Paul Giamatti has always excelled at playing quirky characters in offbeat projects such as Sideways and American Splendor.

In his new film Barney's Version, which opens in theaters on Friday, the New York-based actor stars as the colorful Barney Panofsky, a TV producer whose life continually runs out of control.

Giamatti spoke to Reuters about the film and his career.

Q: This is not your usual comedy. Describe it for us?

A: I'd say it's a dark, romantic comedy. I loved it the moment I started reading the script. It's this intimate character study, but it's got this big scope -- it covers 30 years, Barney's three wives and two continents, so there's a lot of life in it.

Q: And Barney is definitely not your usual hero. There's a lot of bad behavior.

A: You're right, but I see him as a frustrated romantic. He offered me the chance to do a bit of everything, as he goes through so many different colors and emotions.

Q: How much of you is there in Barney?

A: I'm sure there are parts of me in him, but it's a tough one to tease out. He was a lot of fun to play as he has this great, aggressive energy and I'm sure there's lots of wish-fulfillment going on, too. He does a lot of things I wouldn't do or allow myself to do.

Q: After months of playing Barney, was it hard to leave him on the set when you went home to your family at night?

A: I think I've gotten better at not carrying around the negative aspects of a character, but his energy remained and spilled over into my own life, which was nice.

Q: You spend your professional life playing other people. Does acting make you more self-aware?

A: Yes -- and almost unbearably so. Sometimes I wish I wasn't so self-aware and self-analyzing, (because) it doesn't make me understand myself any better (laughs).

Q: Dustin Hoffman plays your dad. How was it working with him? Any surprises?

A: We did a film called Confidence about 10 years ago, so I'd met him but we didn't have any scenes together. He's a really playful guy, a lot of fun, and full of surprises. He'll try anything to make a scene work, and sort of fling it around the room, so you just go with it.

Q: What do you look for in a project?

A: It sounds glib but it's true -- if I just keep reading the script, it's a fair indication of something. I'm open to anything, and there's a certain, looking for variety for its own sake, which may not be the smartest way to go about picking jobs. But I do like to find a different kind of part and story to do.

Q: Talking of variety, you have several new and very different films coming up, including Ironclad and Win-Win.

A: 'Ironclad' is this medieval action movie which was a complete blast to do, and I play King John -- and who wouldn't love playing a king? It was great! Then I did Win-Win with Tom McCarthy who directed The Station Agent. It is about this small-town lawyer who does something slightly crooked, and all the reverberations from that. And then I did Too Big to Fail, which is all about the banking crisis, and I play Ben Bernanke, which was fascinating.

Q: You seem to work constantly. Are you a workaholic?

A: You know, I might be. I don't like to be unoccupied.

Q: What do you do when you're not working?

A: (laughs) I worry about getting work. I'm less worried than I used to be, but I still worry that I won't find great parts.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)