15 Surprising Facts About Paul Giamatti

Showtime Networks
Showtime Networks

Over the course of nearly 30 years and approximately 100 film and television roles, Paul Giamatti has worked his way up from blink-and-you’ll-miss-him roles like “Heckler #2” to become an Oscar-nominated leading man. While he continues to build a diverse resume of film roles with projects like American Splendor, Sideways, Cinderella Man, 12 Years a Slave, and Straight Outta Compton, he’s also bringing his singular brand of wit and talent to the small screen on Showtime’s Billions. To celebrate the venerable actor’s 50th birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Paul Giamatti.

1. HE GREW UP WANTING TO BE A PROFESSOR.

Growing up in a family surrounded by academics, Paul Giamatti considered following his father’s career path and becoming a professor. In 1978, at the age of 40, Giamatti’s father—Bart—was appointed president of Yale University (the youngest person to ever hold the position). “I was never the class clown, or put on shows at home,” Giamatti told The Scotsman about his roundabout road to becoming an actor. “I never thought of acting as something I could do with my life. When I was a kid, I used to run around wrapped in toilet paper so I could be the Mummy. But that wasn’t a sign that I was dreaming of being an actor. I was just an odd child."

2. HE HAD A STRANGE OBSESSION WITH BASEBALL UMPIRES.

Growing up, Giamatti was oddly fascinated with baseball umpires. “I don’t think it had anything to do with their authority,” he told The Believer. “It was more a fascination with the appearance of the home-plate umps. They wear those old-school chest protectors and the mask and they’re always dressed in black … There’s something weirdly sinister about those cats. And of course I’ve always been drawn to the ancillary supporting players in drama. If you look at a game of baseball as a narrative of some kind, the umps are the bit players. They’re the character actors. In almost any situation, I’m invariably interested in the people that nobody pays much attention to."

3. HIS FATHER IS THE MAN WHO BANNED PETE ROSE FROM BASEBALL.

Giamatti’s obsession with baseball’s supporting players might make more sense when you consider that, after leaving his position at Yale in 1986, Bart Giamatti became the president of the National League and, in 1989, was appointed MLB Commissioner. Though he only held the position for five months (the elder Giamatti passed away on September 1, 1989), he managed to make one memorable move during his tenure when he banned Pete Rose from the game amid allegations that he was betting on baseball games.

4. HE LIKES PLAYING SUPPORTING ROLES.

Though he emerged as more of a leading man in the early 2000s with movies like American Splendor and Sideways, Giamatti is content to play a supporting role. "I think you're given more license to have fun, in a way,” he told The Guardian of being a supporting player. “You're supposed to be more vivid, your job is to be more eccentric. I think I just like it better. There's something about working in a smaller space that I'm more temperamentally suited to."

5. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN SEES HIM AS A TOM HANKS TYPE (WITH BEAUTIFUL EYES).

M. Night Shyamalan, who directed Giamatti in 2006’s Lady in the Water, doesn’t see Giamatti as a bit player. “He is very much a leading man," Shyamalan told The New York Times. "For me, he is like Tom Hanks—he can carry a movie. Paul's eyes are very beautiful in a puppy-dog way. The audience is compelled to want what that person wants and that is a sign of a real star."

6. HIS MOST CHALLENGING ROLE REQUIRED HIM TO SIT IN POOP.

When asked about the biggest challenge he has faced as an actor, the ever-self-deprecating Giamatti said it was one of his earliest roles. “I believe the character was called ‘Man in Sleeping Bag,’” he said. “A homeless guy. It may have just been ‘man.’ Who knows. It was an episode of NYPD Blue. We were in a squatters village below the Manhattan Bridge. I was lying in real human feces. A real lunatic who lived there in a huge drainage pipe of some kind would crawl out occasionally and pelt me with debris … They had to pay him a lot to stay in his pipe. Good for him. I had one line. Something like, ‘I don’t know nothin’ man.’ I screwed it up. I sat around all day. At one point I got thrown off the set by a P.A. who thought I was a real ‘Man in Sleeping Bag.’ I was nervous; disoriented."

When asked about the most fun he’s had playing a part, Giamatti responded: “Man in sleeping bag."

7. HE COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT ANYONE WOULD WANT TO MAKE, OR WATCH, A MOVIE ABOUT WINE.

Though Sideways may be one of the best known, and most beloved, films on Giamatti’s resume, the actor himself wasn’t so sure about it. He told The Scotsman that when he was offered the part, his first thought was: “No one will want to make this movie—and who the hell is going to want to watch a movie about wine?" For the record, Giamatti freely admits that he knows nothing about wine, and he’s fine with that.

