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Casting Sideways
With a script full of rich, complex characters, SIDEWAYS director Alexander Payne soon found himself being lobbied by some of Hollywood's most powerful players. Instead, the writer/director chose to remain true to his original vision: to cast less glamorous actors who could make the story of two beleaguered, middle-aged men viscerally real. "I have nothing against movie stars,” Payne says, "but I wanted this film to give the impression that real life is being mirrored on screen. That can't easily be done with impossibly beautiful and famous stars.”

And thus began an extensive search for a cast that could breathe life and the right touch of comic energy into the characters. The quest kicked off with the story's central persona: Miles, a man torn apart by his divorce, shaken by his rejection as an author, and seeking solace in plenty of handson research into wine. The filmmakers knew they would need an actor who could at once evince perfect misery, biting comedy and yet provoke the audience to root for him. The task was daunting until Paul Giamatti walked into his first audition. Giamatti came to the fore last year in his critically acclaimed performance as Harvey Pekar in the indie hit AMERICAN SPLENDOR. As he read the part of Miles, the filmmakers could see the role become flesh and blood in front of their eyes. "I had an immediate sense that Paul was very, very right for the role,” says Director Alexander Payne. "I think the best actors are the ones who always surprise you with something you never would have expected, thought of or imagined. Every day on the set, Paul would surprise us in some way and it was wonderful to watch him become Miles.”

Michael London was equally convinced. "Paul has this rare ability to make characters' weaknesses unbelievably real, and yet somehow lovable. The key is that your heart goes out to him.

You yearn for him to be all right. We knew he could keep the movie moving along on a strong emotional course.”

Co-writer Jim Taylor credits Giamatti with imparting the role with a humanity that keeps it from drifting into pure farce. "It took someone with as much soul as Paul to give the role the resonance it needed to rise above all the shenanigans,” says Taylor. Giamatti says he found the role enjoyable, even with Miles' tenacious pessimism, run-away anxieties and tendency to muck up his most cherished desires and dreams. "Miles was a surprisingly fun character to play in many ways,” the actor says. "Although he does some unsympathetic things along the way, I found him to be darkly funny with a lot of layers, and a lot of yearning to be something more than mediocre. He's a person of many complications and all his relationships are of course also complex – with Jack, with his mother, with his ex-wife and especially with Maya. I'd never done anything like this before, so it was a wonderful challenge to figure Miles out." Ironically, Giamatti started out as a total wine newbie. "I don't know a thing about wine,” he admits. "I'm one of those guys who, if it comes out of a box, I don't care so long as it has alcohol in it! But what interested me about the wine in the movie is not the wine itself but the way it becomes part of Miles' identity. It's really important to him to come off as this sophisticated wine connoisseur, even though he's actually a divorced, struggling school teacher.”

Another strong appeal of the character to Giamatti was Miles' yin-yang relationship with Jack – a rare, intimate portrait of male friendship and all its conundrums. "There's a bit of a Laurel and Hardy thing going on with Miles and Jack, but there's also a lot you can relate to in their relationship,” he says. "I think a lot of people do have these kinds of friendships, maybe with someone they met in college, where there's a very strong, almost mysterious bond, even though it's not always clear wh

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