Sideways came out nearly 20 years ago. I haven't seen Paul Giamatti, my alter ego Miles Raymond – I write autobiographically in the first person from Miles's point of view in all my Sideways installments for those who haven't read me – since an awards show in '05.
A few weeks ago, a friend informed me that Paul was going to be taping a podcast ("Chinwag") he co-hosts live at a theater in downtown San Francisco and asked if I would like to come. Sure.
About half the audience paid extra to receive a signed poster of the podcast after the episode concluded. I deliberately hung back at the end of the line. When I approached Paul he didn't recognize me at first. I held up my phone and showed him the below photo of the two of us at the cast read-through of Sideways two weeks before beginning principal photography in Sept. of 2003.
Paul and me in the Santa Ynez Valley, fall of 2003:
Paul's expression immediately changed and a smile of recognition spread across his face. "Rex Pickett? How are you?" He was stunned into near wordlessness, not a feature of the otherwise loquacious actor. Paul has gone on to have a stellar career since Sideways was released Oct. 22, 2004 and changed a lot of people's lives, but I think even he would admit this one film had a seismic impact on his career, and is perhaps his legacy work. Certainly, it's mine.
There are many stories about the fits and starts of Sideways and how it even came to be, but one day all the forces came into a felicitous confluence in the Santa Ynez Valley. My character of Miles and Paul's thespian interpretation of him, orchestrated and conducted by writer/director Alexander Payne, collided in the cosmos and strew stars everywhere in a galaxy that still scintillates with them. This is rare in cinema, rare in any art form.
Paul – warm, grateful, not hurrying me along – and I reminisced about this phenomenon of Sideways and how it lives on as an evergreen. I didn't know how much time I would have with him, but he couldn't have been more gracious as my friends took photos. It was an out-of-the-body experience for me. I don't remember half what I said. I know I didn't pitch him on a sequel or lobby him for anything. I just wanted to thank him for the gift of his voice and his brilliant ventriloquizing – I don't know any other word for it – of my character Miles Raymond, written at a tough time in my life, written without pandering to artifice, formula or predictability. I wrote it in the most self-effacing way I know how. I bared my soul for all the world to see, but it was Paul Giamatti who had the job of bringing that nakedly personal character of mine to life on the big screen.
It was a short, but heartfelt reunion. We both implicitly know what we did for each other and there was a tacit mutual respect omnipresent in our tête-à-tête after so many years. We hugged and said goodbye.
Paul Giamatti and me at the Marines' Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, Jan. 27, 2024.
Who knows? Maybe we'll meet up again one day in New Zealand.