DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

When Paul Giamatti first starting acting, he was probably best known as the son of the late Yale professor and baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti, but this character actor with regular-guy looks has turned in so many memorable performances in supporting roles that he's now become a leading man.

He played Howard Stern's obnoxious boss in the film "Private Parts" and had roles in "Saving Private Ryan," "The Truman Show" and "Man on the Moon." He landed a leading role as the underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor" and won critical as the depressed wine snob Miles in the film "Sideways." And last year, he starred with Laura Linney in the seven-part HBO series, "John Adams."

Giamatti's new film is an absurdist comedy, based on the idea that a high-tech company in New York has developed a way to extract and store the souls of people who feel burdened by them and want to relieve anxiety. Giamatti plays an actor named Paul Giamatti who's rehearsing for the Chekhov play "Uncle Vanya" and is struggling with the role. He decides to consider soul extraction, and in this scene, he sits down with the scientist running the program, played by David Strathairn.

(Soundbite of film, "Cold Souls")

Mr. DAVID STRATHAIRN (Actor): (As Dr. Flintstein) People come here, well, and they all want to know if the soul is immortal and how it functions, and we haven't a clue, no clue. We only offer the possibility de-soul the body or disembody the soul. You can see it either way. You can also take a look on the inside, before we start.

Mr. PAUL GIAMATTI (Actor): (As Paul Giamatti) Look on the inside. I'm - oh, no, I don't want to look in the inside.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) It's entirely up to you.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) Your soul will be stored here, or if you'd rather avoid sales tax, it can be shipped to our New Jersey warehouse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No, God, no. I don't want my soul shipped to New Jersey, no.

Mr. STRATHAIRN: (As Flintstein) No, I understand. What exactly is bothering you?

DAVIES: Well, Paul Giamatti, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, this film, "Cold Souls," if I have this right, is in part the work of your own production company. So this is not just an acting role. I assume that you were involved in this project early on. Tell us when you first heard about this idea, extracting your soul, and what appealed to you.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, I met the director, Sophie Barthes, at the Nantucket Film Festival, and she had just won an award for this screenplay. She had - the idea came from a dream she had, in which Woody Allen discovered that his soul had been extracted and was, in fact, a legume and not anything very impressive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: So what appealed to me right off the bat was the concept of it. This idea of soul removal was very amusing to me, and I was very taken with the whole kind of affectionate treatment of something of a sort of stereotype of the Russian soul in it, and the Russianness and the Eastern European sensibility that pervaded the whole thing.

The fact that she'd written it for me was very flattering, but it was the story, and it was her that appealed to me.

DAVIES: Well, one of the things - without giving too much of the story away -in this film, you as this actor, decide you're going to agree to have your soul extracted by this company that can do it so that you are unburdened, and then you, as an actor, in playing the part, has to portray someone who is soulless. How did you approach that?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, I think part of the idea was, at least as the director conceived of it, was, you know, the guy is very - the character is very self-involved in the first place. He's become very wrapped up in his own agony and angst, and he thinks yes, that this is going to help him. And what does happen, is that he becomes more self-involved.

There seems to be some way in which, you know, the soul functions as a superego, as a kind of regulating device or something. So he becomes wildly overconfident about the idiotic choices that he's making to play this part.

So you know, it was fun, and a lot of the soullessness, then, is obviously enacted in this sort of playing out of "Uncle Vanya." And you know, I just had to think of what's the most wrong-headed way to play Uncle Vanya, and that was to do it sort of like it's a musical or a soap opera or something, that seemed to me - but to be able to be so ridiculously, fully confident about it was really fun.

So she had some idea that in some way, you know, it takes away, I don't know, that there's some notion that doubt and self-doubt and angst are necessary, maybe, to making the correct choices, to being empathetic in some way and making the right emotional choices.

DAVIES: Well, you know, I have to say one of the fun things about watching this and your performance, is that, you know, as the movie progresses, we see different moments where you're trying to rehearse for this play, "Uncle Vanya." And there's a part where you're just struggling with it initially, and then you have no soul, and you're just awful. And then you eventually, of course, get a transplanted soul of a Russian poet and are great.

Mr. GIAMATTI: I guess great. Thanks. Thanks for saying that. I think I'm better than bad, but still, yes.

