SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Holdovers, a laugh-out-loud and feel-good holiday film released in theaters earlier this month, is already earning much applause from audiences and critics alike.

Actor Paul Giamatti, who stars as Mr. Paul Hunham, a curmudgeon instructor at a New England prep school, spoke with Critics Choice Member and ABC4 critic Patrick Beatty on building the character and his approach to the film.

Seeking inspiration for his role as Paul Hunham, the disgruntled teacher forced to look after a handful of students during Christmas break, Giamatti recalls memories of a 10th-grade Biology teacher from his past.

“He was a difficult person but he was a really good teacher, actually,” remarks Giamatti. “He just kept coming back to me, all the time, as I worked on this thing…”

Working once again with Director Alexander Payne in this period piece set in the 1970s, the actor points to the classic film Harold and Maude for stylistic direction, saying, “Having that sparking my imagination was just awesome.”

Acting and auditioning alongside up-and-coming co-star Dominic Sessa, who plays a clever but troublesome student in the film, Giamatti offered nothing but cheers of support for the young actor. “The only thing I ever did for that guy was to say to him ‘you’re really good’ and just go ‘that was really good.'”

Finding a connection with his role in an unexpected way, Giamatti was asked about a science fiction novel he believes his character would appreciate. His answer, given with a delighted grin: “Isaac Asimov — he’d like that. Super rational kind of guy…”

The Holdovers, which has been dubbed a “new cult classic” by some viewers, was released on November 10, 2023, and can now be watched in theaters across the country.