Gunpowder Milkshake Star Paul Giamatti on the Complex Mythos of Netflix's Latest Action Spectacle

Over the course of his career, actor Paul Giamatti has tackled every genre imaginable, from drama [...]

Over the course of his career, actor Paul Giamatti has tackled every genre imaginable, from drama to comedy to sci-fi to fantasy, with his skills largely elevating every single project he's a part of. Additionally, no matter what the merits might be of an ensemble in which he's a part of, he offers a compelling performance that audiences have a hard time taking their eyes off of. For his latest film, Gunpowder Milkshake, Giamatti plays an integral part of the overall narrative, though it's his co-stars that are the main focus of the impressive action, allowing Giamatti to use his character to contextualize all of the film's impressive and stylized action sequences. Gunpowder Milkshake hits Netflix on July 14th.

In the film, Sam (Karen Gillan) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother's footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her "talents" to clean up The Firm's most dangerous messes. She's as efficient as she is loyal. But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl -- Emily (Chloe Coleman). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates, The Librarians (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them. caught up with Giamatti to talk his interest in the project, the ambitious tone, and if he could return to another superhero series.

gunpowder milkshake paul giamatti karen gillen
(Photo: Netflix) I wanted to get something out of the way. I don't know how often you hear this, but you are a really good actor. Has anyone told you that before?

Paul Giamatti: No. Not that forthrightly, so I appreciate it. Thank you.

It was just one of those things that, knowing I was talking to you, I'm looking over everything you've been in. I watched Ides of March again not too long ago. It's just that everything you're in, you make better.

Oh, thanks. I appreciate that. That's a very nice thing to hear. Thank you.

Well, that's all I have. Thanks for taking the time.

All right, great. Thanks.

Easiest one of the day.

That was great.

But, in all seriousness, another one of the projects that you bring your performance to which makes the film that much more exciting is Gunpowder Milkshake. And since you play this unique role where you are an important cog of the overall storyline, but you're not necessarily neck-deep in all of the action that all of your other co-stars are involved in, what was about this project that really excited you to get involved with it?

I thought it was a really eccentric script. I liked it a lot. I thought it was odd. I like action movies, I like more stylized action movies. I'm a fan of the John Wick movies. This didn't even put me in the mind of that movie, but now I see why people say it did, but I wasn't even thinking of that when I first read this.

I thought it was odd and I think I liked that about it, but I have an odd sense of humor. I saw that the action sequences sounded like they were going to be really interesting. I thought the people involved were great, and then I saw one of the director's movies and thought it was really pretty great, and, I don't know, I just thought this looks like fun.

And yeah, I didn't get to do the action stuff, that's okay. It was a fun part. I liked the fact that the guy was actually not the bad guy. He's not a great guy, but he actually had a bit of a human heart to him. Like, he actually cared about the girl and stuff like that. The woman, young woman. And so I liked it. I thought it was weird. I liked it.

You talk about how obviously you were okay not being involved in the action, and when you're reading the script, you don't necessarily know in detail the intensity of the action or how it's going to look. So when you then finally saw the film, and the extensiveness of all of the action scenes and the training that all of your co-stars had to go through, was there at least part of you that was like, "Ah, now I kind of wish I did get a little more action," or was it, "Oh, thank God I did not have to get in shape for this,"?

No, it would always be fun to do that kind of stuff and I have done some other action movies where I've gotten to do that more, more of that kind of stuff. But no, I did not feel jealous this time. And, also, it felt more like it was focused on the women doing the stuff. I thought, I don't know, I didn't feel that same sense of jealousy on this one.

I also have to say, the movie came out exactly like I hoped it would. Even better. But I was like, "Oh yeah, this is exactly what I had a feeling it would be like," and that's always nice when it's really translated well off the page because it's always satisfying.

I think that's what is interesting is that, on paper, I feel like the tone of the movie would have been difficult to convey because it is comedic, but it's not like Shoot 'Em Up where it's over the top, almost satire. But it is still self-referential. How were the filmmakers able to get you into the right frame of mind for what the tone of the process was?

I would say that it actually did communicate on the page. I did feel like I got a sense of the tone, actually, I have to say. But you're right. It's not as ridiculous as Shoot 'Em Up, which was crystal clear what that was supposed to be. Really silly. No, I actually did feel like it came across pretty clearly. And then when I talked to the director [Navot Papushado], it's cool, these movies that somebody does where it's a complete world, but you don't see all of it. If you asked him, he'd have an answer for all the backstory of all these people, but you don't know any of it. So you talk to him a little bit about that, and that was nice, too. And he filled you in about it and stuff like that.

But, I have to say, I did feel like I got the tone. He did let us play around sometimes when we were shooting stuff to make stuff a bit more ridiculous and have more fun with it. And that didn't necessarily end up in the movie, but I think it helped create a nice tone between me and Karen, who is the only person I actually worked with. So it was nice. Or with Ivan [Kaye] and those other guys. He let us screw around a little bit to get us used to each other and stuff like that. So I think he did do that. He did do that.

Well you talked a little bit about the backstory of this mythos that is clearly being set up but not fully explored. Not keeping us in the dark, but giving us exactly what we need for this story. So what was that process like for you of developing your own personal backstory for your character versus how much was told to you?

When I read it, I thought there was something interesting about the character that I ran by him. I'm not necessarily disposed often to create a backstory for my character. Sometimes I have, but not all the time. I'm not an actor who always has to know, but I thought, "Here's an interesting idea I have about the guy that would make him a certain kind of person," and I ran it by him, and he was like, "Oh yeah." He said, "I hadn't thought of that, but that's actually an interesting idea." And so he was open to that, whatever I threw at him, and it was useful for me in the actual playing of the character.

I am legally obligated to bring this up, and I know Alfred Molina came back for the new Spider-Man, there's lots of Spider-Man talk. Is there any interest on your part to be Rhino again? Were you at all a little jealous that Doctor Octopus was in it, or did you do your time and you're fine to just leave it in the past?

I'm happy. I hadn't followed any of this. Somebody else just asked me about this, so I hadn't been following. I'm okay with that. I'm certainly okay to just leave it all where it is. It's fine with me.


Gunpowder Milkshake lands on Netflix on July 14th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.