DAVIES: Well, it's - you can certainly see the difference, and I was thinking about how tricky it must be. I mean, it's probably easy for an actor to play a bad actor, but the first one, where you're not bad but just not quite getting it, I wonder if that took some effort.

Mr. GIAMATTI: That did take some more effort, yeah. There's a sort of intermediary stage where he's - yeah, he's sort of lost his balance, and he doesn't quite know what - that was a little bit more tricky to figure out because then it's, yeah, it's not the full-blown-bad thing. That was a little bit trickier, the intermediary stage, but as I say, the full-blown-bad thing is fun to do, and once I sort of hooked into the idea, as I say, of a sort of musical or soap opera, it was - you could really just run with it and have a good time.

DAVIES: Let's listen to just a little bit of Paul Giamatti in the film, his new film, "Cold Souls." Here's some of your performance after you've lost your soul and are pretty bad.

(Soundbite of film, "Cold Souls")

(Soundbite of play, "Uncle Vanya")

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) (As Uncle Vanya) My life is gone. I have talent, intelligence, boldness. I could have been a Schopenhauer, a Dostoyevsky. I'm losing it. Mother, Mother, I'm desperate. Mother, Mother.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Let's go again. Is Schopenhauer getting in your way or something?

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) No, no, no, no, no, no. Schopenhauer, Schopenhauer's fine with me, Schopenhauer.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Paul) Schopenhauer, Schopenhauer.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Paul Giamatti, in the film, his new film, "Cold Souls." You know, the soul is pretty serious stuff, and there are parts, there are elements of the story here which, you know, which have some tragedy and some dark and moody moments, and yet it's funny in ways. I mean, talk a little bit about finding the comedy in something like this.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Well, you know, at the risk of sounding really pretentious, you know, it's a Chekhov play we're working on in the movie, and I think she was looking for a kind of Chekhovian tone. You know, those plays are - he called them comedies, and they're funny, even though what's going on is awfully sort of tragic, and part of what's funny about them is the extremity of it.

I mean, Vanya's so depressive that it's funny. It becomes absurd and he whips out a gun and tries to shoot the guy, but he can't shoot straight. He's never held a gun in his life. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing with it, but he's reached such a ridiculously extreme emotional point that - so I think some of the tone was somewhere, in there, was borrowed from that kind of thing.

Yeah, I mean, and it demands a lot of an audience. There are tonal shifts, but I think they're consistent. She did a good job, I think, of keeping it consistent.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Paul Giamatti. He is starring in the new film, "Cold Souls."

Well, last year you had this big project, the HBO seven-part series "John Adams," in which you played John Adams and got a lot of critical acclaim for this. And it was interesting, Tom Hooper was talking about casting you, and he described Adams as somebody who's irascible, somebody with anger-management problems. And he says Giamatti fit in the sense that he has his idea of Adams, an anti-hero, to explore the flaws of the man in addition to his greatness, and that you, Paul Giamatti, were great at creating portraits of men struggling with demons. And you knew that if you'd cast Paul Giamatti, you'd get a fresh look at the revolution. All that makes sense to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, I hope - I think that was the idea. I was interested - you know, they sent me that script, it was like a phone book. It was just this enormous thing. And I really didn't know much about Adams, and I thought this guy seemed like a nightmare.

He just seemed like a hug pain in the neck, and I said to them yeah, I'm very interested in doing this. I think it's very interesting that you've picked a guy who's a real pain in ass to be the central character in this, and I'd like to really preserve that.

I wanted to be sure that I actually - I was very actively interested in making it hard for the audience to like him, and I thought this will be interesting because our conception of these guys is so - we've made such heroes out of them and such sort of marble busts on them. They're on the money, you know. And I thought we all love what these guys did, and I'd like to make it tricky for people. I'd like to have a little tension and anxiety induced in people by saying, but he's a nightmare. He's a pain in the ass but he did these great things. And so I was definitely interested in that, and hopefully that comes across.

DAVIES: All right. Let's get a little taste of this character. This is a moment where you, as John Adams, the struggle between England the colonies has come to the point where it's time to consider declaring independence, and you are explaining to Thomas Jefferson - played here by Stephen Dillane - why you want him to write the Declaration of Independence.

