Paul Giamatti is one the finest character actors around – especially if that character is a manager. With a beard blanketing any hints of joy and a receding hairline unveiling his stress, Paul Giamatti may not be an ideal manager in real life but it certainly works on screen.
In the upcoming N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, the biggest name in the cast is Giamatti as Jerry Heller, the rap group’s manager. From his breakout role as a manager in Private Parts to an Oscar nod as a manager in Cinderella Man, Giamatti is theoretically typecast as a frustrated figure handling a rebellious artist – but he does it so well, is there a manager Giamatti can’t play?
PIG VOMIT IN PRIVATE PARTS (1997)
Although Private Parts is a Howard Stern biopic starring the man himself, even despisers of the shock jock can find something in it to enjoy. That something is almost certainly Paul Giamatti as Kevin “Pig Vomit” Metheny, a radio station manager tormented by Stern’s risqué antics. Wearily explaining how to pronounce WNBC (“it’s W-NNNNNNN-BC”), Giamatti is relatively young yet already possessing the wounded demeanour of a stressed-out executive who was a stressed-out executive in prior lifetimes.
At the time, Stern could call himself “The King of All Media”, a self-aggrandising title that no longer applies since his move to satellite radio (if he made a film now, would it be major news?) because he no longer has censors to battle. Without the finger-wagging boss – in the film’s case, Giamatti – there’s no tension in the drama. Later, Giamatti would have his regular side-gigs laid out for him, one manager character after the other.
JOE GOULD IN CINDERELLA MAN (2005)
Managing a boxer is an odd profession most of us only know from films, which is why only a certain type of grouchy, shouty portrayal will do. Reminiscent of Joe Pesci in Raging Bull, Giamatti antagonises his boxing client in between rounds and embodies the dark part of a sportsman’s conscience – as demonstrated in the POV shots of Giamatti yelling into the camera, “You’ll hit him and you’ll keep hitting him until he breaks his nose.”
If Giamatti is part of your inner psyche, you probably will feel like punching someone repeatedly, which always helps if you’re a boxer. Although an Oscar nomination came with the role, Giamatti didn’t win, meaning we’ll never find out if there was space on the acceptance speech for his manager.
MIKE FLAHERTY IN WIN WIN (2011)
Giamatti works best when playing natural born losers – not that casting agents allow him to prove otherwise. (If he plays someone who wins the lottery, you can guarantee the ticket will be lost.) In Win Win, Todd McCarthy’s underrated dramedy about physical and emotional wrestling, Giamatti seems to snag a break – coaching a child-wrestling prodigy, he tastes from the sidelines what it’s like to be a champion.
Except he’s also a failed lawyer escaping a fractured marriage and manipulating his oblivious teen companion – a kid hired through a paid guardianship that barely covers mounting business debts. If Giamatti wins, it’s ultimately still a loss. That’s Giamatti’s onscreen persona: unhappy with life and ready to drag anyone else done with him.
PAUL GILL IN ROCK OF AGES (2012)
In reality, managing Tom Cruise is probably a daily nightmare of pretending you haven’t seen Going Clear. In a silly 80s hair metal musical, however, Giamatti has it easy. Playing Paul Gill, the manager of Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), the role’s deeper importance is for juxtaposition – placed side by side (maybe on steps, to distort the height imbalance), Cruise is more obviously the traditional A-list star of the double act.
For extra contrast, Giamatti is forced to don a cruelly unflattering ponytail and overgrown moustache, while portrayed as the film’s villain. “You want love?” he cackles evilly. “Go after it. But I can guarantee you something a lot more rare: fame.”
JERRY HELLER IN STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015)
Checking in on set through Skype, Ice Cube’s creative input for Straight Outta Compton meant his younger self was played by the next best thing – his biological son. However, Jerry Heller, N.W.A’s former manager, had no say on the matter and is portrayed by Giamatti as the biopic’s baddie, a greedy businessman who’s so out of touch he believes the initials stand for “No Whites Allowed”.
Blamed for splitting up The World’s Most Dangerous Group, Heller represents more than a manager – he’s The Man, and even future billionaire Dr Dre sticks it to The Man. But that’s Giamatti, my annual vote for manager of the year, and a character actor deserving of more leading roles – as long as it’s a manager, of course.
'Straight Outta Compton' opens in the UK on 28 August 2015.