Paul Giamatti: “Occasionally it’s fun to play somebody nice”

Paul Giamatti The Phenom

“I always played unpleasant people. Or weirdos. I’m not complaining. They’re good parts.” – Paul Giamatti

Rarely is Paul Giamatti cast in the lead role of a movie, but no matter the size of the role he’s usually the best part of the movie. It’s arguable that his role in The Phenom, a film written and directed by Noah Buschel, is one of those movies. In it, Giamatti portrays a therapist who works with athletes who have — for one reason or another — have fallen off their game. In an interview with the New York Times, Giamatti spoke about why playing a nicer character in The Phenom was a refreshing change from the usual villains he is asked to portray.

Giamatti, whose father was briefly the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, was interested in the role in The Phenom because of his long-time interest in quirky baseball players. He explains, “I was fascinated by the story of Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankees second baseman, when he had trouble throwing the ball to first base. As a kid, I loved Mark Fidrych. He was an amazing pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, but he blew himself out after only one season. He had a very tragic life and death after that. I’ve always been interested in this disconnect between the mind and body.”

Though playing a therapist is in Giamatti’s wheelhouse — he received acclaim for his portrayal of Eugene Landry, Brian Wilson’s irascible therapist, in Love and Mercy — he much preferred playing this therapist, explaining, “Even though this guy has his own problems, he’s definitely nicer. One of the things I liked about doing this movie was that I was playing a fairly nice person, which I don’t get to do a lot.”

When the interviewer suggests that Giamatti’s tendency to be cast in unlikable roles stems from his memorable role as the meddling manager “Pig Vomit” in Private Parts, Giamatti points out that it’s certainly part of the reason. He says, “Yes, but even before that, I always played unpleasant people. Or weirdos. I’m not complaining. They’re good parts. But occasionally it’s fun to play somebody nice.”

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