(Soundbite of television program, "John Adams")

Mr. STEPHEN DILLANE (Actor): (As Thomas Jefferson) But we must first achieve this long-hoped-for separation, and to that end, we must have a declaration of principles.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) Should you not write this thing yourself?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) No, no, no, no. I do not have time. No, I head the Board of War and Ordinance, as well as serving on 22 other committees. And the outcome of this great question is far from certain, so my energies must be spend leading the debate on the floor.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) And why me?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) Reasons enough, sir.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) What can possibly be your reasons?

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) First, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian should be at the head of this business, as it's the most powerful state. Second, I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular, and you are very much otherwise. Third, and perhaps most important, I have read your summary view of the rights of British America, and I have a great opinion of the elegance of your pen and none at all of my own.

Mr. GIAMATTI: (As Adams) You are too modest, sir.

Mr. DILLANE: (As Jefferson) Well, you are the first to find me so, sir. No, I am not, by nature, a humble man, but circumstances sometimes require a change of habits.

DAVIES: And that's our guest Paul Giamatti with Stephen Dillane in the series "John Adams." You know, you were quoted in a recent piece in the New Yorker as saying that you seemed to get roles of playing characters who are in a constant state of agitation. But you also play a lot of guys who have issues of, you know, self-confidence and self-doubt. And Adams, although he may have his neuroses, is not like this. This is a guy who desires and understands how to wield power. Was that kind of a different turn for you?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, that was interesting, and yeah, I think he broke through a lot of neuroses to get to that place. But certainly, in terms of kind of conducting the revolution and doing all of that stuff, yeah, he was a pit bull, and he was, he was deeply self-confident. And yeah, that was fun to do. And again, there's something contradictory in that because he was neurotic, as well. So it was a nice sort of contradictory thing to do and to also be able to play that self-confidence, so lots of facets to the guy, you know.

DAVIES: This was, I understand, a pretty grueling effort. I mean, you were in every scene of this, and it was a seven-part series. And you went - you know, you underwent this physical transformation of, you know, all the costume and the wigs, and I don't know. Was there some denture thing that you had to wear?

Mr. GIAMATTI: They painted my teeth brown, yeah, because everybody - he had no teeth, basically, by the time he was, I think, 35. Nobody had teeth. Very few people had teeth, so - and I thought, I can't go with the whole crazy denture thing with, like, two jagged, snarly teeth. I thought, you know, painting them will be enough. So we painted my teeth.

DAVIES: Well, talk just a little bit about kind of the physical trappings, and does it make it harder or easier to find and hold a character when you're wearing all that stuff?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Oh, well, it's - yeah, it was tricky. It would have been nice to have had some time to kind of have gradual stages of - you know, when I first got there, I had worn some of this stuff, but I'd sort of worn the makeup at one time, and then I'd been fitted for the costume at a different time, and then I'd seen all the props I was going to have. And when I first got there, they loaded it all on me, and it did - it was a funny balancing act. It felt like a kind of, you know, rubbing your stomach and tapping your head and whistling "Dixie" kind of thing all at the same time, but I eventually got it.

I like things like that. I like period things. The costumes give you a huge amount, and I like having an accent to work on and things like that. Those things make me feel comfortable. Yeah, coordinating all of them can be tricky, especially if you're, you know, if you have limited time it can be tricky.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Paul Giamatti. His new film is "Cold Souls." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Paul Giamatti. He starred in "Sideways" and the HBO series "John Adams." His new film is "Cold Souls."

When you're shooting, do you watch TV and movies and other stuff, or are you one of those who likes to kind of wall yourself off and stay on focus?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I tend to want to wall myself off. If I'm going to watch something, I'd like it to be something that feels like it's the right mood, you know, and not necessarily, you know, on the nose, but I'll read and watch things that will keep me sort of in the right area.

You know, I did this movie, "Cinderella Man." It's a boxing movie set in the '30s, and I did some boxing research, and I hung around with boxers, and that was good. But I did a lot of, you know, I read - I was reading stuff from the period, and I was watching all different kinds of movies from the period and that - sometimes just to help me keep me in the mood because I like to watch movies. I don't think I could wall myself off entirely, but if I can find something that's in the right mood, I'll try to stay there.

