Talent abounds in this sprawling, grown-up movie, in which both Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver fall for Paul Giamatti. What's his secret? The ladies tell all.
Based on the award-winning novel by Canadian writer Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a movie for mature filmgoers—people who have lived through decades, who may have outlived marriages, and who can appreciate the ups and downs that characterize the most meaningful relationships in our lives. As such, the new film from Richard J. Lewis (Whale Music) is practically impossible to categorize. Part romantic comedy (but only the first half), part melancholic drama about aging, part epic love story… it’s fully the layered, woven tapestry of one man’s adult life.
Though Paul Giamatti—as Barney Panofsky—is the lifeforce of this movie, he is surrounded by a rich and talented supporting cast, including his three wives: Barney’s marriage to Rachelle Lefevre’s Clara represents Barney’s impetuous young adulthood in Europe (relocated to Rome from the novel’s Paris); his pairing with Minnie Driver’s “Second Mrs. P” is a mistake from the start; and Rosamund Pike’s stunning Miriam is the love of his life and the proof that “third time’s the charm.”
Paul Giamatti and Rachelle Lefevre
Also making an appearance are Dustin Hoffman, as Barney’s crude and funny father Izzy, who also happens to be a Montreal cop; Scott Speedman as his best friend Boogie, who’s also a junkie; and and Canadian filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg in fun-to-spot cameos.
Paul Giamatti and Scott Speedman
If the cast is sprawling, so is the story. Barney lives an interesting life, while not being overly likable; he’s got his flaws, just like the rest of us. That said, Barney’s Version is a rich film, full of humor and pathos and aging—Giamatti underwent hours of prosthetics on most days—that won’t likely appeal to a young audience. But for that reason, we are hopeful that it does find its way to adults who are sick of scatology and robots; don’t you agree we need more movies for grown-ups?
The film, which opens this weekend, has garnered critical praise at festivals around the world (including Venice and Toronto)—and Giamatti has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. (Both Pike and Driver received nods from the London Film Critics Circle.) At roundtable interviews this week, Giamatti, Pike, and Driver shared their thoughts on the film, and commiserated about the film’s defiance of categorization. (The women also agree that Barney must be GREAT in bed.) We happily present the highlights…
Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike
Q: How did you first become familiar with the book? Was the script your introduction to the story?
Rosamund Pike: I did know the book, because I’d done another film with Robert Lantos, the producer, based on another Canadian novel. At the end of that filming, he’d put this in my hand, just as something funny to read—and it’s very, very funny. I didn’t at that point think I’d end up being in it, least of all playing Miriam.
Q: The [elaborate] Jewish wedding between Barney and the second Mrs. P is a pivotal part of the movie. Had you been to a Jewish wedding before?
Paul Giamatti: I had one! But it was kind of a [small-scale] one. So we didn’t do the whole hora thing. I did the low-key, cool guy hippie thing Jewish one. But I’ve been to them, yeah, though never one quite as over the top as the one in the movie. A big, sweaty, crazy thing like that? No.
Paul Giamatti and Minnie Driver Q: Now you just said that the book was really, really funny? I found the movie a little serious, compared to the trailer…
Paul Giamatti: This movie is impossible to put into a trailer; that’s the thing. Even with the way they butcher movies to put them into trailers to try to sell them—this one is particularly hard to put into a trailer. And I think they are terrified of showing me old in the trailer, too—I saw it, and I was like, “You never see me old in the trailer.” And the film is not jokey.
Rosamund Pike: I think the film is very funny, but the humor is ingrained in the action. The book is told with a sort of ironic tone of voice the whole way, and he’s very funny and politically incorrect, which is, if you find funny, very funny. It’s not slapstick; it’s never going to be that. I think his actions are, generally, these crazy, humorous actions. [It’s] comic, if not laugh-out-loud funny.
Q: Your character aged over the decades. Which era did you like best?
