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Cartoon Culture

How Paul Giamatti Barely Avoided a Lifetime of Misery and Toil

Paul Giamatti

A pudgy, goofy-looking guy with a beard almost became an animator? I don’t think that’s ever happened before. From this piece about Giamatti:

“After graduation, I moved to Seattle thinking I would – oh, I don’t know what in hell I was thinking,” he says. “Get into animation, I guess – although, wow, just put a bullet in your head, there’s a really hard way to make a living. I ended up doing experimental theater, which was fun, but the money, when they had it, was like $16. That was it, that was your ‘stipend,’ $16. So I did a lot of odd jobs, and thought about going back to school and finally, weirdly, lucked into getting an agent.”

I love how he decided to pursue what he thought would be a more lucrative field than animation, like experimental theater.

(via Animation Guild blog)

  • Two other actors that wanted to be animators include Dick Van Dyke (who does animation today as a serious hobby) and Tom Tryon (who went with portfolio to Disney but ended up in a cattle call audition for Texas John Slaughter, which became his first acting gig.)

    • Paul N

      If I remember correctly, comic Harland Williams was an animation student at one point.

      • Scarabim

        Lonnie Anderson came to California to be an animator, and wound up an actress instead. She’s best known for her role as the sexy secretary on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati.

      • w


    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      IIRC, Harland Williams studied animation at Sheridan College for two years: ’81/’82 & ’82/’83.

  • Gobo

    Please note that he says that experimental theater pays virtually nothing, but was a lot of fun (compared to animation, which pays, but is very hard work). He doesn’t say experimental theater is “more lucrative”.

  • Add the late Paul Bartel to that list. He even interned at UPA as a teen before going to write and direct midnight movie classics like “Death Race 2000” and “Eating Raoul”.

  • Ben

    True, experimental theater’s a pretty unrealistic career but if he recalls it as being fun despite the money issue then it would have been logical at the time. I’d assume from the quote he just didn’t find much pleasure in animation – whether they make it or not I’d say by and large the people who persist in this industry do it because they take some joy in it. Those who’d ‘put a bullet in their head’ would be the ones who were quickly disheartened by the labour involved. I’m sure all of us have encountered plenty of people like that.
    At any rate I’m glad he pursued acting as there are few people in movies who make me feel comparatively secure about the definition of my jawline.

  • amid

    Good ones, Michael and Richard. And, of course, there’s Jack Nicholson who worked in MGM’s animation department as an errand boy and was offered a job as inbetweener though he never pursued it.

    • Jorge Garrido

      There’s a terrific Hanna-Barbera crew group caricature that has “Jack” in it.

  • Steve Hogan

    To be fair to Paul, we’re about the same age and in the 80’s animation seemed like a vocation only viable for Korean peasants. I have managed to make a living from it in educational software, but I wouldn’t mind having some of that sweet experimental theater money.

  • “wow, just put a bullet in your head, there’s a really hard way to make a living.”

    Haha, well put Paul. Oh god, he’s right! What am I doing?

  • Toonio

    Whatever they say animation it’s a great skill to have. I’ve done some animations in powerpoint people think they are not possible. I might not have the technical expertise but my animations have the best recall.

    In one hand how many lawyers, engineers or geologists go into old age still doing their careers?

  • Mara

    I think it’s a bit of stretch to say that “he barely avoided a life of pain and suffering” based off one sentence from some written piece. From what I got from it, it sounded more like he thinks that it would be really difficult for him to make it as an animator. And, comparatively, it was worse when he did experimental theater, getting a stipend of only $16. And he ends it by saying he “lucked into” getting an agent. To him, he thought it would be hard to “break it” with animation, maybe he’s not one who has the patience for it, but, to me, he wasn’t saying it would’ve been so outrageously horrible…I believe that’s what you pulled out from it.

    That’s just my opinion. Animation is a pretty good way to make a living, plus its fun, but not without it’s hardships.

