Oscar-Nominee Paul Giamatti Returns to the Stern Show — And Promises to Thank Howard If He Wins
Acclaimed star of "The Holdovers" also talks “Private Parts,” In-N-Out, and CherFebruary 7, 2024
It was a reunion of sorts Wednesday morning as Howard welcomed celebrated actor Paul Giamatti back onto the Stern Show for the first time in over a decade. Howard and his former “Private Parts” co-star had plenty to catch up on, from Paul’s new podcast “Chinwag” to his acclaimed new film “The Holdovers,” which has earned him his second Oscar nomination.
Giamatti faces some stiff competition at next month’s Academy Awards, though, going up against Bradley Cooper, Colman Domingo, Jeffrey Wright, and Cillian Murphy for Best Actor in a Leading Role. “You gotta win that fucking Oscar, man. I’d be so proud of you,” Howard told Paul on Wednesday before explaining that he felt a kinship with the actor after working so closely with him in “Private Parts.”
“I’m not kidding when I say I credit you totally [for helping launch my career],” Paul told Howard. He went on to say that while he hadn’t prepped an acceptance speech, he also wasn’t about to forget about the King of All Media at the podium if he were to win. “I have no idea what I’d say, [but] I’ll thank you. I’ll do that for sure,” Giamatti added.
Howard could barely believe it: “You’re saying you’re gonna thank me?”
“If I win that thing, I’m going to thank you,” Paul assured him.
Reminiscing About ‘Private Parts’
Paul only had a handful of film credits to his name when he was tapped to play antagonist Kenny “Pig Vomit” Rushton alongside Howard, Robin Quivers, and Fred Norris in the 1997 film “Private Parts.” “It was an opportunity for me … I hadn’t done this much on film, so I was nervous too and I didn’t want to screw it up,” Giamatti revealed before singing Howard’s praises: “You were effortless, so it actually made it easy for me.”
“The whole thing was exciting … The part was great, and it was like I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to do this thing,” the actor continued before complimenting the movie’s director. “Betty Thomas was great — she let me just do whatever I wanted to do, which was amazing.”
When Howard recalled how actress Mary McCormack was unsure if taking her part in the film would be good for her career, Paul said some of his agents at the time had similar feelings. But after reading the script, nothing was going to stop him from doing “Private Parts.” “It’s a really good script and who the hell am I? Who the hell cares … I mean, I’m going to have fun doing it,” he remembered thinking at the time.
As it turned out, Giamatti needed to audition for Thomas quite a few times before landing the role. “I went in five times or something for her, but I got to know what she was like, she got to know what I was like … It takes care of a lot of problems before you get to set,” he explained before showing appreciation for the late actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom he’d gone out for the part against. “He would have been great — he would have been amazing.”
Decades have passed, but Howard and Paul still fondly recalled how much fun they had on the “Private Parts” set. “I remember every second of making that movie … more so than other [projects], I think I did savor that one,” Paul said. “The whole thing was great and honest to God, working with you … and Robin and everybody was really, great. It was a really special thing.”
Why Filming ‘The Holdovers’ Made Paul So Nervous
Neither fighting Nazis in “Saving Private Ryan” nor chugging wine from a spit bucket in “Sideways” could prepare Paul for one of his most nerve-wracking moments as an actor, which came while shooting “The Holdovers.”
He stars in the Best Picture-nominated movie as a boarding schoolteacher with a lazy eye, so to get the look just right Giamatti needed to wear a “big, soft contact lens.” The prop worked so well it fooled one of Paul’s lifelong friends, but the actor said wearing it every day wasn’t much fun. “They had to have a guy take it in and out,” he revealed. “The only thing I get squeamish about in life is stuff around my eyes … so it took a lot for me to get used to it.”
The problems didn’t end there. It was also hard for him to see. “I was blind in one eye,” he told Howard, explaining that shooting scenes where he drove people around “was a nightmare.” “I had people in the car with me … It actually made me more nervous than practically anything else I’ve ever done … I just was like, ‘Oh my God, something is going to go wrong,’” Paul recalled, adding, “The whole thing was bizarre. It was really bizarre.”
From ‘Man in Sleeping Bag’ to Huge Star
Giamatti is up for an Oscar for “The Holdovers” but he thinks it’s his bit part as “Man in Sleeping Bag” on an episode of the police procedural “NYPD Blue” that really deserves accolades. “That was particularly hard … we were shooting in an actual squatters’ village under the Manhattan Bridge,” he said before explaining why he was so proud of that role. “I went off to go get something at the craft service … and coming back the P.A. … wouldn’t let me back on set because he thought I was an actual homeless guy, and I remember thinking, ‘Then I’m getting this right.’”
The star was further encouraged when his teacher in a six-week acting class pushed him to further pursue his career. That teacher happened to be esteemed thespian and “Die Hard” star Alan Rickman. “That was a big deal for me … that guy was the nicest guy,” he remembered. “He was the only person who said it up until that point — and then nobody really said it afterwards either,” Paul added with a laugh.
Another break came when he landed the role of a guy who says “What?” in “Singles,” Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-centric romantic comedy. “I say one word in that movie … and it was fucking hard,” Giamatti confessed before noting why all those experiences back then were positive. “Every time I went onto a set it was great because I didn’t know what the hell was going on and I was learning so much that I was happy to be doing whatever.”
Starring in ‘American Splendor’ After 9/11
A few years after “Private Parts,” Paul had a chance to land his first lead role as underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar in “American Splendor.” Up against some heavy hitters, it wasn’t going to be easy. “There were a lot of guys who wanted that part, and I was definitely not high on anybody’s list,” the actor admitted.
But, when the director told Giamatti it was challenging to fill the role because the more established actors wouldn’t audition, he jumped on the opportunity despite protests from his agents. “I studied some tape of him, and I went in, and I auditioned for it, and that was September 10, 2001,” he said, noting it was the day before the infamous terrorist attacks on American soil.
A couple of months later, the film’s producers decided they wanted to go ahead with the project, but no one wanted to take the part because of the climate at the time. “By default, it was because of September 11 that I got the part … nobody else would do it,” Giamatti revealed.
Playing Phone Tag With Cher
Paul tried getting in touch with his former “Private Parts” co-star to congratulate him on his 2019 best seller “Howard Comes Again,” but Howard said the two wound up playing phone tag and never got the chance to chat.
“I don’t think I’m getting your calls,” Paul suggested, though he could empathize with Howard as he’s going through something similar with the legendary recording artist Cher.
“Every now and then I get a message … ‘Cher really needs to talk to me’ … Like it’s crucial that she talks to me,” Paul revealed. “And I’m like, ‘What the fuck? Why does she want to talk to me?’ Nobody will tell me, and then I never hear anything, and then a year will go by, and it happens again.”
Someone from Giamatti’s podcast “Chinwag” did eventually give the “Believe” singer his number, which resulted in Cher leaving him a somewhat confusing voicemail. “All she said was, ‘I hear you want to talk to me,’” Paul recalled with a laugh. “I left her a message and I said, ‘That’s great. I’d love to talk to you, but I thought you wanted to talk to me!’ And that’s the last I heard [from her].”
Paul and Howard were both stumped.
“I don’t know what she could possibly want to talk to me about, and it’s killing me. I’m dying to know what she wants to talk about,” Paul concluded. “I’d love to talk to her about anything. I don’t care, it would be fantastic.”
Watch Paul in “The Holdovers,” streaming now on Peacock.