8. HE GOT FOOD POISONING WHILE MAKING SIDEWAYS. HE ALSO GOT VERY DRUNK.

In the DVD commentary for Sideways, Giamatti and his co-star, Thomas Haden Church, discussed how they both got food poisoning after filming the dinner scene with Giamatti’s on-screen mom. On another occasion, Giamatti got very, very drunk.

“There was one dinner scene where I had to drink a sh*tload and by the end of the night I was completely hammered,” Giamatti recounted. “Fortunately I didn’t have to do that much talking but I got really f*cked up, it was great. You can tell that I’m kind of messed up. Maybe that’s why the Academy didn’t nominate me for that movie, because I’m clearly drunk."

9. HE DIDN’T CARE ABOUT HIS SO-CALLED “OSCAR SNUB.”

Speaking of the Oscars: While much of the movie-watching world was taken aback when both Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen received Academy Award nominations for their work on Sideways, while Giamatti got nothing, the actor wasn’t at all fazed or disappointed. “That was an odd dilemma to be in,” he told the Independent. “I didn't expect to get nominated so it was like everybody else was way more disappointed than I was, so that was really weird, talking to these people and not knowing what to say to them to take their disappointment away that I didn't get nominated."

10. HE WAS APPROACHED ABOUT PLAYING MICHAEL SCOTT ON THE OFFICE.

In 2006, The New York Times reported that when adapting Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office for American television, Paul Giamatti as Michael Scott was on the top of at least one NBC executive’s dream casting list. Giamatti declined the part.

11. HE HAS PORTRAYED TWO DIFFERENT PRESIDENTS.

Six years after playing the title role in HBO’s John Adams miniseries (a part that earned him a Golden Globe Award), Giamatti took on the role of another POTUS when he voiced Teddy Roosevelt for Ken Burns’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

12. NOT BEING BORED IS HIS MAIN CRITERIA FOR ACCEPTING A ROLE.

When asked about how he goes about choosing his roles, Giamatti told The A.V. Club that he doesn’t have any sort of calculated plan. “I just don’t want to be bored,” he said. “That’s the only criteria I have. I like it if the script is good and the director seems like he’s gonna be good. But if I can find a variety of things to do, which I feel like I manage to do, as far as the actual performing goes and the character, that’s huge for me. To be able to feel like I can do a fairly diverse array of things. I’ve been lucky in that way. I don’t mind being stereotyped in some way and playing certain kinds of guys, but if I can find something to occasionally get a break from that, that would be nice. And I feel like I manage to. But there’s no grand scheme other than that."

13. HE THINKS HE HAS BEEN TYPECAST, AND HE’S OK WITH IT.

Because he chooses his roles on what is most interesting to him personally, Giamatti often ends up playing oddballs. “I think I'm typecast. But that is fine with me,” he told the Independent. “I remember an actor called Bud Cort, I met him once and he said, 'Go ahead and happily be typecast, I resisted it and didn't get cast again, I would happily go back and be typecast.' Within the type I play, it's interesting to play, ambivalent, spiky, weird, unpleasant people."

14. HE CAN BE VERY CRITICAL OF HIS OWN PERFORMANCES.

Like so many other artists, Giamatti has a habit of picking apart his performances. “I definitely have a tendency to only see the blemishes of things, and see lots of things about my acting that I don’t like,” he told The A.V. Club. “I think I’ve gotten a little easier on myself, or at least a little more usefully critical of myself. I think before, I just couldn’t take looking at myself at all. I don’t know. I’m happy people see something I don’t see. I’ve very critical of myself, and film has been an adjustment for me. I’m glad; it’s a challenge in some ways. Certainly not boring. But it’s always been hard for me to feel like I get it, get how to act on film. I feel like I’m gradually getting it."

15. HE BELIEVES THAT CHUCK RHOADES, HIS CHARACTER IN BILLIONS, IS ESSENTIALLY A GOOD GUY.

At the moment, much of Giamatti’s time is devoted to Billions, the Showtime series he stars in that was recently renewed for a third season. In the series, Giamatti plays U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, a complicated character who will seemingly stop at nothing to take down his wife’s employer, hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). While Rhoades doesn’t always make the best choices, Giamatti believes that he’s essentially a good guy.