Paul Giamatti: The back in time thing was not that much fun; the young guy thing was hard, and the character is not as interesting [then] either. The funnest thing is when he’s oldest—because he’s at the point where he cares the least about what people think of him. And it’s also the most—literally and figuratively—mask-like. I’m wearing the most prosthetic stuff, which was fun—you’re hidden, and covered, and the furthest, I feel, from myself.
Young, actually, you feel some weird obligation to be more truly—some essential version of yourself; you’re stripping stuff away and you have to be youthful. And it’s really hard. That was tricky, and actually somewhat anxiety-inducing.
Q: How long did it take for each of you to transform into your characters, in the makeup chair?
Paul Giamatti: It depended. That beard is not real, ever, in the movie. So he laid it on by hand every day, so that took a couple of hours. So I was usually in there for at least 2 hours. And then with the prosthetics [as Barney aged], it was three, three and a half, almost four, sometimes. But the beard—I was always at least two hours.
Q: How did they age you, Rosamund?
Paul Giamatti: Time machine.
Rosamund Pike Rosamund Pike: We did full prosthetics, but gradually building them up—adding weight, and trying to mimic the pull of gravity… and we gave a sort older skin kind of quality through broken capillaries and a few moles. And then over the top of that, I did Miriam’s real makeup, as she would as a woman—you know, some eyeliner, mascara, things like that. So I think we got something that was very layered and real, at the end.
[Spoiler alert: There’s an unsettling scene in the film that sets off the above-mentioned epic love story, where Barney spots Miriam at his own wedding to Minnie Driver, and he actually leaves his wedding to follow Miriam onto a train back to New York.]
Q: Why do you think Miriam fell for Barney after this unfolded? What attracted her to him?
Rosamund Pike: I think Miriam is such an understanding character that she sees through it. I mean, she’s been at the wedding, she’s watched the whole ceremony, and probably through her own intuitive sensibility, has seen these two as very mismatched, and has been very perplexed by the whole thing.
I think, by the time he gets on the train, and says to her, “Look, I always thought this stuff never happened, but it does,” and he’s laughing, and he’s confused, and he’s like, “I am totally and utterly in love with you…”
Paul Giamatti: And he’s sincere about it, actually. He’s not just hitting on her. I think that’s the difference.
Rosamund Pike: … I think she feels that he’s not trying to get her into bed. It’s a genuine, crazy thunderbolt approach, and she’s not going to go anywhere with it [right away], but I think it is very arresting.
[END spoiler alert.]
Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman Q: Can you talk about how you choose your roles?
Paul Giamatti: Dartboard. [laughs] I was lucky that something like this comes along. It’s one of the reasons I did it—I don’t think this kind of epic intimate character study comes along very often, so I took advantage of it.
Rosamund Pike: That’s a good way to put it! “Epic intimate character study”—you’ve got it down to four words!
Paul Giamatti: Yeah, it’s weirdly both things: epic and intimate. It’s rare.
And other than that, the only sort of plan that I’ve ever had was to try and keep as much variety in my life as an actor as I can, because I get bored—fatally, like suicidally bored—very, very easily. One of the reasons I am an actor is because I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do next.
Paul Giamatti: Exactly! Totally! There were fiscal reasons for that as well [laughs], but… not entirely. I also was like, “Yeah! Santa Claus—that’ll be fun to do!” Fun, fun, fun is a big motivator for me. Can’t you tell?
Q: What’s up next for you?
Paul Giamatti: I am doing a movie called The Ides of March in February—ironically enough—which is about two nasty political campaigns, just how dirty those things can get.
Rosamund Pike: I am going to produce something for this first time this year.
Paul Giamatti: Are you really? What are you going to produce?
Rosamund Pike: I’m not going to tell you yet… I think it’s just to try and get some more interesting roles for women out there, really.
Q: Speaking of that, I thought Made in Dagenham was amazing, and I’m sorry it didn’t get more play over here.
