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Busy Giamatti longs to indulge his laziness

Actor has two films at Sundance and is chasing a potential Oscar nod
/ Source: Reuters

Actor Paul Giamatti is smack in the middle of an Oscar race, has two movies at Sundance, another coming out this summer and a new film production company, but he considers himself one thing above all: lazy.

“I’m a lazy man, I really am a lazy guy,” he told Reuters and added a chuckle. “I like my leisure time, big time.”

But then the actor, currently considered an Academy Award contender for his work as a boxing manager in “Cinderella Man,” reflects on his more than 15 years in show business, mostly as a character actor in bit parts among large casts.

“I’m fortunate, now ... I can probably relax a little more, but not too much. You never know. I’ve had long, tough stretches of time” without work in the past, Giamatti said.

The 38 year-old, round-faced actor with receding dark hair and a scraggly beard specializes in character roles with an average-man cast.

Until last year’s independent hit “Sideways,” in which he played a lovelorn wine connoisseur, Giamatti was one of those actors better known by his face than his name.

Sundance, the top film festival for U.S. independent film, has played a big role in the actor’s career. Three years ago, “American Splendor,” in which he played reclusive comic book writer Harvey Pekar, was a hit here and proved to Hollywood that Giamatti had a growing fan base.

Last year, art house hit “Sideways,” earned Giamatti critical praise, an Independent Spirit Award and greater name recognition. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate him for best actor, many of  his fellow actors complained, saying he deserved recognition.

“That was the movie where, all the sudden, an extraordinary cross-section of people saw that movie,” he said. “I mean every ethnicity, everywhere on the social-economic scale. It’s unbelievable how many people saw that movie.”

Fame and fartsGiamatti said the recognition has not changed his daily life too much, but he remains cautious about the fame that movie-star status and rabid fans can bring.

“It’s a wonderful thing. It’s very nice and flattering, but it wasn’t my goal,” he said. “The goal was to work and find things that are interesting, and I am able to do that now.”

He is at the Sundance Film Festival this week in two very different films. In “The Illusionist,” a period drama set in 1900, he portrays a chief inspector in Vienna who is probing the tricks of a crafty magician (Edward Norton). “The Hawk is Dying” has Giamatti portraying a man who trains hawks and is seeking to put some meaning into his lonely life.

Both films are a far cry from movies he was making only a few years ago before awards and fame came his way. In 2002, there was British comedy, “Thunderpants,” in which he played a military man trying to kidnap an English kid whose farts are so strong, the Americans want him to power a rocket.

When Giamatti is reminded of “Thunderpants,” he laughs loudly and defends it as an example of the fact that, even now, he looks for roles he likes and parts that are different. He is not seeking high-profile or top-paying jobs.

“In a way, I’ve always gone, ‘Oh, screw it, who cares? What have I got to lose?”’ he said. “I love silly fart joke comedies, and I love crappy horror movies. I got nothing against any of that stuff.”

But for now, those days of flatulence jokes are over.

This summer, he stars in director M. Night Shyamalan’s new mystery “Lady in the Water,” and he has formed a company ”Touchy Feely Films” to make “small, genre movies,” he said.

At the premiere of “The Illusionist,” a woman stood up during a question and answer session and asked him for a date.

“I was like, ‘I’ve been married for 13 years, where were you 13 years ago? Finally, finally, it pays off.”’