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Suddenly Oscar?  A (difficult) meeting with “Holdovers” star Paul Giamatti

Suddenly Oscar? A (difficult) meeting with “Holdovers” star Paul Giamatti

As the toxic professor in The Holdovers, Paul Giamatti dishes mercilessly. As an interviewee he is very different. What a disappointment.

“The lazy, vulgar, corrupt little Palestinians.” Professor Hunham (Paul Giamatti) tells his students what he thinks of them.

Seshia Pavao/Focus Features

In the end, Paul Giamatti won the Oscar. It's conceivable. Thanks to his performance in “The Holdovers,” he beat out fellow celebrities Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”) at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice Awards. Paul Giamatti also took home the top prize at the Palm Springs Film Festival, where Oscar campaigns usually take shape.

In “The Holdovers” he's clearly having fun as a professor of ancient history. His name is Paul Hunham. A suitably toxic Tooth insults his students as “cave-dwellers” or “Palestinians” while criticizing them for their shoddy homework.

The story is set in New England in the early 1970s. You have to imagine it like this: yellow-tinted images, plus a professor who likes to wear Manchester rags and smoke a pipe while drunk. When the head of the institute forces him to take care of a rebellious student over Christmas, the film evolves from bitingly funny to heartwarming.

“The Holdovers” by Alexander Payne is a “character-driven” comedy-drama that is very rarely produced. So nothing with Barbie or atomic bombs. Small movie. However, it looks like Paul Giamatti is the one to take over at the Oscars in March.

Paul who?

The wine connoisseur was his greatest role

You come across Giamatti a lot in American films, but more along the way. The supporting role with Kante is what matters to him. He's good at being helpful. In George Clooney's March Thoughts, he was the clever campaign manager. He always brings the smart, eccentric “weirdo” with his fluffy hair, chubby cheeks, and glasses. He played Andy Kaufman's (Jim Carrey) extreme comedy sidekick in “Man on the Moon.” He also has an eccentric villain with a Russian twist in his repertoire (Rhino from The Amazing Spider-Man 2).

But he is not the “leading man.” When you think of a Hollywood star, you imagine something different. Giamatti is six feet tall and looks like the kind of guy who always has to mind his line. Sometimes there are still leadership roles that only he can play. Just as twenty years ago, he was wine connoisseur Miles in “Sideways,” Paul Giamatti's most brilliant performance, a masterpiece.

“Thin? Watery? Syrup?” Miles (Giamatti) explains to his best friend (Thomas Haden Church) what to pay attention to when tasting.

Fox Scout/Everett Collection/Imago

Anyone who saw the film, which was also directed by Alexander Payne, has since thought twice before ordering a Merlot. Because sour Miles, who swears by Pinot Noir, is unforgettable. “If anyone orders Merlot, I'll leave. I don't drink any fucking Merlot!

Miles is on a road trip through California's wine regions with his best friends. The way Paul Giamatti in this role sticks his nose deep into a wine glass and knows how to taste everything from grapes, from passion fruit to asparagus and edamame, is amazing. “Oh, and there's just like a light asparagus soup and just a flutter of nutty Edam cheese.”

Another scene from the movie “Sideways” stuck in my mind. Having reached his lowest point, Miles takes his greatest treasure from the wine rack, a 1961 Cheval Blanc, and sits down at the nearest fast food restaurant – and eats a burger there with accompanying wine.

You might be thinking about the scene again now. After Paul Giamatti's recent win at the Golden Globe, a photo of him appeared on social media: You can see the star in the evening after the awards ceremony, sitting in a tuxedo at the In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Los Angeles. So someone celebrated their Golden Globe with a cheeseburger! The Internet has been blown up. That was when Giamatti was in Munich for interviews a few days ago the An opportunity to learn more about her.

