The balding, likeable, nervous-looking character actor Paul Giamatti is the son of the author, Yale president, and major league baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. After earning his M.F.A. in Drama from Yale, the younger Giamatti got started on his acting career with small film parts and TV guest spots. He quickly became a recognizable face but his name was not yet well-known in Hollywood, while on-stage he appeared in lead roles for Broadway productions of The Three Sisters and The Iceman Cometh.
Giamatti's film breakthrough came in 1997 with the role of media executive Kenny (aka "Pig Vomit") in the Howard Stern movie Private Parts. In his next few films, he played small yet funny parts like the inept mob henchman in Safe Men, the slave-peddling ape in Planet of the Apes, and the bellboy in My Best Friend's Wedding. He then got starring roles in the HBO movies Winchell (opposite fellow character actor Stanley Tucci) and If These Walls Could Talk 2.
Giamatti seemed to get good parts in both independent films (Storytelling, Confidence) and in major studio blockbusters (Big Momma's House, Big Fat Liar). After playing the real-life eccentric Bob Zmuda in Milos Forman's Man on the Moon, he got his first major starring role in 2003 as the leading real-life eccentric Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The same year he starred in the FX original movie The Pentagon Papers with James Spader.
Many thought Giamatti was more than deserving of an Academy Award nomination for his role in American Splendor, but when the nods were announced his name was absent. Nonetheless, he received even more raves for his next film. As the wine-loving love-lorn lead in Sideways, Giamatti wowed critics and increased his popularity with audiences exponentially. However, despite the overwhelming accolades and multiple Oscar nominations for the film, Giamatti was again ignored by the Academy.
Next up, Giamatti returned to supporting work with a role in director Ron Howard's acclaimed 2005 biopic of boxer Jim Braddock, Cinderella Man. Playing the concerned, passionate manager to Russell Crowe's headstrong underdog, Giamatti finally received some belated Academy attention, even if he lost the 2005 Best Supporting Actor prize to popular favorite George Clooney. No matter, since Giamatti was already at work on his next leading man project in M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water. Of course his role as the befuddled apartment complex supervisor attempting to protect a mysterious woman who emerges from the swimming pool in Shyamalan's eagerly-anticipated fairy-tale thriller still only seemed like the beginning of an incredibly productive period that continued to capitalize on Giamatti's post-Sideways success, and with an exhausting six films featuring the actor scheduled for release in 2006 alone, the actor previously content essaying supporting roles found himself increasingly gravitating towards the status of leading man.
Still, it wasn't all big budget blockbusters for the screen's most well-known wine connisseur, and with a prominant role as an obsessive falconer in writer/director Julian Goldberger's 2006 adaptation of author Harry Crews 1973 novel The Hawk is Dying, Giamatti delivered the distinct message that his career was still very much about the creativity afforded to actors and not necessarily the financial payoff. An additional role in the romantic fantasy adventure The Illusionist that same year found Giamatti taking a trip back to turn-of-the-century Vienna to play a conflicted police inspector whose outward obligations to the aristocracy belie his growing suspicions that they may be covering up an especially confounding murder. With a voice that was equally as recognizable as his distinctive face, Giamatti began lending his vocal chords to a variety of animated projects including Robots, The Ant Bully, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto and the curiously titled Amazing Screw-on Head as well.
Unrelenting in the coming years, Giamatti would continue to take on a wide range of memorable character roles in interesting films like Shoot Em Up, John Adams, Cold Souls, The Last Station, The Hangover Part II, The Ides of March and Rock of Ages. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi