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Fred Claus - Paul Giamatti interview

Fred Claus

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PAUL Giamatti talks about slipping into Santa’s fat suit for Fred Claus, taking bathroom breaks, his favourite Christmas films and what’s next in terms of film and TV roles…

How did you cope with wearing the Santa prosthetics?
Paul Giamatti: It wasn’t as bad as you would have thought, but it was shocking at first. The first time I put the whole thing on I was a little bit overwhelmed, but Vince [Vaughn] was very kind and got me a chair and a fan and a cool drink. He took care of me. In fact, they hadn’t prepared any kind of escape hatch for me so I could go to the bathroom – and I had those big rubber hands on. But they worked it all out and it was eventually fine. They had a great team of people around me. They had a cool suit for me sometimes too, which actually would become too cold.

How long did it take for a bathroom break?
Paul Giamatti: The thing is I couldn’t eat really because of the beard and the hands, so I didn’t have to go to the bathroom very much. And I did have to get out of it every 45 minutes, so that was fine. Then I’d be out of it for 10 minutes.

Were the whiskers and hair OK?
Paul Giamatti: That was itchy, that was yak hair I think. Which is itchy for those of you who don’t wear yak hair frequently on your face.

What did your son make of seeing you as Santa?
Paul Giamatti: I tend to think that for a little kid Santa Claus can be kind of terrifying in some ways. I was scared of Santa in the department stores – he’s big and red, with the teeth and white hair. He got used to it eventually, but at first seeing me in the fat suit was really weird. But then he visited the toy factory, so he got more interested in that.

How did he react to the elves?
Paul Giamatti: Well, I was particularly distracted by one very attractive elf. For about a week I had a pretty hard time staying on point. It was distracting [laughs].

What are your favourite Christmas films?
Paul Giamatti: I like a movie called Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which is Pia Zadora and Mexico’s contribution to the Santa Claus genre. It’s a fantastic movie. It’s an acid trip of a film.

Did you discuss the role of Santa with other actors who have played it?
Paul Giamatti: [Laughs] We have a forum every year, a seminar. It’s a recovery group. No, I didn’t think to consult with anybody, although I probably should have! I’m the skinniest one, though – I go under the tree and plug the lights in for everybody. I just figured there’s the archetype of what the guy’s supposed to be like in your head. That part of it, the “ho, ho, ho” thing, I figured if I could get that right – which I had to practice – I was halfway there. Other than that, it was a character that was its own character, so I wasn’t worried too much about being the definitive Santa. I just happened to be the right guy for this one.

You are, however, the first Santa to be seen in bed with Mrs Claus?
Paul Giamatti: That’s true, it never occurred to me. And there’s discussion of our sex life in it, when things aren’t going well. That’s interesting too.

Are you hopeless when it comes to Christmas shopping?
Paul Giamatti: Well, I’ve solved the whole thing by celebrating Hanukkah. I married a Jewish lady, and we’re raising our son Jewish, and since I’m not Jewish the whole thing is just a mystery to me. I leave it to her, actually, because it’s just a great mystery.

Did you come up with the scene with the Jewish family [in the film]?
Paul Giamatti: [Laughs] I did not!

How did you enjoy working with Kevin Spacey again [for the first time since Broadway]? And did he manage to recruit you for London’s Old Vic?
Paul Giamatti: He’s a good guy to work with. He’s a very funny guy. But I’m terrible, that terrified me [the Old Vic]. He got Vince though [for The 24-Hour Plays] and he went over huge doing that.

What’s in the future for you?
Paul Giamatti: I’ve got so much in the can, I just did Cats on film – Mr Tiddlywinks. America’s going to love it – it will be very special. I did a little independent film with Billy Crudup called Pretty Bird, which is a weird little dark comedy. And then I did an HBO mini series about the American Revolution. I play John Adams, who was the second President of the United States. Everybody here knows who he is, but in America… you guys will love it. But that’s it for me.

b>Read our review of Fred Claus

b>Read our interview with John Michael Higgins