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Is Paul Giamatti the First-Ever Oscar Nominee With a Podcast?

There’s a moment toward the end of Marc Maron’s WTF With Marc Maron interview with Paul Giamatti when the two discuss what they plan to get up to for the rest of the day. “I have a very light day,” Giamatti says. “I do a podcast.”

“No, you don’t,” Maron jumps in.

“Yes, I do,” Giamatti says, as the two go back and forth (“Do you?” “Do you really not believe me?”) before Maron — and the audience — learns to accept the odd fact that the Academy Award–nominated Giamatti has been doing a podcast since April 2023. “Everyone has something,” Giamatti points out with a signature wryness.

Giamatti hosts Chinwag — an old-timey word for conversation, which should tell you a lot about the tone of the pod — with philosopher and Columbia College Chicago professor Stephen Asma. The two struck up an email friendship during the pandemic, and most episodes feature a conversation about paranormal, mystical, or holistic topics. They do ad reads about microdosing. The episodes come out weekly with the occasional shorter bonus episode consisting of more content with a guest or, on one notable occasion, Giamatti reading an Edgar Allan Poe story aloud. Asma is the skeptic; Giamatti is the sometimes believer. Usually they’re joined by a celebrity guest — Natasha Lyonne, Billy Bob Thornton, even Tom Hanks — or an expert in a relevant field of discussion, like dream expert Deirdre Barrett.

The episodes are casual and low-stakes. Giamatti and Thornton talk about their time at a haunted Dallas hotel when they shot “that JFK movie” (meaning 2013’s Parkland, which starred Zac Efron as one of the Parkland-hospital doctors who spoke with special agents after JFK was shot; Jeremy Strong plays Lee Harvey Oswald) and about what Thornton might say to a ghost if they ever interacted (“Don’t knife me — I just want to talk”). Giamatti and Hanks talk about which European diets might extend their lives. Asma is a welcome civilian presence, never too preening or too highbrow.

It’s an easy show to like, if only because it feels like a real object of passion and curiosity. Although there’s some project promotion from guests, mostly the celebrities who come by want to talk about things they know, not themselves or their work. Giamatti presents himself as an eager and active listener, dutifully uh-huh-ing. He knows everyone, though even he seems a little stunned at his ability to book Tom Hanks. This is perhaps what makes him such a lovable figure in this year’s Oscars race: Despite his longevity in the industry, he always seems happy to be wherever he is (in his own, grouchy kind of way), and he likes talking about people he has worked with and what they’ve brought to their projects. He’s humble about his own work, too: When Maron asked him if he has ever looked back at a project and thought, What WAS that?, Giamatti said, “Yeah, I did a movie called Big Fat Liar that’s just bizarre.

On a recent episode of StraightioLab with comedian Blair Socci, co-host Sam Taggart discussed the recent popularity of Giamatti as a hunk: “I can feel the tides of the internet stanning him — and eroticizing him — in a way that is new.”

Co-host George Civeris agreed: “I saw a tweet about Giamatti being Stanley Tucci for girls that don’t wash their [dishes],” to which Socci added, “I do feel like Paul Giamatti is like if Vince Vaughn went to art school.”

That Giamatti has been doing Chinwag for nearly a year without anyone really clocking it speaks to how hard it is to be a podcaster without social media and how, as he tells Maron, everyone has something nowadays. Perhaps having a podcast makes Giamatti something of a New York (or even Brooklyn) Everyman, or perhaps like a number of internet boyfriends — a term now more defined as “a boyfriend who is online” and not, like, Oscar Isaac — he just so happens to have an ancillary podcast that he does with a friend who reads too many books.

What’s most notable about Giamatti’s year tenure into Chinwag is the fact that he is the first Best Actor to have a podcast at the time of his nomination. (Will Smith started one last fall after, uh, well, you know.) Seemingly overnight, an actor who has been around for as long as anyone can remember and has spent seven years making a completely successful and vaguely acclaimed television show, has rocketed into the public eye. It’s in his relative normalcy that Giamatti has emerged as an object of fascination — of meme-making and sex symbol–ism alike. That he’s proven himself so amenable, easygoing, smart, and, yes, attractive on the Oscar campaign trail is because he has spent the past year of his life talking to people on a mic over Zoom, and as your boyfriend might attest, that’s not always easy.


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Fran Hoepfner , 2024-02-01 22:50:03

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