15 Surprising Facts About Paul Giamatti

Showtime Networks
Showtime Networks

Over the course of nearly 30 years and approximately 100 film and television roles, Paul Giamatti has worked his way up from blink-and-you’ll-miss-him roles like “Heckler #2” to become an Oscar-nominated leading man. While he continues to build a diverse resume of film roles with projects like American Splendor, Sideways, Cinderella Man, 12 Years a Slave, and Straight Outta Compton, he’s also bringing his singular brand of wit and talent to the small screen on Showtime’s Billions. To celebrate the venerable actor’s 50th birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Paul Giamatti.

1. HE GREW UP WANTING TO BE A PROFESSOR.

Growing up in a family surrounded by academics, Paul Giamatti considered following his father’s career path and becoming a professor. In 1978, at the age of 40, Giamatti’s father—Bart—was appointed president of Yale University (the youngest person to ever hold the position). “I was never the class clown, or put on shows at home,” Giamatti told The Scotsman about his roundabout road to becoming an actor. “I never thought of acting as something I could do with my life. When I was a kid, I used to run around wrapped in toilet paper so I could be the Mummy. But that wasn’t a sign that I was dreaming of being an actor. I was just an odd child."

2. HE HAD A STRANGE OBSESSION WITH BASEBALL UMPIRES.

Growing up, Giamatti was oddly fascinated with baseball umpires. “I don’t think it had anything to do with their authority,” he told The Believer. “It was more a fascination with the appearance of the home-plate umps. They wear those old-school chest protectors and the mask and they’re always dressed in black … There’s something weirdly sinister about those cats. And of course I’ve always been drawn to the ancillary supporting players in drama. If you look at a game of baseball as a narrative of some kind, the umps are the bit players. They’re the character actors. In almost any situation, I’m invariably interested in the people that nobody pays much attention to."

3. HIS FATHER IS THE MAN WHO BANNED PETE ROSE FROM BASEBALL.

Giamatti’s obsession with baseball’s supporting players might make more sense when you consider that, after leaving his position at Yale in 1986, Bart Giamatti became the president of the National League and, in 1989, was appointed MLB Commissioner. Though he only held the position for five months (the elder Giamatti passed away on September 1, 1989), he managed to make one memorable move during his tenure when he banned Pete Rose from the game amid allegations that he was betting on baseball games.

4. HE LIKES PLAYING SUPPORTING ROLES.

Though he emerged as more of a leading man in the early 2000s with movies like American Splendor and Sideways, Giamatti is content to play a supporting role. "I think you're given more license to have fun, in a way,” he told The Guardian of being a supporting player. “You're supposed to be more vivid, your job is to be more eccentric. I think I just like it better. There's something about working in a smaller space that I'm more temperamentally suited to."

5. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN SEES HIM AS A TOM HANKS TYPE (WITH BEAUTIFUL EYES).

M. Night Shyamalan, who directed Giamatti in 2006’s Lady in the Water, doesn’t see Giamatti as a bit player. “He is very much a leading man," Shyamalan told The New York Times. "For me, he is like Tom Hanks—he can carry a movie. Paul's eyes are very beautiful in a puppy-dog way. The audience is compelled to want what that person wants and that is a sign of a real star."

6. HIS MOST CHALLENGING ROLE REQUIRED HIM TO SIT IN POOP.

When asked about the biggest challenge he has faced as an actor, the ever-self-deprecating Giamatti said it was one of his earliest roles. “I believe the character was called ‘Man in Sleeping Bag,’” he said. “A homeless guy. It may have just been ‘man.’ Who knows. It was an episode of NYPD Blue. We were in a squatters village below the Manhattan Bridge. I was lying in real human feces. A real lunatic who lived there in a huge drainage pipe of some kind would crawl out occasionally and pelt me with debris … They had to pay him a lot to stay in his pipe. Good for him. I had one line. Something like, ‘I don’t know nothin’ man.’ I screwed it up. I sat around all day. At one point I got thrown off the set by a P.A. who thought I was a real ‘Man in Sleeping Bag.’ I was nervous; disoriented."

When asked about the most fun he’s had playing a part, Giamatti responded: “Man in sleeping bag."

7. HE COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT ANYONE WOULD WANT TO MAKE, OR WATCH, A MOVIE ABOUT WINE.

Though Sideways may be one of the best known, and most beloved, films on Giamatti’s resume, the actor himself wasn’t so sure about it. He told The Scotsman that when he was offered the part, his first thought was: “No one will want to make this movie—and who the hell is going to want to watch a movie about wine?" For the record, Giamatti freely admits that he knows nothing about wine, and he’s fine with that.

