The makeup crew for Disney’s Jungle Cruise had really done a number on Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti by the time we got to chat with him on the Hawaii set. That was, of course, by design. The sunburned skin, garish gold tooth, and devilishly curled mustache all speak to the rot and ruin beneath the otherwise wealthy appearance of his character, Nilo. He’s a bit of a combination of things: part cartoonish villain of Giamatti’s own making, part greedy businessman whose ambitions drive him to own every facet of the Brazilian port town where Disney’s upcoming adventure movie begins. And it’s those ambitions who lead him to antagonize the heroes of the story, namely Dwayne Johnson‘s Captain Frank Wolff and Emily Blunt‘s intrepid explorer Lily Houghton.
We had a chance to chat with Giamatti, in full makeup and period attire, between takes on set. Nilo may be an early villain in the piece, but he’ll be hard to forget thanks to his sense of style; the costuming department deserves plenty of credit and praise here, too. But some of Nilo’s aesthetic was derived from Giamatti’s own interpretation of the character, including his animal pal Rosita, played by a delightful cockatoo named Lover. We talked about all of that and more in our interview, which you can find below.
Giamatti on the “wacky” script:
Paul Giamatti: I read the script and the script is really kind of amazing. It’s really nutty. It was strange and kind of fantastical. I liked it a lot. I thought it was really a wacky script. They gave me a lot of latitude with the character, which was nice… It was very well written and it was more complex than I figured it was going to be. There’s lots of really interesting stuff going on. It’s got some fantasy elements in it that are very cool and it gets very… It’s surprising and I just thought it was unexpected… I just thought it was going to be an adventure with a lot of animals running around and stuff, which it has and it’s great, but there’s a lot more going on. There’s a whole thing in the past, which I really thought it was cool about it, so I liked it. It goes back in time somewhere really interesting, which you don’t see on film a whole lot.
On having the latitude to get creative with his character:
Paul Giamatti: [T]hey let me do more of the actual from-the-ground-up creation, which I haven’t really done before. They said I could write it with somebody. So really developing the thing from ground zero. I’ve never done that before. I’m not improvising a whole lot, but it’s funny because it’s sort of like, “I wrote this stuff.” It was the first time I’ve ever experienced [that.]
[T]here’s a whole sequence in this town and they wanted to have somebody who was a big figure in the town and in this whole sequence to challenge Dwayne’s character. And so I’m a little bit of a fill-in. So that’s what they brought to me and they let me run with it.
I wanted to make a funnier, goofier… He’s supposed to be kind of the boss of this town. I wanted to make it just cartoony. Funny. I mean, he’s not such a threat the way [Jesse Plemons’ character] is. He’s a little bit more of an obstacle for Dwayne, getting his journey [started], but I wanted him to be funny.
On his scene-stealing bird partner:
Paul Giamatti: Yeah. I have a cockatoo in the movie. I had wanted to have a monkey, I thought, at first. And then monkeys were going to be too difficult. And then I wanted to have some kind of an animal and I had worked with birds before and somebody suggested the cockatoo and I thought, “Oh, that’s a really good idea.” And so I have a really amazing, beautiful cockatoo in the movie, she’s amazing. She’s a lot of fun and she has a sort of key little thing throughout the sequence. She talks and the bird actually talks, but they’re going to have to actually fake a lot of her talking, but she’s amazing. The bird is beautiful and really, really well-trained. And she does all kinds of little funky things with me. The birds actual name is Lover, but the bird in the movie her name in the movie is Rosita.
I did take two days, I mean, I knew because I have worked with birds before and they’re tricky. They’re super sensitive. I mean, all animals are, but birds are really sensitive. I knew it would be good if I spent some time with them and that did help. It gets her used to me and being used to her, too. She’s very sweet. She’s not going to fly away. I mean, she’s very responsive and sweet and I can do things like feed her from my mouth and stuff. She’s not going to bite me or anything like that. She’s really, really sweet, but I just want to make it easier for her.
Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and on Disney+ Premiere Access on July 30th.
Get ready for another round of Angel mechas and existential dread!
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