| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Oct 2 It's been almost a decade
since actor Paul Giamatti introduced himself to the world as the
hapless and neurotic but lovable wine aficionado Miles in
Since then, he's played a U.S. president (John Adams) and a
Federal Reserve chairman (Ben Bernanke) and this fall he has two
more roles based on real-life characters to add to the list.
In "Parkland," a drama about the aftermath of President John
F. Kennedy's assassination, he plays Abraham Zapruder, the
Dallas businessman who accidentally shot the famous 26-second
film of the event on his Super 8 camera. The film opens in U.S.
theaters on Friday.
In "12 Years a Slave," a grueling tale of a free black man
sold into slavery, Giamatti is a slave trader who puts the naked
slaves on display and negotiates prices and packages. The film,
which critics consider a serious Oscar contender, opens Oct. 18.
Giamatti, 46, spoke to Reuters about playing a man wrestling
with the decision to sell the JFK footage and the difficulties
of making ruthless slave trading look like acceptable behavior.
Q: Your "Parkland" character Abe Zapruder fills in an
information gap most of us have. Apart from the script and the
book "Four Days in November" by Vincent Bugliosi, how did you
find out more about him?
A: I didn't know anything about him really. There's footage
of him, not a lot, but some of that was very useful. I met his
family. They said some things in the course of just chatting
with them that were really interesting. You play a real person
and sometimes you meet the family, that's great. But in this
instance I felt like they had had enough people stomping around
their lives. So I didn't want to get too all over them about
Q: At the beginning we see this is a good man. What most
worried you about getting the balance right?
A: I didn't want to make him too good, goody, goody good. I
worried about making him too nice a guy, but that is what he
One of the things I worried about the most is that he had an
incredibly heavy accent. And I wanted to get that, without
overdoing it. He was a Ukrainian Jew raised in New York and he
sounded like it, which set him apart hugely from everyone else
down there (in Dallas). It's just bizarre that he was there in
the first place. He had a crazy heavy accent.
Q: We see Zapruder worried about the impact of the film and
how it is going to change his life forever.
A: It did really change his life. He seemed to know right
away what it was going to do to his life, which is amazing.
The whole thing of selling it was a real struggle for him. I
know it was a part of his thinking from something I read: he
felt like, as a Jew, it is going to look bad if he sold this
thing to people. It was a really complicated decision for him
and he didn't feel good about it. And he got a lot of crap for
it, that it was so inappropriate to sell this to people. But he
wasn't doing it to make a big bundle. It was kind of a sense
that 'I need to get this out of my life, out of my family's
life, but be able to take care of them because of the trauma
everyone is going to have visited on them.'
Q: What is your role like in "12 Years a Slave?"
A: This movie has like 40 million people in it. It basically
has a lot of cameos, which is essentially what I do in it. But
it was really interesting. I play a real guy. No one knows much
about him. He was named Theophilus Freeman, who was one of the
big slave traders in New Orleans in the 1850s.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays this guy who is kidnapped and they
sell him. They bring him to me and I process him through this
slave market and sell him to Benedict Cumberbatch. So you see
some of the mechanics of selling slaves and you see the things
they did to these people, like splitting up a family.
Q: There is quite a bit of buzz around this film.
A: I read the script and I thought immediately I would like
to be a part of this. I didn't care what the hell I do in it.
It's negligible, but it was really fun to do. Like the JFK
movie, the idea behind this movie was to try to be in the
moment, not retrospective. And for the people living in the
moment, this is a completely normal thing.
I knew when I played this character my goal was to make this
as absolutely unremarkable and normal a thing - to be standing
here with these people and trading them like they are horses and
say this woman is not going to be sold with her child and tell
her to shut up and go whip her to shut her up. It is all
incredibly mundane for the guy doing it. The only person who is
shocked and amazed by it is this poor guy being sold into
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Shumaker)