  • Jack Nicholson used to work in animation…Hanna Barbera I believe…

    • Alberto

      He was a more of an errand boy for Hanna-Barbara. However they did offer him a job as an animation artist b/c they thought he was a pretty good artist, but he declined saying that he was trying to become an ac-TOUR. Since he has such a specific and interesting voice, I’m surprised they didn’t offer him a voice-acting gig.

      • If you look at the comments before yours, you’ll see that Jack Nicholson didn’t work at H&B but at MGM as an errand boy. He tels the story of dumping all those cels into the dumpster just before they shut down the studio.

  • Move to Seattle and get into animation?

    • Chelsea

      As a Seattle resident, this is exactly what I was thinking.

  • 2011 Toddler

    Animation is clearly not for everyone. You need to accept that it will be painstakingly laborious, and you need patience and experience to do it right. One little line that goes off the motion and you set back hours of production!

  • greg m.

    The Director of “Der Untergang” told me that he started out in animation cleaning cels.

  • Anonymous

    Grant it there’s not much of an animation scene in Washington, especially pre-internet.

  • Ron

    Beverly D’Angelo (of the “Vacation” movies, “Entourage” and married to Al Pacino) actually was an animator for the first few years of her career. I heard an interview with her where she said she worked for Hanna-Barbera as an animator on the Flintstones.

    Carol Burnett is another who aspired to be an animator as a kid. She wanted to work for Disney before becoming a comedian.

    Hugh Hefner also wanted to be a comic-book cartoonist. He was inspired by Superman to get in to publishing and look where it led him.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I was going to say he played Harvey Pekar and then remembered Pekar was a writer.

    Well what can I say? It worked out for him; he made the right decision. Maybe I should have pursued acting like I had planned until my fourth year of high school….:)

    Roger Moore also worked in animation.

    I had heard Beverly D’angelo was a cel painter and that Dick Van Dyke did actually work in animation briefly.

    Whatever, they all did the right move.

  • GW

    I’d like to see an interview with two people: one person who studied acting and went into animation and vice versa. I remember watching The Illusionist and thinking that he looked like a Muppet.

  • Jm

    QUESTION: has it ever happend that a famous Actor wants to become a desk animator?… Johnny Depp one day decides to take life drawing classes … no?

  • top cat james

    Jack Webb tried and failed to secure an animation position at Disney, but would film episodes of “Dragnet” on the studio lot years later.

  • Character actor, John Dehner worked in Disney’s animation department. Years later, he returned to narrate a number of Disney films.

    Animator, Clark Largerstrom became an actor in a Hollywood TV series. He changed his name to, “Steve Clark.”

    Clearly, neither is an easy gig. You do it because you love it.

  • Bob Monkhouse used to be an animator I think… he was definitely a comic book guy. Sean Connery was a milkman… which has nothing to do with the matter at hand

  • Clearly, Paul Giamatti made the right choice judging from the accolades he’s gotten as an actor. He’s still working off-and-on in animation, only as a voice. He played Screw-On Head in “The Amazing Screw-On Head” pilot, and he’s playing Franky in the proposed “Goon” animated movie.

  • C

    Heaven forfend that anyone, anywhere, should make the slightest offhand comment that could conceivably be interpreted as a criticism of animation, whether or not any sane, rational person could possibly interpret it that way. At least not while Amid’s listening.

    I’m reminded of those sci-fi fans who immediately go into a screaming rage the second anyone hints that their chosen obsession might be something a tad less than the greatest artistic endeavor in the history of the Earth.

    • The Gee

      Actually, I think you are reading too much into what Amid wrote and why he posted this in the first place.

      He would have likely added more of his own commentary if he truly found Giamatti’s comment an insult. From what I can see, he just found it to be funny and probably interesting that Giamatti actually considered animating.*

      But, yeah. You’re right. There are some thin-skinned fans who defend their interests with humorous overreactions.

      It’s fun making fun of them; they make it so easy to do so.

      *Somewhere there are lists of famous folks who considered animation and cartooning but chose other, more stable and enriching fields. It might be interesting to put them up. Or not.

  • kevin mummery

    If all he wanted was money, he should have gone into Interpretive Dance. Everyone knows that’s where the REAL money is made!