There was a moment, early on filming day for the pivotal scene in Barney's Version, when Paul Giamatti looked to me like an athlete preparing for a big game. As nattily dressed extras milled around the ballroom of Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, Giamatti, freshly planted in your father’s powder-blue tux, stood by the breakfast table around the corner. The producer, Robert Lantos, greeted him, and the two chatted a bit about the day ahead. Then Lantos, an imposing Hungarian-Canadian, abruptly gripped Giamatti’s shoulders, straightened him up, and gave him what looked like a Knute Rockne–style pep talk. Win one for the Richler, kid.
With that, Giamatti strode to the ballroom, [...]