“Mr. Giamatti, please tell me there is a cheval blanc in the paper cup at In-N-Out Burger.” Giamatti, 56, shows almost no emotion under his shotgun beard (a full goatee plus “A drinker.” He says, “No, no, that was mineral water.” “I don't drink soda.”

You can get around the fact that there is no Coca-Cola in the cup. But: Paul Giamatti doesn't care about wine! He doesn't understand anything about it. He's not interested. “Not really, no,” is all he says when asked. Maybe the guy still needs to breathe a little, you think at the beginning of the conversation. But he doesn't come anymore. This Giamatti is like an expensive wine that turned out to be unexpectedly boring.

Well, the actors are mostly disappointing. Logical. If you buy a role entirely from an actor, you intuitively conclude that he or she is the real person. And then he gets confused. Especially with someone like Paul Giamatti. Because when he plays someone like Miles or the stubborn professor in “The Holdovers,” he does it so coolly and effortlessly, in such a naturally quirky way, that you can't help but believe the character is being portrayed in at least a little bit of a way. . . himself.

Difficult conversation

So you come to Munich specifically to have a funny conversation with a slightly cranky person about Pinot in a paper cup or something, and you realize: this Giamatti is not “like that” at all. Sitting across from one: active. Of course it's frustrating for both parties.

Because the actor has a movie to sell. Interviews with stars are like promos, and people tend to forget that. Giamatti has proven himself to be a sales professional. Anything that does not increase sales will be left unanswered in the friendliest way possible. But if you ask him about his character in The Holdovers, he feels like chatting. He remembers, for example, a biology teacher who inspired him. “A strict teacher who smelled like an ashtray, but he was a good person.”

He also talks about his English teacher at “prep school,” the boarding school he went to before university. I bullied him. Once he put a lot of effort into an essay and got the worst grade. After school, the teacher called him and said, “You're showing off. Don't show off like that. We know who you are.” What is meant is: from which house do you come? Because Paul Giamatti's father was a professor at Yale and was its president for a time, he was the youngest president ever at Yale. Bart Giamatti briefly became the commissioner of Major League Baseball before suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of 51.

Paul Giamatti remembers that his father was a simple man. “So no fancy dinner with expensive wine?” – “No. My parents were humble, and we tended to go out for burgers. At boarding school, the teachers were particularly strict with him because of his background. Maybe they thought they had to prove their independence, and that brought something negative into my life at that time.” Other than that It's never been hard to be the son of the president of Yale University.

“I won't talk about it”

Paul Giamatti later studied at Yale University, first English literature, then acting. One would have liked to talk to him about the state of America's elite universities. But maybe that's not good for sales, it's just saying: “Yes, it's all very confusing.” He also doesn't feel the need to comment on anti-Semitic incidents at Harvard, for example. His ex-wife and their son are Jewish. But all attempts to get into the topic fail.

“how old is your son?” – “twenty third”. -Does he still go to university? – “It's just over.” “Are you talking about what is happening on campuses, and the anti-Semitic incidents?” – “No, not really.” “What about the woke ideology and cancel culture that comes out of universities?” – “Ah yes.” “Doesn't this make life as an actor more difficult?” (He nods vaguely.) “You have to pay attention to sensitivities everywhere, don't you?” – “Yes, clear.” “You should think carefully about other people you can work with, right?” (Indefinite gesture) – “For example, you shot with Woody Allen twice early in your career.” – “Yes.” “As far as we know, he is innocent, but perhaps you would hesitate to make a third film with him.” – “Oh, yes. Yes.” “You can't say that?” – “Oh. I won't talk about that.”

There is nothing to be done. In the end, all that's left to ask is what his plans are for Oscar night. Has he already reserved a table somewhere for the evening of March 10? Giamatti looks quizzical. “What will happen on March 10th?” “Oh, the Oscars, Mr. Giamatti.” “That's right. No. I don't have any plans for this evening yet.” “Are you expecting a picture from a fast food restaurant again?” – “I'm looking at what I can do.”