DAVIES: When you were shooting "John Adams," were you a Revolutionary War character's mentality, for what was it, eight months?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, well, that was - I mean, I did do a lot of reading about that, and there was lots to read. At a certain point, I had to stop because it was information overload, and I had to just be able to get on with the part. And I kept reading the letters throughout it, just to kind of keep me in the right mood. But my presence was so constant in that thing that I, by default, I had no - I was just locked in the revolutionary thing all the time because I was always in that damn costume and always on the set, and always - I never shut up. And so it was full immersion whether I wanted it or not, you know.

DAVIES: You know, what makes the series interesting, of course, is - I mean, I think the stuff about the revolution and the battle with the British is, of course, fascinating - but there's also this, you know, deep and complex relationship, you know, with your wife, who's so ably played by Laura Linney. And there was a moment in the film where you, as John Adams, you've been in Paris for a long time, for many, many months, and she comes over, and there's - their relationship has been strained by Adams' long absence and his little correspondence with his wife. But they get together and find themselves in a moment of passion. So it was sort of this interesting portrayal of an 18th-century relationship and 18th-century sex. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that scene.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, that was really nice. It's also kind of middle-aged, 18th-century sex. I mean, it's kind of older people, and they've been separated. Yeah, you know, originally that scene, we were supposed to walk in, and it didn't go really beyond us just kind of kissing, and Laura and I talked beforehand about it and said why don't we just kind of keep going, and hopefully they'll keep going. And so we did. And we didn't know what we were going to do, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: I had sort of talked to one of the - they had sort of historical consultants around, and a lot of those people did have sex with all their clothes on. They didn't remove - I think the French were the people who took all their clothes off, for the most part, but I don't know that Americans did at the time - at least this one person said to me.

So I had that in my back pocket, and I went yeah, we can - we'll keep our clothes on. The toughest thing was what do you do with the wig? What is - how do you sort of - what's the deal with the wig? And we thought, well, maybe that's a kind of - Laura said maybe, you know, the bald head is a sort of erotic thing for the woman. So she does this kind of wonderful slipping of the wig off and rubbing my bald head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, I don't know, we imagined a lot of it. I mean, we kind of made it up. But we really kind of just went for it without telling them we were going to do in the first take of it, and we just kept going. And the scene went on a lot longer. Thankfully, they cut it way down - although it makes me look like I don't have staying power, which bothered me - but it was a much longer scene, and we just kind of went for it, and I don't know what audiences made of it.

I think some people were a little taken aback at seeing these great Americans having sex, as if they never did, and then these people really did. I mean, they wrote - in their letters they talked about their sex life, and she - they were very sexual people with each other. I think. It certainly seems like it in their letters. So we just thought we would go for it. I figured, you know, why not?

DAVIES: Well, it's a scene that stuck with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Did it give you nightmares? Or was it was a good thing?

DAVIES: It just made me wonder: Is that what it was like back then?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I wonder. I don't know, you know. I mean, the women didn't wear underwear, which was interesting, but they didn't take much of their other clothing off, and so, you know, it had some fascinating things to it.

DAVIES: And not to belabor this, but the director and the crew did not know that you and Laura were going to go beyond the kissing.

Mr. GIAMATTI: No, no, but they just kept filming, which was what was great about them. They were a crack crew, and I knew that the director would probably enjoy this, watching us go at it, just because, you know, he had an eye towards taking things in a different direction and not being so reverent. And so we had a feeling he would probably be all for it if we kept going, and so we did. And then, eventually, you know, they decided to then actually work it into the scene, and it became the scene, and then they shot it appropriately.

DAVIES: Paul Giamatti's new film is "Cold Souls." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.

Back with actor Paul Giamatti, who's starring in the new film "Cold Souls." He's also appeared in "Private Parts," "American Splendor," and "Sideways," and he starred in the HBO series "John Adams."

We can't talk about you career without talking about "Sideways," directed by Alexander Payne. And let's hear a little bit of your - a clip here. This - your character, Miles, who is a struggling writer and schoolteacher and depressed wine buff, here he is in a conversation with a romantic interest who's played by Virginia Madsen. She begins by asking him a question.

Ms. VIRGINIA MADSEN (Actor): (as Maya) Can I ask you a personal question, Miles?

Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Miles) Sure.

