ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with The Holdovers star Paul Giamatti about the holiday movie. The actor discussed his character’s development and working with the next generation of actors. The Holdovers is now playing in theaters.
“From acclaimed director Alexander Payne, The Holdovers follows a curmudgeonly instructor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England prep school who is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go,” reads the movie‘s synopsis. “Eventually he forms an unlikely bond with one of them — a damaged, brainy troublemaker (newcomer Dominic Sessa) — and with the school’s head cook, who has just lost a son in Vietnam (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).”
Tyler Treese: Dominic Sessa is so incredible in this. I couldn’t believe it was his first film role. There are a lot of other young, talented actors that round out the cast and smaller roles. What do you find most rewarding about working with that next generation of actors and getting to lead by example?
Paul Giamatti: Well, I don’t know that my example is actually useful to anybody, but I definitely enjoy working with young guys like that. Especially Dominic, who’d never done anything before. So this sense of discovery and having a good time. Those guys all became friends and were having a really good time together.
It’s just fun to be around people who are enjoying this thing for the first time that you’ve gotten jaded about a little bit, you know? So hopefully it takes off a little bit of the jading for me. It’s fun. I don’t think I had anything to teach any of those guys. They’re all professional. They’re all total pros. Even Dominic who’d never done anything, just brought a natural kind of professionalism to it.
I have to ask about Mr. Hunham’s eyes. Was that a contact lens? How was it done? Was it difficult to act with whatever was done?
Tyler? It’s a mystery that I can’t reveal. It’s all just the magic of film and acting. I can’t tell you exactly how we did that. I’ve been sworn a secrecy, sir. [Laughs].
That’s fair! The line, “You can’t even dream a whole dream” really stood out to me in the movie. Can you speak to where your character is at the beginning? I feel like that’s a place where a lot of people wind up in their professional lives, later on where you lose that ambition.
He sort of has. He can’t even, and he’s hardened into that thing and convinced himself he didn’t even want those things anymore and that he’s put these things beyond himself. Even the sort of sense of this woman who might be attracted to him … I don’t know how much he really thinks this is going to happen. To have given up on all that stuff and then tell yourself you never really wanted it anyway. It’s almost the real tragedy, you know? That he’s convinced himself that this is actually where he wants to be. It’s sad. Very sad.
One thing that’s always impressed me about your work is you always add these little mannerisms and tics to the characters. Is that something that naturally comes to you? Are you thinking about that before filming? What’s your process like?
I think they come as I’m preparing for something, I suppose. Then it’ll develop as you do the movie, too. Things will sort of just start to come. I think I’ve gotten more willing to just let things come and not try to plan things as much or try to come up with something. I think I’m just getting a little bit more relaxed about just … let come what comes, you know?
I’ve seen some people kind of see a sadness to the ending For your character. I thought I saw much more hopeful. I thought it was great to see him moving on and doing something different after being in a rut. How do you view your character’s endpoint?
I’m actually happy to hear a couple of people — you guys have said that to me, which I find really inspiring because I wasn’t sure. I just didn’t know. Then I’ve heard people say, “I think he’s going to be all right,” and I think that’s great. Maybe he will — he’s not a pushover … he’s got some guts and maybe he will be okay. Maybe he will go do these things. Maybe he will meet somebody. I like that. That’s nice to hear that people feel that something positive might happen.