Dennis Haysbert with Paul Finkelman in Paul T. Goldman.
There is a moment in the second episode of Paul T Goldman — Peacock’s surreal docu-series about Paul Finkelman’s search for justice after he was allegedly scammed by his second ex-wife — when Ludwig Manukian, an actor who appears briefly on the show, expresses doubts about the role Finkelman’s gargantuan in the series. “He is the main one?” he asks incredulously. “Wow. That’s weird.”
For any aspect to stand out as especially odd in a formally inventive and tonally adventurous show like Paul T Goldman is an achievement Directed by Borat Later Movie DirectorJason Woliner Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the six-episode limited series features an inscrutable blend of true crime and true crime satire, documentary storytelling, and dramatized re-enactments of Finkelman’s life written by and starring Finkelman (under his adopted pen name Paul T. Goldman). At the center of this tangled web is Finkelman, a middle-aged man whose unconventional demeanor and peculiar mannerisms make him feel like a foreigner from a country that doesn’t exist.
In 2012, Finkelman caught Woliner’s attention by relentlessly tweeting to him and dozens of other film directors about the production of the script he had written, based on the books he had written (under the separate pseudonyms Paul T. Goldman and Ryan Sinclair). about his life, or at least his version of it. Woliner agreed, but on the condition that he could tell the story his way. His vision was to produce Finkelman’s script as written, even when certain details seemed fantastic or exaggerated, while simultaneously filming a documentary on its making. The cast of the show would appear in both elements, with footage spliced together to form the final product. And if any of this sounds confusing, unsurprisingly, the TV networks raised similar objections. It took more than ten years for the show to find a home and was produced in fits and starts during that period. Woliner began filming interviews with Finkelman in 2012 and filmed a pilot performance in 2017, then bided his time until Peacock signed on in 2022 and was able to resume production. The finale, which premiered on January 22, includes scenes from the recent Los Angeles premiere screening of Peacock, as well as Finkelman’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance along with Roger.
On paper, few actors would describe Paul T Goldman like your dream project. It’s an unmarketable, low-budget mindfuck based on a clunky script and starring a first-time actor who, at times, feels like he’s being taken advantage of. But it’s packed with recognizable faces from the Finkelverse that will have viewers pointing at their screens and saying, “That’s so-and-so!” melinda mcgraw (Mad Men, X-Files, The Dark Knight) and Christopher Stanley (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Mad Men) play important roles as Paul’s ex-wife and Finkelman’s lawyer, respectively. frank cricket (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Zero Dark Thirty, Billions), Dennis Haysbert (24 Heat, Allstate insurance spokesman), Josh Pais (Ray Donovan, The Dropout, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Dee Wallace (ET, Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes) have recurring roles, while Jake Regal (The sex life of college girls, Hollywood), a newcomer, has the unique experience of playing Woliner while also being directed by him.
McGraw on set with Finkelman on the series.
The way these actors were cast on this project varied depending on when they were brought on board. McGraw, who was in the 2017 pilot, says Woliner sold him the project over the phone even though he couldn’t fully imagine what the show would be like at the time. Actors who signed on later were sent a reel of sizzling footage to avoid any confusion, but often required a personalized note or phone call from Woliner before accepting the part. When Wallace was offered the role of Finkelman’s favorite psychic, Terri Jay, her scheduling conflicts forced her to choose between Goldmann or a pilot starring Kerry Washington, but the originality of Woliner’s project tipped the balance in his favor. “It was a real battle,” says Wallace. “But I just thought, This is so unique, and if it works, it will be very big..” Haysbert echoes this, noting that his role as FBI Agent Portman piqued his interest because the project seemed like a refreshing change of pace from his usual day-to-day life. “It certainly wasn’t about the money,” she says with a smile.
Having a camera crew on set documenting the production of the show was a first for most of the cast, and thanks to this added layer of storytelling, Paul T GoldmanAudiences can see how the actors react to Finkelman in all his eccentric glory. His off-the-cuff interactions range from warm, like McGraw showing him how to work on a TV, to awkward, like Goldman trying to sympathize with his love affairs with action movie star Grillo only to find they overlap little. (“It’s the worst!” Finkelman declares with conviction. “I mean, I’m having a little fun,” Grillo replies.) Grillo fondly remembers the time he and Finkelman spent together. “It’s a lot like Forrest Gump,” he says. “Whether you’re laughing at him or laughing with him, because of who he is, there’s never malice or venom, you’re just laughing.” He’s not the only actor in the show’s cast to question whether Finkelman is a connoisseur of the laughs he generates.
cricket in Paul T. Goldman.
