Night of a Thousand Paul Giamattis

On Sunday night, as a cluster of eager New Yorkers exited an elevator and entered Madame Tussauds in Times Square, they were greeted by more than a dozen Paul Giamattis.

There was Paul Giamatti in a tux, Paul Giamatti in leather, Paul Giamatti in a shimmering blue dress. Three Paul Giamattis peered down from an upstairs balcony. There were Paul Giammatis of different shapes and, apparently, genders, all wearing the same somewhat bemused Giamattiesque expression. Every pair of Giamatti eyes appeared to follow you around the room. Beholding them was like a strange dream, or some sort of Giamatti genome-splicing experiment gone fascinatingly wrong.

In reality, the figures were Paul Giammatis from the shoulders up only. Just for the evening, Madame Tussauds had repurposed (improved) a room’s worth of its inanimate residents — among them, wax figures of Daniel Craig, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman, Sofia Vergara and Anne Hathaway — by crudely affixing Paul Giamatti masks over their faces. Partygoers milled about, posing with the Pauls, asking questions like, “Will you get a photo of me with the P. Diddy Paul?”

The crowd had gathered at the kitschy palace of dead-eyed celebrity doppelgangers for the Gallery of Giamatti, a screening of the new episode of (the Giamatti-starring) Billions, and an all-round celebration of the puppy-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked character actor. There were rice balls, crab cakes, and an open bar, manned by a mystified bartender. The event was the museum’s acknowledgment of a lately intensifying campaign to have the Sideways and Cinderella Man star immortalized in Tussauds’ celebrated wax and fiberglass. #WaxPaulNow is the official hashtag for the campaign; if its petition receives 500,000 signatures, the museum has promised, Giamatti will get waxed. (At the time of writing, the petition has garnered more than 1,800 signatures.)

Photo: Darryn King

The campaign is the brainchild and passion project of three friends, Rebecca Shaw, Val Bodurtha and Sophie Mann, graduating seniors at Yale, the University of Chicago, and Scripps College, respectively, who visited Tussauds last July and were aghast by the absence of a Giamatti figure. They hatched the idea immediately afterwards, Shaw told Vulture via email, over an “intensive Red Lobster meal.” “For too long, we as Americans have sat back and ignored the flagrant oversight that is the dearth of wax statues of Paul Giamatti at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum,” reads the mission statement on their website. “What Times Square is to New York, Paul is to the institution of acting itself. No longer shall we remain silent.”

Before long, “Get Paul His Wax” flyers appeared in New York and beyond, and the movement saw a growing presence online. This March, the campaign made it to national television. “There is perhaps no man more deserving of enwaxification than Mister Giamatti,” said Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, as the house band provided a patriotic underscore of “John Brown’s Body,” “a man known as an actor’s actor, a devoted craftsman, and of course, as the guy who was good in that thing you really liked.”

The attendees on Sunday night appeared to agree with the sentiment. “Paul Giamatti is amazing,” said Janet Robinson, who had been snapping a selfie of herself with the Alicia Keys-Giamatti figure. She found out about the event on Facebook and ventured out from Long Island. “That man. He’s a national treasure. He’s such a great character actor. He looks like he taught my English class in high school. He does! He’s just such an everyman.”

Ronnie Wright, a photographer from the upper west side, has always been impressed with Giamatti’s performances. “Especially that thing he did, The Planet of the Apes? Fantastic. I think he did a great job.”

In a rousing address not long into the party, Shaw, Bodurtha, and Mann underlined the symbolic value of a Paul Giamatti wax statue. “This is a movement for the underdog,” said Bodurtha. “A fight for anyone who has ever been underestimated … Because who here, at one point or another, has not been overlooked for something they deserve? Or watched a loved one experience the same? In those moments, are we not all wax statue-less Paul Giamattis?”

Photo: Darryn King

At the end of the speech, the crowd erupted in a chant: “Wax Paul now! Wax Paul now!” When the screening of the Billions season premiere kicked off, the three campaigners had taken their place in the front row, and cheered when Giamatti’s name appeared in the opening credits. “I honestly think if Madame Tussauds had a Paul Giamatti statue the reaction would be, ‘That guy!’ ” Shaw told me later as the festivities wound down. “ ‘He’s great!’ ”

“Getting the statue would be a huge victory for the appreciation of the underappreciated,” Bodurtha said, asked why the three of them were pouring their energies into this cause of all causes. “It’s standing for something other than glamour and wannabe fame. Paul has substance. And he has humility. He’d never ask for this for himself. I mean,” she said, motioning at the surrounding Giamattis, “he never asked for this for himself. It would be super-duper weird if he did.”

Night of a Thousand Paul Giamattis