Ms. MADSEN: (as Maya) Why are you so into Pinot?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MADSEN: (as Maya) I mean it's like a thing with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Miles) I don't know. I don't know. It's a hard grape to grow. As you know, right? It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention, you know, and in fact it can only grow in these really specific little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.

DAVIES: Tell us about this character, Miles, that you play.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Oh, it was a hard part. It was a very, I found it one of the more difficult parts I've ever played and maybe to some extent because I hadn't really had such a sort of full-blown central character to play in something. I mean I'd done some other large parts, but this was really, you know - again, I'm in every scene of that movie and it was a lot to take on. And yeah, he's an interesting guy.

Again, you know, here's a guy that's hard for the audience to swallow. You know, he's a very prickly, difficult guy. He's a bit of a loser. You know, I, I - he's the only character I played that I think of as a bit of actually a loser. I mean he's so self-sabotaging and so unable to connect in any sensible way with people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: He does with Virginia's character eventually, which gives him, she gives him and the audience some hope for him. But you know, the in for this character was the wine stuff, was his interest in the wine. That was the key to the guy. And as much as it's a kind of pompous thing and it's played as a bit of a sort of pompous thing, there's a genuine, genuine refined sensibility in the guy behind it all, which is what I think attracts her to him. So underneath it there's something very, very refined about the guy, and you kind of hope he's going to go the right way and follow that part of his character and not the awful parts.

DAVIES: Did you hang out with wine buffs to get that, the feel for...

Mr. GIAMATTI: I did a bit. Yeah. No, I did, and not really to, I mean all the wine stuff I had to say in the movie was in the script. I was more interested in the sort of behavioral stuff. You know, the way you rotate the glass and tilt it and look at things, and it's all this highly codified - it's like, you know, this Japanese tea ceremony kind of thing, you know? It's wonderful, the, and the personality that loves it is a personality that loves all that kind of minutia and detail and paraphernalia and all that kind of stuff, so - and there's a lot of wonderful stuff in there.

DAVIES: Well, you had played a lead before, but this was a romantic lead. Was that a difference that mattered?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah. Oh, sure. Yeah. And I liked the fact that it was very adult. You know, it wasn't - you know, I'm not, I'm not the typical leading man guy and - but that was never used as a gag in the movie. It was never used as, you know, it was just presented as this happens to be this guy and this woman just finds him attractive for whatever reason. There wasn't any sort of thing about it. It was very, it was adult, and I liked that about it.

DAVIES: Well, I want to play another clip from a film of yours that I really liked, one that's not so well-known. And rather than set it up, I want to just play it and then we can talk about it. This is one of my favorite Paul Giamatti film moments.

(Soundbite of movie, "Duets")

Mr. ANDRE BRAUGHER (Actor) and Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Reggie Kane and Todd Woods) (Singing) Oh, she maybe weary. And young girls they do get weary. Wearin' that same ol' shaggy dress. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when she gets a-weary. She gets weary. Try a little tenderness. Tenderness…

DAVIES: And that is Paul Giamatti with another actor, Andre Braugher, in the film "Duets." Tell the audience about this film.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: This is a movie I also - I have a lot of affection for this movie too. It was directed by Bruce Paltrow, who's Gwyneth Paltrow's father, and it was a very funny kind of, you know, there's a very kind of '70s feel to this movie and I got it, and it's dark and odd and strange, and I don't know if it's a great movie but I really like it. And in it I play a kind of mid-level salesman type who's burnt out from traveling and he becomes obsessed with karaoke while he's on the road and he leaves his family to kind of pursue, pursue karaoke. And yeah, so it's a culty movie. There's people who really love this movie, which is nice.

DAVIES: Yeah. I thought it really worked and it's got this great cast, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Bello, and Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News...

Mr. GIAMATTI: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...who plays a karaoke hustler who goes into bars and pretends not to know anything and then gets the prize money. And you know, that song that you sing with Andre Braugher, "Try A Little Tenderness," I mean it really gets good. You - it sounds like you know what you're doing. Have you sung...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Have you done some singing in your life?

Mr. GIAMATTI: No. I really hadn't. I remember when I went in to audition for that movie and they said that's great and the part is yours and that's wonderful. And then a little while later they came to me and said, by the way, do you sing? And I said no, no. And I was assuming they would have somebody else sing the part. And - because I hadn't ever really sung and I still don't consider myself a singer.