8. HE GOT FOOD POISONING WHILE MAKING SIDEWAYS. HE ALSO GOT VERY DRUNK.

In the DVD commentary for Sideways, Giamatti and his co-star, Thomas Haden Church, discussed how they both got food poisoning after filming the dinner scene with Giamatti’s on-screen mom. On another occasion, Giamatti got very, very drunk.

“There was one dinner scene where I had to drink a sh*tload and by the end of the night I was completely hammered,” Giamatti recounted. “Fortunately I didn’t have to do that much talking but I got really f*cked up, it was great. You can tell that I’m kind of messed up. Maybe that’s why the Academy didn’t nominate me for that movie, because I’m clearly drunk."

9. HE DIDN’T CARE ABOUT HIS SO-CALLED “OSCAR SNUB.”

Speaking of the Oscars: While much of the movie-watching world was taken aback when both Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen received Academy Award nominations for their work on Sideways, while Giamatti got nothing, the actor wasn’t at all fazed or disappointed. “That was an odd dilemma to be in,” he told the Independent. “I didn't expect to get nominated so it was like everybody else was way more disappointed than I was, so that was really weird, talking to these people and not knowing what to say to them to take their disappointment away that I didn't get nominated."

10. HE WAS APPROACHED ABOUT PLAYING MICHAEL SCOTT ON THE OFFICE.

In 2006, The New York Times reported that when adapting Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office for American television, Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott was on the top of at least one NBC executive’s dream casting list. Giamatti declined the part.

11. HE HAS PORTRAYED TWO DIFFERENT PRESIDENTS.

Six years after playing the title role in HBO’s John Adams miniseries (a part that earned him a Golden Globe Award), Giamatti took on the role of another POTUS when he voiced Teddy Roosevelt for Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

12. NOT BEING BORED IS HIS MAIN CRITERIA FOR ACCEPTING A ROLE.

When asked about how he goes about choosing his roles, Giamatti told The A.V. Club that he doesn’t have any sort of calculated plan. “I just don’t want to be bored,” he said. “That’s the only criteria I have. I like it if the script is good and the director seems like he’s gonna be good. But if I can find a variety of things to do, which I feel like I manage to do, as far as the actual performing goes and the character, that’s huge for me. To be able to feel like I can do a fairly diverse array of things. I’ve been lucky in that way. I don’t mind being stereotyped in some way and playing certain kinds of guys, but if I can find something to occasionally get a break from that, that would be nice. And I feel like I manage to. But there’s no grand scheme other than that."

13. HE THINKS HE HAS BEEN TYPECAST, AND HE’S OK WITH IT.

Because he chooses his roles on what is most interesting to him personally, Giamatti often ends up playing oddballs. “I think I'm typecast. But that is fine with me,” he told the Independent. “I remember an actor called Bud Cort, I met him once and he said, 'Go ahead and happily be typecast, I resisted it and didn't get cast again, I would happily go back and be typecast.' Within the type I play, it's interesting to play, ambivalent, spiky, weird, unpleasant people."

14. HE CAN BE VERY CRITICAL OF HIS OWN PERFORMANCES.

Like so many other artists, Giamatti has a habit of picking apart his performances. “I definitely have a tendency to only see the blemishes of things, and see lots of things about my acting that I don’t like,” he told The A.V. Club. “I think I’ve gotten a little easier on myself, or at least a little more usefully critical of myself. I think before, I just couldn’t take looking at myself at all. I don’t know. I’m happy people see something I don’t see. I’ve very critical of myself, and film has been an adjustment for me. I’m glad; it’s a challenge in some ways. Certainly not boring. But it’s always been hard for me to feel like I get it, get how to act on film. I feel like I’m gradually getting it."

15. HE BELIEVES THAT CHUCK RHOADES, HIS CHARACTER IN BILLIONS, IS ESSENTIALLY A GOOD GUY.

At the moment, much of Giamatti’s time is devoted to Billions, the Showtime series he stars in that was recently renewed for a third season. In the series, Giamatti plays U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, a complicated character who will seemingly stop at nothing to take down his wife’s employer, hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). While Rhoades doesn’t always make the best choices, Giamatti believes that he’s essentially a good guy.

“I admire those guys who do what my character does,” Giamatti told the Los Angeles Daily News. “They are ambitious, driven guys with human needs and desires, but they do believe in the law as a kind of instrument for doing good.” He acknowledges that Rhoades is “definitely a flawed person, but essentially I think my character is doing a good thing.”

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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