Paul Giamatti Reflects on ‘The Holdovers’ and the Pleasure of Playing a Character “Pleased with His Own Intelligence”

“I had gone to a prep school,” Giamatti said. “I grew up around a lot of people like this. So, it was kind of like, 'Ooh, this'll be fun.' I can just pull on this deep well of all these memories."

Actor Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers

“That’s what an actor’s purpose is… make the director’s life easy,” Paul Giamatti said recently at a press conference to talk about his new film, Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers. In the film, Giamatti, who last worked with Payne on the 2004 hit, Sideways, plays Paul Hunham, a curmudgeonly New England prep school teacher who must stay on campus during Christmas break to babysit a handful of students.

Despite being friends with Payne since Sideways, the timing for The Holdovers had never been quite right until now. He explains, “We had ideas for things that never came to fruition and we tried to do this for several years running, but it just never worked out timing-wise. And then the timing seemed perfect because all these people were available.”

One aspect of Giamatti’s involvement in the film is that the character of Paul was specifically written for him. When asked about his initial reaction to the character, he gushed about his role, saying, “The character was fantastic. I mean, I would do anything he wanted me to do. But I thought the story was great, the setting was great, the characters were great. I was excited to do it.”

“I had gone to a prep school,” he continued. “I grew up around a lot of people like this. So, it was kind of like, ‘Ooh, this’ll be fun.’ I can just pull on this deep well of all these memories. I actually did think he was a lot of fun to play,” he shares. “He takes a certain delicious pleasure in coming up with the most elaborate insults he can come up with. Like it was kind of a certain sort of free song for him that he could put somebody down in such an elaborate way.  He’s pleased with his own intelligence and playing around with his own intelligence.  So that was very fun.”

Addressing the question of chemistry among the cast, Giamatti acknowledges the importance of taking the time to connect before filming. “We had a couple of weeks to sort of get to know each other. But any time is more than you usually get,” he said. “And it was this little group of the three of us. I felt like a little chamber play sometimes.”

Reflecting on the classic Christmas story elements in the film, Giamatti notes, “Underneath all of it, there’s a little bit of that classic Christmas story thing. They’re all a little bit of Scrooge, and they all gotta come to this place where something’s gonna get over or they’re gonna heal something or connect about something.”

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