amusement park.” From that, his career gradually ascended. He remembers, “I think it was a lot of accidents leading to other accidents. I was always willing to just go, ‘OK, sure, I’ll do that.'”

Nonetheless, Giamatti says he doesn’t quite know what it was that got him noticed. He says, “I throw myself into things, trusting that I know what I’m doing. But I don’t really know what it is I do. Well, I do. But I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s always different.”

For example, his role as Chuck Rhoades in Billions brings its own unique challenges. He points out, “This guy is vain in a way that lots of characters I’ve played aren’t. I gotta look RIGHT for this guy! Prop-wise, style-wise, the way my beard’s shaped — it’s all carefully thought out.”

Billions airs Saturday evenings on Showtime.

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