In his 25-year career in movies and TV, Paul Giamatti has established himself as an actor of enormous versatility, playing everything from the second President to ‘Pig Vomit.’ He’s racked up awards and accolades for John Adams, Sideways, American Splendor, Cinderella Man, Too Big to Fail and Barney’s Version, while memorably appearing in comedies (Private Parts, Inside Amy Schumer), action flicks (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, San Andreas) and dramas, most recently Downton Abbey, 12 Years a Slave and Straight Outta Compton.
His latest role in the Showtime series Billions—premiering this Sunday at 10/9c—casts him as U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, who wages a legal and psychological battle against shady hedge fund titan Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) in a high stakes battle of will and power. Like his adversary, Rhoades is smart, driven, tenacious, and hiding a secret or two, and he’ll stop at nothing to nail the cagey Axelrod for insider trading. In short, it’s a role with Emmy bait written all over it.
The Connecticut native told us about it, other career highlights and how a certain variety of wine affects his life to this day.
“It’s funny, because I know nothing about wine! In a restaurant everybody hands me the wine list and I’m so not that guy.”
What intrigued you about Chuck Rhoades?
He’s very intelligent. I like the fact that he’s very driven. He has complicated motivations. He’s at the top of something. He’s vindictive and ambitious but he has a definite moral compass. It felt very different from other characters I’ve played. After the Attorney General, the District Attorney for the southern district of New York is probably the most important law enforcement position in the country. It’s an extraordinary level of power and to get there you have to have some extraordinary fire in your belly. He’s got a certain jealousy, a thirst for power and ambition, but he has a morally driven passion for justice that reminds me of the guy in Les Miserables [Joubert].
In the bedroom, in contrast, he plays submissive to his dominant wife.
They have an interesting sexual relationship. They’re married, so we’ll see how this kind of thing works in a real way instead of just kind of the fantasy of it. It will inevitably play out in interesting ways, and in how we behave in our respective worlds and jobs.
You’ve had so many memorable roles. What are your favorites?
Sideways, American Splendor… John Adams was great too. I like the Illusionist a lot. I played a detective in it. I loved doing Romeo & Juliet too, really fun. Downton Abbey was a really wonderful experience.
You’re a producer on the WGN series Outsiders. How did you get involved?
I thought it was an interesting experiment. We’ll see if it works. One of the pleasures of producing is that I don’t have to be in it, but now that I look at it, I wouldn’t mind doing something in it. I’ve been looking at scripts, I have some input in casting, but I wanted to stay out of the way a little bit too and let the writer and people at WGN do their thing.
Morgan, a really interesting sci-fi horror movie directed by Ridley Scott’s son. I play a psychiatrist. It’s about a kind of artificial intelligent being created in a laboratory.
Eleven years after Sideways, do people still come up to you and say “I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”
All the time. It’s funny, because I know nothing about wine! In a restaurant everybody hands me the wine list and I’m so not that guy.