Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Paul Giamatti
Paul Giamatti
Screenshot: The Late Show

Thankfully at this point everyone who trotted out the possibly apocryphal fun fact about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during plague quarantine have either gotten that out of their system or been rage-blocked by everyone they know. We get it, you’re better than everyone. See you never. But, to be fair, some people are using this time of forced isolation and brain-melting inactivity to actually develop some skills, new or revisited. And while they’re not all winners—follow your dreams, person deciding to finally pick up that saxophone and learn “Baby Elephant Walk” all day in front of your open window—Paul Giamatti brought some pretty graphic evidence to Thursday’s Late Show that forced downtime can be a spur to some interesting old ambitions.

By “graphic,” we’re not talking about his Billions character’s love life, but the acclaimed actor’s rediscovered passion for illustration, which he happily showed off at Colbert’s urging. Noting that his original career plan was to be a cartoonist or graphic artist of some description, Giamatti produced his lockdown portfolio, consisting of stylized faces straight from his unfettered-by-work imagination. (He says Billions—whose fifth season returns on Sunday—will resume production, sometime. Probably.) And they’re honestly really good, confidently sketched caricatures of people (mugs, thugs, the occasional dapper alien) who’d be right at home in the black-and-white indie graphic novel section of your local comic book shop. Colbert compared them to Jules Feiffer, but some might detect the influence of Eric Powell’s The Goon, the long-delayed feature film adaptation of which Giamatti has been connected to. Holding up one severe-looking, hirsute fellow seen shouting in rage at someone just off-panel, Giamatti agreed with Colbert’s assessment that the guy recalls the infamous Rasputin, although that’s not anyone he had in mind when he drew it. Look, sometimes you let your brain drive, and it takes you right to an evil Russian mystic. It happens.

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And while Giamatti sighs that he’s not quite ready to toss this whole acting thing aside, he did tell Colbert that some of his past costars have made him perhaps question dropping the pen and ink. You know, like the unnamed movie (it was Rock Of Ages) where he had to navigate the temperaments of the two baboons his irascible character was supposed to interact (and fight) with. The lady baboon used for closeups was scary enough, but, as Giamatti told Colbert, that was less intense than dealing with her male understudy whose own fear of the shouting actor manifested in some unwanted intimacy. “He would show me his ass,” explained Giamatti with the matter-of-factness of a true character actor, adding helpfully, “It was a submissive thing.” After Giamatti also brought up the unsettlingly prophetic fact that one of those baboons was taught to load and point a handgun at him, Colbert brought up Giamatti’s turn as an orangutan himself in Tim Burton’s misbegotten Planet Of The Apes remake. The actor had a story there, too, as one of the real (also male) chimpanzees on set developed a serious crush on him. (Whether in or out of his ape suit goes unrevealed.)

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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