Naturally, these fascinating interactions spilled over into moments not caught on camera. After finishing the pilot, McGraw says that Finkelman gave him a copy of the book from him, Duplicity, with a touching inscription that read: “Thank you for giving me the sweet Audrey that I never had.” (Finkelman’s ex-wife did not agree to participate in the series, so her character was given a pseudonym.) The two have maintained a friendly text message relationship ever since. “He texted me when he saw the billboard for the show on Sunset Boulevard,” she says. “He tells me about her life in Florida and alligators. He is the sweetest boy. What you see is what you get, and that’s a beautiful thing in this world.” Pais, whose character Ryan Sinclair is a fictional author that Finkelman invented for himself because “James Bond wouldn’t write the James Bond books himself,” notes that after filming together, the pair shared a surreal car ride from return to his hotel that felt like “the scene continued”. Pais asked him to clarify some specific details of his story, and Finkelman launched into recounting his lifelong saga in utterly dramatic fashion. “I texted Jason later,” says Pais, “and I was like, ‘We should have filmed that.'” Later, at the show’s premiere, he says Finkelman presented him with a photo he had taken of the two of them while filming and asked him to sign it, and then the two of them took a photo of themselves holding that photo. “Jason said, ‘A year from now, we’ll take another photo of the photo of the photo.’ Everything about it is infinitely meta.”
Dealing with Finkelman as a creative for the first time presented its own unique set of challenges for the actors. They had to be patient, understanding, and flexible, all while filming their scenes on fast timelines thanks to the limited production nature of the show. What Finkelman lacked in natural acting ability and sophisticated writing skills, he made up for in raw instincts and enthusiasm. Wallace framed this as something of a creative advantage, as it allowed him to be “more honest” and “not get his brain involved”. At times, this led to him being a worse scene partner, such as when he told McGraw to tone down the nuances in his portrayal of Audrey because he wanted her to come off as more “obviously bad.” “I wanted her to look like Well, anyone would have been taken by her.”recalls McGraw. “He was like, ‘No, there were red flags everywhere.'”
Other times, it made him a ruthless collaborator, such as when he tried to get Regal fired because he wanted Woliner to appear in dramatized scenes on the show himself. “I thought it was fun,” Regal recalls. “I realized that I was not going to be fired and that it was just something that was playing out within the confines of this exploratory space. But there’s something human about seeing another human being say, ‘I don’t like this person. Can we get rid of him?’” At least one scene with Stanley, in which Finkelman sidelined the script to pretend he was receiving supportive text messages from an imaginary live audience watching the show in real time, evaded logic entirely. “He had gotten a little bit of the fame bug,” Stanley says he realized it while filming this scene. “I was finding that he very much wanted this show to be an interactive experience, and for that to happen in the middle of a scene was a bit surprising and jarring. But at the same time, it’s Paul. All you have to do is meet with him for five minutes and you will know who he is.”
Stanley reacting to Finkelman in the series.
Overwhelmingly, the cast speak positively of their experiences with Finkelman, though the adjectives they use to describe him (childish, authentic, pure, naive, off-kilter, human, sincere, sweet, vulnerable, funny, himself) don’t necessarily make for one. Flattering word cloud. “We’re not making fun of this guy, are we?” McGraw remembers asking Woliner at the beginning of his first phone call. “No, we’re trying to tell his story,” he replied. “But it’s also the story of him trying to find what he needs.” For most of them, it was Finkelman’s potential to offer catharsis that allowed them to put aside any concerns they had that he was being taken advantage of and fully commit to running him.
In fact, as production progressed, some actors began to question whether the power dynamic was as one-sided as it initially seemed. Many ordinary people are rejected by immoral partners, but almost none of them get the chance to “turn their pain into gain,” Haysbert observes. “Think about how difficult it is to get someone listens to your problems.” So what is it about Finkelman that allowed him to become one of the few? Was it the will, the tenacity and the law of manifestation? Maybe. “Was he fucking with all of us the whole time?” Ask Grillo. Maybe. McGraw’s theory is a bit different: “There’s this archetype of the fool who is wiser than everyone, and I think Paul has that quality.”