Interview: Paul Giamatti & Rosamund Pike

In the film Barney’s Version based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is a man who proves the old adage third time’s the charm. Barney’s first two marriages end in disaster and it doesn’t help that he meets the love of his life, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), at his second wedding. While Barney’s third marriage is definitely his healthiest, life has a way of complicating the simplest of situations. Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike spoke with Working Author about their characters and their experiences working on the film.

“Piece of cake, actually, in a weird way,” Paul Giamatti says about working with Rosamund Pike, “it was really nice.” He taps a staccato rhythm on the table offhandedly where the digital voice recorder is and it sounds like timpani drums during playback. “We had two good characters, but it was just easy. It felt effortless to me.”

“Yeah, we were given lots of space and a good story,” Pike adds, “and somehow we manage to believe in each other across all these different ages.” In Barney’s Version Giamatti’s and Pike’s characters grow old together and they’re presented throughout the film at different ages. “I mean our first day on set was between these two old souls.” The filmmakers decided to film the last scene first, which Giamatti thought would have been difficult for Pike, but both actors agree that working together was fluid and hassle-free.

“We had a good time,” Pike says, pausing for reflection and then turning to Giamaitti. “You had a good time with everybody, actually, didn’t you?”

Giamatti laughs, “Yeah, you didn’t have to say it like that! I did. I had a good time with everybody, but I had a particularly good time with [Rosamund] though.” The chemistry between the two actors is immediately recognizable and it translates remarkably well on film. Regarding their respective approaches to acting, the two agree that they’re quite similar, but may come off to audiences differently. In the film, Barney is sometimes explosive while Miriam can be relatively staid, which Pike refers to as “[giving Paul] all the limelight.”

“I think that was sort of the general note all the time,” Pike confesses, “I think I often wanted – was sort of tempted to give Miriam a bit more punch and the director very much didn’t want that. He wanted her to stay steady, stay kind of grounded, which is lovely, because it’s a lovely quality. I just – sometimes my taste is to give something a little more edge.” She snaps her fingers for emphasis.

Regarding the character Barney Parnofsky, some viewers may draw parallels between him and the character Miles from Sideways. Giamatti sees more differences than similarities and states that nothing about that former character entered his head. “I suppose you can see a similarity. I think they’re very different. I like [Barney] more than that character. I liked playing [Barney] more than playing that character. I suppose there are similarities in that they’re both sort of prickly, difficult guys. But I was never thinking about [Miles] or thinking ‘I shouldn’t do this’ because of that character.”

Before wrapping up the interview, both actors share their thoughts on the source material. “It’s an amazing piece of work,” Pike says. “And based a large part in [Mordecai Richler’s] life. Apparently, Barney was sort of a character drawn partly from Mordecai himself. Rumor has it (also) a little bit from (Barney’s Version producer) Robert Lantos who was producing TV shows in Canada.” In the film, Barney operates a production company that films a series about a Mountie much like Lantos did in real life.

Giamatti adds, “I think one of the big laughs for Canadians in [Barney’s Version] is that TV show. It’s a very inside thing for Canadians.” At the suggestion that the box office in Canada will be big, Giamatti exclaims, “Huge! It better be!”

Barney’s Version will be released in New York and Los Angeles on January 14, 2011.