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Paul Giamatti Says Oscar Nomination for ‘The Holdovers’ Makes Him Feel Like He “Did the Right Thing” With His Life

It’s been almost 20 years since Paul Giamatti’s last Oscar nomination, for Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man in 2006. This year, with Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, Giamatti scores his long-overdue first lead nod after coming extremely close with another Payne collaboration, Sideways, in 2004.

The Holdovers follows a curmudgeonly teacher (Giamatti) at a New England boarding school, forced to watch over a small group of students over the holidays. He’s joined on campus by a grieving cook (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who was also nominated today) and a rebellious senior looking for trouble (newcomer Dominic Sessa). The film scored five total Oscar nominations Tuesday, including for picture and original screenplay.

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Tuesday morning, the veteran character actor chatted with The Hollywood Reporter in the wake of his second Oscar nomination to talk about receiving that news, his collaboration with Payne and what he might like to try out in future projects.

Where were you when you got the news?

I have to admit, I was asleep. My manager woke me up. I’m a night owl. I stay up late. I think I was like, “I’m just going to ignore these things. Somebody will tell me what happened.” My manager of many decades woke me up.

How did you feel when you got the news? Did you have people you immediately had to call?

I was flabbergasted. I’m still flabbergasted by it. I’m trying to take it in. I’m so happy the movie got acknowledged in so many ways. I’m so happy the editor, Kevin Tent, got acknowledged. He’s the best. I’m still just trying to take it in. It’s amazing. I didn’t need to call anybody. Everybody started calling me. I was like, “Holy cow.” Everybody started contacting me. So, it was lovely.

I was just on the phone with your co-star, Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

Where is she? Is she in Paris?

She just got back from Paris this morning. She pulled an all-nighter.

She’s amazing. I’m so happy for her. It doesn’t surprise me one bit, though. From the second I saw the movie till now, I was like, “She’s amazing in this.”

Talk to me a little bit about those first impressions of getting the script and then meeting the cast and how this came together for you.

Alexander spent an enormous amount of time on the script, and he did it with David Hemingson. So I always know I’m going to get something incredibly, perfectly written. And even the first draft they sent me was incredibly great. I thought, “Well, this looks good to me.” And then they kept working on it and made it even better. I loved the setting of it. It was a familiar setting. So, that was kind of interesting to do. I loved the Christmastime aspect of it. I thought it was a real, genuine Christmas movie. The values of Christmas are genuinely put on display, and the guy does something truly selfless at the end of the movie. I would do anything Alexander wants to do because he’s just the best director I’ve ever worked with and ever will work with. And then meeting [the cast] was amazing. I saw Dom’s early audition tape, and I thought he was the only person for the job. They thought so, too. He was a joy to work with. Lovely guy. And Da’Vine is fantastic. We had an easy, no-sweat relationship of working because I think we work similarly.

You’ve obviously worked in Hollywood for a long time and have received recognition in the past, but I wonder if the nomination feels like any sort of special milestone in your career.

No, I mean, it’s true. I have been lucky to be acknowledged before. And I really love this movie. There’s something special about that. I’m older than I was 20 years ago, obviously. I think there’s a way in which I feel a little bit like, “OK, I can relax. I actually did the right thing with my life. And I’m going to work again, and I can recognize that I’ve done some good stuff, I can feel good about it.” That’s a lot for me to say. So, it’s a really good thing. It feels nice coming at this time of my life.

Will you have the chance to celebrate today? 

My girlfriend and I are going to do something. My son is around, and maybe we’ll go have a nice meal somewhere, but I didn’t have any plans because superstition precluded any plans. I was like, “I can’t plan anything. I’m just gonna see what happens.”

Maybe an In-N-Out stop, like after the Golden Globes. 

I’m in New York [now], so there is no In-N-Out, unfortunately. There’s Shake Shack or Five Guys, I guess.

Are there other films or nominations from this year that you were particularly moved by that you’d like to shout out here?

Actually, there are so many people who [gave] great performances that I know. I know Lily Gladstone, I’ve worked with her. It’s so awesome that she’s doing this. I’m really amazed and happy and pleased that Jeffrey Wright is nominated. I’ve known him for many years. And he’s, I think, one of the greatest living actors. So, it’s awesome that he’s being acknowledged, and I thought that movie was great. I thought Sterling K. Brown was also so great in that movie. I’ve known him for years.

Do you have projects that you would particularly like to try out in the future after this, maybe a different genre or type of characters?

Everybody keeps asking me about this because I said something recently, but I do like horror stuff. I actually have a friend of mine who wrote something really interesting, a little horror movie that hopefully we can get going. That would be nice.

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