But I'd never done musical theater or anything like that, and I think I was - I went to sort of hang out with Andre while he practiced the song and they had the guy there who was going to sing my part, and he said, you know, it would be so much better if you don't lip sync this. Why don't you just try it?

So I sang it and they were all like, hey, that's not bad. And so I ended up singing and I loved doing it. I absolutely loved doing it, which was great because that's what happens to the character in the movie. He doesn't know he can sing and he starts to sing and he loves it. And so it really all kind of fit together nicely for the character.

DAVIES: All right. Well, if the audience wants a Paul Giamatti weekend, this is a must-see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: Wow, that's a dark weekend.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: I don't know about that.

DAVIES: I read in an interview that you described yourself as a messy actor. Do you recall that? Do you know what you meant?

Mr. GIAMATTI: I don't recall when I said it but I can imagine I did say it. Yeah. I suppose, you know, discipline, I'm not the most disciplined person in my life in general, and probably one of the places where I was the most disciplined or am the most disciplined was in acting, and it may be one of the things I liked about it. It's sort of I could, I focused and could focus and found things to focus on.

But yeah, I'm, I, I'm all for messiness and things. I mean it's not the greatest virtue but I'm - I like things being a little ragged at the edges sometimes. Maybe it's just an excuse for crappy acting. I don't know but I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GIAMATTI: ...but I like it in other sort of works of art too. You know, it's funny how literature is all about the kind of clean lines now and so few people write big, baggy, loose, crazy books. I mean Thomas Pynchon's got a book coming out, and I always look forward to his because they're kind of a mess, you know, and there's something I really like about that and it's - I think that for a long time cleanliness of line wasn't necessarily the object in art. Not always. Not all forms of art, and I don't know. I like things being a little loose and baggy sometimes and not so on the nose all the time.

DAVIES: You know, you've had a lot of great supporting roles, and I read in 2004 that you said I think I have the mentality of a supporting actor. I don't have the chemistry of a leading actor. In some ways I find the supporting thing harder, actually. Is that still true?

Mr. GIAMATTI: Yeah, I suppose. I mean, you know, it's a bit of an adjustment to have to play. I mean there's sort of - there are things that come with playing the lead that don't have anything to do with acting, you know, you're required to be a bit more of a cheerleader or the team leader guy, and that took a bit of an adjustment for me.

But I also think maybe part of what I meant by that and still feel is true is -I think, you know, it's like being a sprinter or a distance runner or something. You know, there's kind of chemistry that I think you have, and I think I maybe work better sometimes or felt more comfortable working in a smaller space and having to kind of paint in more vivid colors in a smaller space suited me, my brain chemistry more.

It's, you know, the larger canvass is its own tricky thing to try to master, so I think maybe I was just disposed to being more confined in a funny way. It is harder because you're given a lot less opportunity. You know, you've got to get in and get out, and you know, you don't get as many takes and thing like that.

But again, I think something about that suited me more, the kind of, this kind of burst of energy and that laying back. You've got to be ready for the long haul in the lead and that's its own tough thing.

DAVIES: Well, Paul Giamatti, it's been fun. Thanks so much.

Mr. GIAMATTI: Thank you.

DAVIES: Paul Giamatti stars in the new film, "Cold Souls." Let's bring him back singing with Andre Braugher to finish off that performance in the film "Duets."

(Soundbite of movie, "Duets")

Mr. BRAUGHER and Mr. GIAMATTI: (as Reggie Kane and Todd Woods) (Singing) Yay-eh-eah. But it's all so easy. All so easy. All you gotta do is, try a little tenderness. Try a little tenderness. Yeah-eah, wo, yeah, heah, yeah. You got to squeeze her. Don't tease her. Never leave her. Y'got to, got to, got to, gotta, got to, got to, try a little tenderness. Hey, hey. Hey, hey. Hey, hey. Yeah, yeah. Hey, hey. Yeah-hey. That's all you gotta do now, ooh. You got to squeeze her, don't tease her, never leave her. Never leave her. Gotta, wow, nana, wanna, ak-ow. Try a little tenderness, yeah. Yeah, yeah, oh, don't lose her. You got to squeeze her, don't tease her, never leave her. Never leave her. Gotta, wow, try a little tenderness.

(Soundbite of applause)

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.