Cinderella Man

SOUND BITES

Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before?? “Don Coscarelli. ‘Bubba-Ho-tep’ is really well done, really imaginative. It’s my favorite thing I’ve seen in years.”

How do actors balance commerce vs. art?? “You know actors get paid a pretty good wage for what they do. I don’t need gazillions. I’m comfortable and I do the things that interest me.”

Up next: “A strange crime drama called ‘Shoot ‘Em Up,’ directed by Michael Davis and starring Clive Owen.”

When Paul Giamatti signed on to play Joe Gould, Russell Crowe’s cornerman in Ron Howard’s Depression-era boxing biopic “Cinderella Man,” he did so to play a type.

“I love the genre,” says Giamatti. “I was enchanted by all those old boxing films. In every one of them, there’s a cornerman. He’s a type. I thought this was my chance to play that same guy.”

But Giamatti did more than play that same guy. Certainly he crafted a genial, ringside ally who would seem right at home in many a boxing pic, but that was merely a starting point. As the film progresses, and the great Depression strikes, Giamatti turns Gould into a man caught walking that desperate line between absolute poverty and the deep need to keep up appearances.

It gave Howard the opportunity to explore the rarely seen impact of the Depression on society’s upper crust and gave Gould a depth of character that forever raised the bar on cornermen. Variety’s Robert Koehler called the result “brilliant,” while Roger Ebert said his portrayal was a “third home run after ‘American Splendor’ and ‘Sideways.’ “

Ah, the two pics that critics drooled over but left Oscar voters feeling less than generous when it came to handing out noms. Both were indies and, maybe, Universal’s backing on his latest film might make a difference.

Adding to the challenge of “Cinderella” was Howard’s desire for boxing verisimilitude. Instead of scripting any of Giamatti’s ringside lines, the helmer hired former Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard cornerman Angelo Dundee to coach him in the particulars of the sweet science. After months of preparation, Howard then demanded Giamatti improvise everything he did and said in that corner so it exactly corresponded with the action in the ring.

“Those boxing scenes took about two and a half months to film,” explains Giamatti, “and everything I did was improv. I don’t really love to improv, and Ron was merciless about it. He wanted me narrating the fights from the corner. Not just technical details, either — he wanted me to narrate the emotion of the fights. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever done before.”

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