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Brooklyn Heights actor Paul Giamatti plays super/hero in ’Lady in the Water’ fantasy

The Brooklyn Paper

Character actor Paul Giamatti says living in Brooklyn Heights helped him understand the sense of community one has with his neighbors - a theme at the core of his new movie, "Lady in the Water."

In M. Night Shyamalan’s magical new film, Giamatti plays a Philadelphia building superintendent who discovers a water nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his swimming pool. With the help of various tenants and their assorted untapped talents, he tries to save her from the fierce, green, dog-like monsters chasing her and, as a result, confronts his own demons and rediscovers his own sense of purpose in life.

"It was really nice because it’s basically an ensemble thing and there were fantastic actors in it. Everybody’s just great in it," the "American Splendor," "Sideways" and "Cinderella Man" star told GO Brooklyn last weekend. "Night very much wanted to set up this fun, communal sense among all of us and we had a really good time together."

Revealing how the building was constructed just for the movie, Giamatti added: "It really felt like a real apartment building, and I would forget sometimes that it wasn’t. It was an incredibly evocative set because it seemed like a real place."

The married father of a 5-year-old boy went on to say that the sense of connection to one’s fellow man permeated the set because it was so essential to the story Shyamalan ("Signs," "Unbreakable," "The Sixth Sense") was trying to tell.

"Night wanted it to be kind of the opposite, the reverse of ’Rosemary’s Baby,’ " the 39-year-old Giamatti confided. "He wanted it to be lighter, not a ’bringing the devil into the world,’ but a ’giving the angel back to God’ kind of thing. So, it was a lighter ’Rosemary’s Baby.’ So, that eccentric community was what he wanted."

The Connecticut native and Yale University graduate says he first felt a real kinship with his own neighbors when he moved from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Brooklyn Heights several years ago. With that experience under his belt, Giamatti was better able to understand his latest character’s relationship with the people who live closest to him.

"It definitely feels like this weird little community," he said of Brooklyn Heights. "In a way, it freaked me out for a while. I was frankly a little freaked out by the Mayberry quality of it, which is my own cynicism I’m getting more used to it now. People being like, ’Hey, neighbor!’ I was like: ’Jesus! God! Creepy!’ I had lived on the Lower East Side where you were like, ’Hey, junkie!’ "

In the movie, Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, a heart-broken, former doctor who withdraws from the life he knew after his wife and children are murdered. Aside from helping the people in his building, he pretty much keeps to himself.

When the flame-haired nymph - named Story - enters his life, Heep is forced to believe again that he has the capacity to save another being after he couldn’t protect his own family. With her arrival, he also returns to dealing with people on a more personal level again and, in a tale that seems to be about a damsel in distress, both the enchanting creature and her rescuer help each other return to their respective worlds.

"I would think that it’s fairly mutual," Giamatti said when asked who needs who more: Story or Cleveland? "I think, in a way, she needs him more because, in the story of the film, if she doesn’t get back [to her world] like the world is going to end or something; we’re going to be covered by grass wolves, eating people. Know what I mean? Green wolves are going to come out of everywhere and kill everybody, if we don’t get her back.

"So, maybe she needs him more because humanity needs her to get back," Giamatti continued. "But, certainly, it’s a huge thing for the guy to be fulfilled in a way that he wasn’t before, to feel like he’s found his purpose."

"Lady in the Water" opens nationwide on July 21 and will also play at the Bay Ridge Alpine Cinemas [6817 Fifth Ave. at 68th Street, (718) 748-4200] and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema [70 Henry St. between Cranberry and Orange streets, (718) 596-7070]. Call the theaters for more information about schedules and ticket prices.

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