Actor unnerved by heroic role

U.S. actor Paul Giamatti says he’s looking forward to tackling Mordecai Richler’s cantankerous hero Barney Panofsky in a film adaptation of the Giller Prize-winning novel, Barney’s Version.

Paul Giamatti

TORONTO — U.S. actor Paul Giamatti says he’s looking forward to tackling Mordecai Richler’s cantankerous hero Barney Panofsky in a film adaptation of the Giller Prize-winning novel, Barney’s Version.

But the acclaimed actor says he’s getting a bit nervous about taking on such a literary icon, noting the character holds particular sway in Italy, where the 1997 book was a bestseller.

He says he hopes he doesn’t “trash this national treasure” for Canadian or Italian fans.

Barney’s Version tells the story of a bad-tempered, hard-drinking man who may have been responsible for his buddy’s disappearance.

The cast includes Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s foul-mouthed father, Izzy, and Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike and Rachelle Lefevre as Barney’s wives.

Filming begins Aug. 17 in Rome, and is also set to take place in Montreal, the Laurentians and New York.

“It’s making me nervous,” Giamatti said Tuesday from New York about the shoot.

“I was like, ‘Jesus, God, I’m going to trash this national treasure.’ I hope I don’t. What’s funny is, apparently in Italy, it’s even bigger, that book. It’s huge and we’re going to film part of it in Italy, too, and that almost scares me more than Canada.”

Barney’s Version was a runaway hit in Italy, and Richler was treated like a rock star when he visited the country on a book tour.

“They’re a lot scarier, the Italians, they can get really out of hand. That’s actually a little bit scarier to me,” notes Giamatti, whose relatives are from Naples.

Kidding aside, Giamatti has already had great success portraying an iconic hero. His recent portrayal of the U.S. founding father John Adams for the HBO miniseries John Adams netted him a slew of acting accolades.

He jokes that if he can handle the second U.S. president — portrayed by Giamatti as a bitter, difficult man — he can handle the ornery Barney Panofsky.

“I think this guy’s actually a nicer person in some ways than that guy was,” says Giamatti, who brings his latest film, Cold Souls, to theatres this weekend.

The big-screen version of Barney’s Version comes from Canadian producer Robert Lantos

He said earlier this year that he spent 12 years working on a screenplay “worthy of Richler’s magnificent book.”

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