“Cold Souls” Interview with Paul Giamatti and Director, Sophie Barthes

August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Cold Souls”, a dark comedy with a philosophical and metaphysical twist, is written and directed by Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film”,  Sophie Barthes,  and stars well-trained and comedic actor, Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn.

The film begins with a quote from Rene Descartes and continues down this dark journey of an actor named and played by Paul Giamatti, who is anxious over his live theater performance of “Uncle Vanya”.  When Paul Giamatti, well known for his film roles in “American Splendor” and “Sideways”,  was asked, “is that you playing you?” in “Cold Souls”, he responded, “It’s me to some extent. It’s me playing an idea of me based on other movies, but mostly it was a very distinct sort of NY actor. There’s a type, a character and a bit of a persona, mixed all together. Sort of Bob Balaban, Wally Sean, that sort of archtype of character.”

When Director, Sophie Barthes was asked, “Why did you decide to use his real name?”, she responded, “I thought it was an interesting joke. As an audience we imagine actors as if they belong to us, or as if we know them personally. That’s the whole drug, because it is a persona, after watching them for two hours, you suddenly think you know who they are.”

“Cold Souls” continues where the character Paul Giamatti, reads an article in “The New Yorker” about a high tech company that performs “soul extractions” that can transform lives by removing your soul. When Paul is left feeling “hollow” after his extraction, the doctor recommends he borrows a Russian poet’s soul, meanwhile an up and coming Russian model/soap opera actress receives his. Deeper meaning/symbolism is revealed between Russia/US, with frequent literary references to Russian philosopher, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Director, Sophie Barthes, explained, “the idea was to flirt with the cliche of the Russian soul, and what is the Russian soul? I definitely wanted to flirt with the cliche, you know the stereotype.  I also think that the US/Russia are mirroring each other. They have this love/hate relationship since the Cold War. It’s a very interesting dynamic.  You feel it when you go to Russia.  They admire and hate the US at the same time. It’s always going to be there.”

Paul Giamatti admitted to having an affection for Russian culture, history, and literature. “I thought the idea was very funny, that the source of souls for the world is Russia. That they are willing to sell anything for any amout of money.  What they have is a surplus of soul, or lack there of.”

When asked about a scene where military service men were receiving soul extractions, Sophie responded, “I wrote the script in 2003, during the Bush administration and I was literally thinking that my soul is shrinking in this environment. I was even contemplating moving out of the US at one point.  It was so gloomy, the rhetoric, the atmosphere, really was not pleasant.  So in the cinema’s cut, they were literally extracting soldiers souls and sending them to war without a soul so that their families could claim the soul in case they die, but the film would have been three hours long.”

On a more light hearted side, the film makes you laugh when the beautiful Russian/model is upset that when she asked for a famous American actors soul, she did not get Al Pacino’s, and when Paul’s character, Paul, finds out that his soul has gone to a Russian soap opera actress, he declares, “what? that could ruin my soul!”

This combination, of what I would call a, Woody Allenesque, “Sleeper”, “Weird Science” and “007” with a Russian literary/and science fiction twist will take your mind off the summer heat for a couple of hours while contemplating the deeper meaning of life.

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