Paul Giamatti is a man of many talents, able to traverse a variety of characters from his compassionate wine companion in “Sideways”, his sublime performance in “The Iceman Cometh” on Broadway and his more visceral performances in films like “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “The Hangover, Part II”. After sitting on a panel with his fellow actors as well as the showrunners discussing their 3rd season of Showtime’s “Billions” at the 2018 Showtime TCA Winter Press Day, Giamatti spoke to The Inside Reel about modulation of energy, likability and the quandary that is. U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes.
Can you talk about the modulation of energy within the performance because you have to go to such highs, such lows, and then the quiet moments versus the more intense ones?
PG: Yeah. [Rhodes is] kind of a manic-depressive personality. He’s kind of bipolar. I don’t know. I mean it’s good writing that helps you modulate that. I hope it modulates. I try to modulate it, but I don’t know. That’s just the character.
I mean it is a physical thing that it comes out emotionally?
PG: Sure. You’re just adjusting your energy. You’ve kind of got a map that tells you where you’re supposed to go and you just follow that plan.
Have your feelings about your character changed since you started playing him?
PG: There are actually [things] I like more about him as it’s gone along even as reprehensible as he’s gotten. I liked how clever he was last season, and he continues to be, although he’s very menaced by a lot of things going on. I actually have come to like him a lot more. I just find him more — he’s more fun to play. I mean, in my personal opinion, he’s a psychopath. They all are though on this show. Nobody particularly comes off very well. And this is actually interesting in this season because stuff that happens with the Clancy Brown character elicits some of the residual good stuff that’s still in there about [Rhodes] that reminds him of, “Oh, right. I do love the law and I do love administering justice properly when it needs to be administered.” That begins to come out of him a little bit too.
What was the biggest challenge prepping for the big collision scene at the end of Season Two?
PG: We didn’t have a whole lot of time. It is funny that that happens to me when — it’s very hard. Actors will always tell you laughing is very hard to do on camera. I actually am okay at it. The bigger problem I have is that once I start, I can’t stop (laughing). So that actually became the trickier thing in shooting that was getting me to stop laughing eventually so we could shoot anything. But we probably did two or three takes of it.
Can you talk about the idea of ambition within? Because you were saying it’s not about the money with this character, it’s almost more about the power. Can you talk about that?
PG: Yeah. I mean it is. It’s more about subtler things about power and stuff with him than even the money. He doesn’t care about the money, you know? And he is deeply ambitious. He’s hugely ambitious. This governor thing, but that becomes complicated in this season too, about what does he really want to do. And again, it comes to that [idea] where he starts thinking about, “Well, wait a minute. I actually have a pretty good job, and I actually can do good things here.”
Does it have to do with playing the heart of the matter? You have to play him as human, obviously.
PG: Yeah. He has a conscience. He’s got more of a conscience than you normally would think he has. These guys play at — it’s always ping-ponging back and forth. I will get the script and be like, “Wow. This is genuinely horrible. This guy’s horrible again,” and then like the next script I’ll be like, “Oh. Actually, he’s not so bad again.” So I never really know where the hell he is. He has more of a conscience, and his father really has none. There’s a huge conflict between the two of them.
And within the zeigeist there is that whole father/son aspect playing at the top echelon of US Government right now. Can you talk about the perception about what expectation means? It can be Greek. It can be mythic. Can you talk about that with those greater themes as it reflects in today’s society?
PG: Yeah. That’s true. Well, for sure. All of those things are a part of it. All those kinds of massive themes are [there] — but also dominance, and all that kind of stuff. It’s weirdly being acted out on the world stage.
But is there stuff that you sort of cling onto about him? Is it just that the wants of the father including into the wants of the son?
PG: For sure. The more interesting stuff is stuff about the father. It’s what’s being said and what’s not said, and also the way in which they’re wrestling and the father’s holding him down. All of that gets very shifty and interesting.
By Tim Wassberg