Q&A with Paul Giamatti about meat monsters and other weird horror stories

Examiner Dorri Olds sits down with Paul Giamatti for a Q&A

Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti(born Paul Edward Valentine Giamatti) lives up to his important-sounding fancy-pants name. He is one of the most sought after character actors in tinsel town. With already 75 movies under his acting belt, there’s no stopping him. In this past year alone he worked on nearly a dozen film projects. He’s a graduate of Yale with a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts and a major in drama. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find Giamatti with a swollen Hollywood head yet he comes across as humble and warm. While he sat yesterday for his Examiner interview, his facial expressions changed as rapidly as Jim Carrey’s. Giamatti’s hands are in constant motion as he gesticulates on a wide variety of topics including his cornucopian career and most recent movie, “John Dies at the End.” Whoops, spoiled the ending. What a great title.
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, Phantasm), “John Dies at the End” is based on the comic horror novel by David Wong, a pseudonym for Cracked editor Jason Pargin. In this horror tale, two Midwest college dropouts, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), must save mankind from problems of otherworldly dimensions brought on by a street drug called “Soy Sauce.” The trippy drug sends users into an alternate universe and the side effects are gruesome. Giamatti is executive producer and plays reporter Arnie opposite the two newcomers who play the leads.
After only minutes of convo, it is easy to forget that Giamatti is a star. One could mistake him for a cult horror films geek; a nerd chatting it up about meat monsters and penis doorknobs in a buddy’s TV room.
The business of interviewing celebs is unpredictable. Favorite stars can turn out to be downright disappointing, even boring but not so in this case.
Dorri Olds: How do you like seeing yourself on film?
Paul Giamatti: I’m okay with it. It’s fine. I’ve gotten used to it. It was weird for a long time but I’m over being shocked by it. I can watch myself now and forget about it. Something like this movie is nice. I really forget, very quickly. I wasn’t watching myself at all. I was just enjoying the movie. That’s usually a good thing.
Can you talk about the many 2013 movies you’re working on?
I’m not even sure which ones I have coming out.
Here’s a list.
Laughs [takes the list]. I have all of these things coming out? “Prey”? I have no idea what that is. “Madame Bovary,” I think will be made at some point this year. The HBO movie, “K Blows Top,” is about Khrushchev. Hopefully that’ll get made this year. “Turbo” is a cartoon. Nice. Fun. That probably comes out this year. It’s about snails. “Saving Mr. Banks” is something I just did. That was a movie about Walt Disney and the woman who wrote Mary Poppins. It’s about the making of Mary Poppins. It’s interesting. Very interesting. “Romeo and Juliet” should come out this year. “Twelve Years a Slave” is a wonderful movie. They’re all wonderful movies. I’m supposed to go do “Parkland” tomorrow in Texas. That’s about the Kennedy assassination. I’m glad to see I have lots of movies coming out. I didn’t realize that. That’s nice. I’ve been working and that’s good.
Had you done a horror movie before?
Hmmm. I’ve done some science fictiony things but no, I’ve never done a horror movie before. That’s why I was really interested. I really like this kind of thing so I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do. It was great. It was really fun. I find that speech that the Rastafarian has about dreams is something that at first you think, ‘Wow, that’s kind of cool,’ but it’s actually kind of disturbing. Super disturbing. There’s a whole bunch of things like that in this movie that are really, really weird.
How do you feel about the horror genre? We’re seeing so many remakes and sequels lately.
There has always been a bit of serializing. I think because it is a genre that invites so much weirdness, more amazing things pop out of it. It’s like anything. There’s plenty of uninteresting stuff and then something interesting pops out. Particularly in horror something really interesting can pop out because already it’s fairly wide open. To me, with horror, even the more pedestrian, uninteresting stuff is more interesting than run of the mill stuff. It seems to be doing well as a genre. You can get away with so much more now.
Do you have a favorite horror movie?
It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of things I like. I really like those old Val Lewton movies like “Cat People” and “I Walked With a Zombie.” There’s one called “The Seventh Victim” which is not one that people know very well. I read a little while ago that somebody was thinking about doing a remake of it. It’s weirdly similar to “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s about a satanic cult. It’s a really great movie with Kim Hunter; her first movie. It has one of the darkest endings of any movie I’ve ever seen. You could not do this ending in anything but a horror movie and get away with it. With horror it’s okay to have this terribly pessimistic ending to this movie. I like those very, very weird movies. I really love those. They’re beautiful and made for nothing and they’re totally inventive. He made like six or seven of those and they’re really great. I really love those. Lewton was the producer.
When you saw the special effects in “John Dies at the End” were you surprised how great they came out?
I was very amazed when you think about how small this movie actually is, it’s kind of astonishing. I had a feeling the effects would be great because Don [Coscarelli] is like me. He goes for the old school of prosthetics; using things that are really there instead of relying on computers. I knew he was going to do great stuff but the entire thing really blew me away.
Do you think the movie stayed true to the book?
I didn’t read the novel until after the movie. For me, it was just a script.
What was it about this film that appealed to you?
I wanted to work with Don and I got a script that I thought was great and looked fun to do. When I read the book afterwards I was amazed at how condensed it was and that Don kept the tone of the book amazingly well. There is a lot more to the book.
Were you concerned about Chase Williamson’s lack of experience in front of the camera?
I was far more worried about my own stuff. I wasn’t worried about him at all. Because it was such dialogue heavy stuff with long speeches from both of us I wanted to meet Chase first just to run it with him for my own sake. When I got in there with him, I realized very quickly that he was way better than I was. I started thinking, ‘Jesus, I better step it up.’ Because he was really good. I realized I better know what the hell I’m doing. It was a wake-up call. I would never have known that guy had never done a movie before. I felt I had to catch up to him.
What about future plans for “John Dies at the End”? Do you think it could be a TV series for FX?
Yeah, that’s certainly a possibility. I think it weirdly could make a good series. It’s something worth thinking about. I don’t think this would be too way out there for FX. They do “American Horror Story” and that’s pretty out there.
Do you read reviews of your movies or do you avoid them?
It depends. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I’m interested to read them and sometimes I’m not so I don’t. It just depends. I’d be interested to know what people think of this so I will probably read them. It’s on a case-by-case basis.
Check out more videos:
Paul Giamatti talks about special effects
Paul Giamatti talks about horror movies
Paul Giamatti reads reviews … sometimes
Rated R. 99 minutes. “John Dies at the End” opens in New York City on Friday, February 1, 2013. It’s available now on iTunes and Amazon.