“I admire those guys who do what my character does,” Giamatti told the Los Angeles Daily News. “They are ambitious, driven guys with human needs and desires, but they do believe in the law as a kind of instrument for doing good.” He acknowledges that Rhoades is “definitely a flawed person, but essentially I think my character is doing a good thing.”

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

5 Popular Back to the Future Fan Theories, Examined

Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

July marks the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future, the enduring sci-fi and comedy classic starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, an amiable teen who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Thanks to Doc's DeLorean time machine, Marty winds up in 1955 to save Doc’s life and to make sure his parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) fall in love, thereby ensuring his existence.

Fans of the film have spent the past several decades wrapping their minds around the movie’s time travel paradoxes and missing pieces of the plot. Take a look at some of the most popular theories, then check out Back to the Future and its sequels on Netflix to see if they carry any weight.

1. Marty McFly’s parents knew he was a time traveler.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of Back to the Future is why George and Lorraine McFly fail to notice that their grown son Marty bears a striking resemblance to the man they knew as “Calvin Klein” who dropped into their lives in 1955 to make sure their romance was intact. One theory explained by Redditor djbred18 offers that George and Lorraine did recognize him. “I mean they had 30 years to figure it out!” the user said. Crucially, George heard “Calvin” using the names of Darth Vader and the Vulcan race from Star Trek years before they materialized, a fact any science-fiction author like George would have picked up on. A scene late in the film where Marty’s parents give him a brand-new truck and offer a knowing smile could be read as a thank you for his efforts.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in 2020, Back to the Future co-screenwriter Bob Gale explained that they didn't make the connection: It was a simple case of Marty’s parents not recognizing the man they had spent just a few days with 30 years prior. “I would ask anyone to think back to their own high school days and ask themselves how well they remember a kid who might have been at their school for even a semester,” he said. “Or someone you went out with just one time. If you had no photo reference, after 25 years, you’d probably just have a hazy recollection.”

2. Doc Brown was suicidal.

While testing his DeLorean in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot, Doc Brown steps directly in front of the car traveling at 88 mph. The only way he wouldn’t be crushed is if his experiment succeeded and the car vanishes. Yet Doc makes mention of his other experiments being disappointing. Given his lack of confidence in his own abilities, standing in front of the car appears to be a death wish.

When asked about this theory by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2018, Christopher Lloyd wasn’t buying into it. “I don’t think so,” Lloyd said. “Because Doc had so much confidence in what he was doing, he didn’t worry about that ... maybe a little doubtful, but Doc didn’t have a grim nature.”

However, Lloyd did add that: “You’ve given me a lot to think about though.”

3. Marty McFly’s actions altered his girlfriend’s appearance.

Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future Part II' (1989)
Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future Part II (1989).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the first Back to the Future, actress Claudia Wells portrays Jennifer Parker, Marty’s girlfriend. In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, Elizabeth Shue took over the role because Wells was dealing with an illness in her family. For a series about time travel, it might be easy to explain why Jennifer’s appearance changes. According to Reddit user j1ggy, Marty’s presence resulted in unseen but demonstrative effects in the lives of Jennifer’s parents, possibly even resulting in Jennifer having a different mother or father. Because Marty seems slightly confused by Jennifer at the beginning of Back to the Future Part II, it’s possible he realizes he changed the past to the point that his girlfriend is now physically different.

4. Marty may have actually turned Biff Tannen’s life around.

At the beginning of Back to the Future, we see town bully Biff Tannen pushing around George McFly and demanding he perform Biff's work duties at their office. At the end of the film, Biff is in a subservient role, waxing George’s car as part of his work owning an auto detailing company. But, as Reddit user SatNav points out, that may have been best for Biff. He went from being dependent on George to assist him with his job to owning his own small business.

5. Doc Brown kills Marty.

At the conclusion of Back to the Future, time-traveling Marty returns from 1955 to witness 1985 Marty disappearing in the DeLorean. While that’s presumably Marty heading back to 1955, one theory has posited that Doc Brown is sending 1985 Marty either to his death or exiling him in time to make room for the returning 1955 Marty. Had he allowed 1985 Marty to continue living, he could have gone back to 1955 to meet the Marty already there. That, or two versions of Marty would have been running around Hill Valley in 1985.

Christopher Lloyd has dismissed this theory. “Doc would never send Marty off to his death, in any kind of scenario,” he told the CBC in 2018. “Doc couldn’t live with that.”