The history of Hollywood would be nothing if it were not supported by the reserve army of supporting roles, often brilliant actors who give flesh and life to the films and, sometimes, trump the leading ones. From these ranks emerged Paul Giamatti who, in thirty years of notable appearances, from Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) to 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013), established himself as a familiar face of the general public. Born in 1967, in New Haven (Connecticut), passed through the theatrical priesthood before arriving in Hollywood in the early 1990s, he has shaped a number of neurotic and voluble characters, with his Droopy airs – bulging eyes, receding hairline, jowls – and his unrivaled physical commitment. Twenty years after propelling him to the top of the bill with Sideways (2004), Alexander Payne finds him again with Winter Break , in the shoes of an old, bitter professor, having to watch over a small group of students stuck together during the Christmas holidays .
Why such a late reunion with Alexander Payne?
We wanted to work together again for a long time, but it was never possible. There was first talk of a private detective film – which I would have loved – and then doing Downsizing  together, but the role ultimately went to Matt Damon. There were many missed appointments, including for Winter Break , the project of which stagnated for a long time. Even before he sent me the script, Alexander told me he was inspired by a French classic, Merlusse  , by Marcel Pagnol.
The story goes back to the 1970s, right down to the grain of the image which imitates that of the time. Is it a decade that you still feel culturally close to?
Yes, I am very attached to it. I grew up as a child in the 1970s. My brother and sister and I had parents who took us to see things that were largely “inappropriate” for our age. I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  , by Milos Forman, when I was, what… 7 years old! My poor big brother was traumatized! Secret Conversation [1974, Francis Ford Coppola] and The President’s Men [1976, Alan J. Pakula] really terrified me at the time. I didn’t understand anything about it, but it was breathtaking! For Alexander, the reference was mainly to Hal Ashby, from a film like Shampoo . He never stopped looking towards that decade: Sideways was already a very “seventies” film.
Precisely, you make this hated professor human by making him a virtuoso of language, a lover of words. We feel a real delight in using this brilliant and ironic verb…
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