Rosamund Pike: It’s a great story, and no one knew it. I didn’t know it—it’s not taught in British schools.
Paul Giamatti: It was weirdly hard, because he’s such a blank, that guy. It was only a couple of scenes, and it was really difficult to give him some kind of life. I mean, you’ve seen him—he’s the Chairman of the Federal Reserve—he’s impenetrable; he seems dead! It’s unbelievable—how do you play this guy and make him interesting at all? So I don’t know if I did; we’ll see.
Q: Who was the hardest role you’ve ever played?
Paul Giamatti: Whew. I don’t know. None of it feels easy to me. That Sideways movie was not very easy, actually for me—that was probably one of the hardest things to play.
Q: Was it because he was the most like you?
Paul Giamatti: The most like me?!!?!? That guy was a complete loser!
Q: I just mean he’s not John Adams; he’s a regular guy.
Paul Giamatti: He’s not a regular guy—he’s an asshole, that guy! He’s a horrible human being! I think that’s what I found hard about it too—I was like, “This guy’s a jackass!” I would much rather be like Barney in this movie.
Rosamund Pike: Barney is much more entertaining to hang out with.
Paul Giamatti: Yeah, that guy is just so whingey and done with everything. Barney’s actually got a lot going for him.
Rosamund Pike: And Barney’s great in bed.
Paul Giamatti: Oh, YES!
Q: Your character in this movie does a lot of unlikable things. What did you find redeeming in your role?
Minnie Driver: She loved Barney. It’s sort of widely overlooked that she’s just a nice Jewish girl who falls in love with the man she wants to marry. Its quite simple, and she’s treated horribly. I like it as a meditation that annoying people can have bad things happen to them and we can still find compassion and empathy for them. That’s an interesting journey.
And I think everybody, probably, except Miriam, does unlikable things in this film, but so do people.
Q: What was Paul like to work with as an actor?
Minnie Driver: Often actors have been so institutionalized by acting teachers or ideas about what it is they are supposed to do that their performance becomes wildly inflexible. They have mapped out the whole thing and there is absolutely no room for spontaneity or any sort of emotional alacrity, and they are the most boring actors to work with. Paul is the exact opposite of that, as is Dustin and as is Scott. I think really everyone in this were beautiful, fluid actors, and I think Robert did do a very good job casting actors that work that way.
Q: Was there a lot of preparation for the Second Mrs. P? Because it’s a very particular Montreal, upper-crust, Jewish character that seems so specific to the time and place.
Minnie Driver: Good, I’m glad, because it really was. I had a transcript of this amazing woman who shall remain nameless, telling Michael Konyves, the writer, how to poach an egg. It was a 10- or 15-minute conversation, and we transcribed the whole thing. Everything I needed for the character was in there—her commentary on everything—and it was ostensibly just about poaching an egg. It was really interesting.
Also, I called the Jewish Community Center in Montreal, and I had some great conversations with some ladies and gentlemen there. And then I thought about spoiled girls from very closeknit, tight, conservative families who are bound—whether they are Catholic or Jewish—if it’s bound by faith and they are women, there is something similar. And I grew up with a lot of girls like that, not being one myself. It was very fun to portray.
Q: Does this movie have mass appeal?
Minnie Driver: Not for anyone under 18. I mean there won’t be a Barney’s Version 2 or 3. It’s definitely for an older audience, realistically—people who have experienced relationships and love. I think it’s very funny and thoughtful and interesting, and it is the kind of film that you want to go out and discuss after, one that will leave a lasting impression.
Q: What do you think your character saw in Barney that really attracted her to the point that she wanted to stay married to him for as long as she did?
Minnie Driver: It’s not clear, but I’m imagining that he was really good in bed.
She loves him; she wants to be married. He’s glamorous for someone like her—he’s a glamorous, rebellious choice, and he’s charming. I don’t know exactly. He’s charming for five seconds.