The last time Paul Giamatti was on The Late Show, the acclaimed actor showed off some of the artwork he’d been working on in COVID lockdown. Speaking then from his home via very socially distant Zoom, Giamatti has now tentatively ventured out into the world, appearing on Monday’s Late Show in studio, and toting along a world premiere promised drawing for host Stephen Colbert. With Giamatti calling his self-taught style “extreme doodling,” the piece in question—a craggy plutocrat sporting one hairy demon claw—was genuinely outstanding, even if neither host nor guest made the connection that it was clearly Dr. Jekyll mid-transformation from an abandoned Don Bluth animated adaptation.
Or perhaps it was just Giamatti channeling his day job, as the actor told Colbert that Billions has also returned to human interaction, having wrapped up the COVID-interrupted fifth season, with filming on the sixth currently underway. After all, his hard-charging Attorney General Chuck Rhoades spends all his time (when not strapped into some serious bondage gear) pursuing an obsessive vendetta against the white collar crimes of the ultra-wealthy, so if Giamatti is going to subconsciously doodle a hybrid billionaire-beast, it’s only natural. As for the fact that Billions shut down initially right in the middle of filming a fifth-season episode, only to return some fifteen months later with Giamatti’s Chuck no longer sporting his scruffy beard, the clean-shaven actor could only tell Colbert what Chuck told everyone in his office—“Don’t make a whole thing out of it.”
What hasn’t changed is how Paul Giamatti, like many of his characters, can’t catch a break. Starting out the usual chat show chit-chat, Colbert ran down his guest’s many accomplishments on stage, screen, and doodling, asking Giamatti which play marked his Broadway debut. Colbert’s eyes lit up when Giamatti mentioned his first-time Broadway role in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, and the host’s eyes lit up even more when Giamatti said that his debut came in 1995. That’s where the actor played the role of the play’s unfortunate poet and ill-fated duelist Ezra Chater, a fact that saw Colbert cloud over in embarrassed confusion when he realized he’d seen that very 1995 production. And, um, did not remember noted thespian Paul Giamatti being in it. (He was, although Giamatti’s Chater doesn’t make Playbill’s photo retrospective, either.)
“Wait a second, I saw that. At Lincoln Center?,” asked Colbert tentatively, before rattling off nearly the entire cast list he enjoyed that night, including Billy Crudup, Blair Brown, Victor Garber, and Robert Sean Leonard. “And me,” asserted Giamatti, mock-offended, explaining patiently how Crudup’s Septimus Hodge kills his Chater—pretty memorably—in a duel. Calling that particular version of Stoppard’s time-hopping (and only eight-character) play one of his favorite Broadway productions of all time, Colbert could only sheepishly wait for Giamatti to jog his memory for a long, long time before deadpanning, expertly, “I loved your work.”
Keeping with the theme of Paul Giamatti not getting any respect put on his name, the actor then related the saga of his quest for some free food. Telling Colbert that his recent commercial voice-over work as the inner regret of a famous fast food mascot saw him asking his agent (at least half in jest) about getting free food for life at that particular hamburger chain, Giamatti told Colbert about his excitement at receiving an imposing-looking titanium black card in the mail. No note, no explanation, just a black metal credit card embossed with said chain’s logo. Naturally assuming that his fondest burger dreams had finally come true, Giamatti told Colbert about bragging to his son about the lifetime of free chow heading his way, and the apparently elite few others in the chain’s black card club. (George Lucas, Jennifer Hudson, Hugh Laurie, and Robert Downey Jr. among them, for various reasons.) But, as Giamatti discovered in crushing chagrin upon reading the card’s fine print, he’s still Paul Giamatti. Not getting a thoroughly deserved Oscar nomination for Sideways is one thing, but, as Giamatti confessed of this latest slight, “I have never fallen so far and hard and fast.”