Dennis Haysbert with Paul Finkelman on Paul T. Goldman.
There is a moment in the second episode of Paul T. Goldman – Peacock’s surreal docu-drama series about Paul Finkelman’s search for justice after being scammed by his second ex-wife – when Ludwig Manukian, an actor who appears briefly in the series, expresses his doubts about to the disproportionate role of Finkelman in the series. “Is that the main guy?” he asks incredulously. “Wow. That’s weird.
For one aspect to stand out as particularly odd in a show as formally inventive and tonally adventurous as Paul T. Goldman is a feat. Carried out by Borat Next Movie directorJason Woliner and 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 pseudonym Paul T. Goldman). At the center of this tangled web is Finkelman, a middle-aged man whose quirky demeanor and peculiar mannerisms make him feel like an outsider from a land that doesn’t exist.
In 2012, Finkelman caught Woliner’s attention by tweeting tirelessly about him and dozens of other filmmakers producing the screenplay he wrote, based on the books he wrote (under the names separate writers 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 in his own way. His vision was to produce Finkelman’s screenplay as it was written – even when some of the details seemed fantastical or exaggerated – while shooting a documentary about their filmmaking process at the same time. The show’s cast would appear in both elements, with footage pasted together to form the final product. And if all of this sounds confusing, television networks have unsurprisingly raised similar objections. The show took over ten years to find a home and was produced in spurts during that time. Woliner began shooting interviews with Finkelman in 2012 and filmed a pilot presentation in 2017, then bided his time until Peacock signed on in 2022 and he could resume production. The finale, which was released on January 22, includes scenes from the recent premiere screening of Peacock in Los Angeles as well as by Finkelman Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance alongside Rogen.
On paper, few actors would describe Paul T. Goldman as their dream project. It’s an impossible-to-market, low-budget mind game based on a clunky storyline and featuring a first-time actor who, at times, seems to be taken advantage of. But it’s full of recognizable faces from across the Finkelverse that will have viewers pointing to their screens and saying, “It’s such and such of that thing!” Actors Melinda McGraw (Mad Men, X-Files, The Dark Knight) and Christopher Stanley (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Mad Men) play significant roles as Paul’s ex-wife and Finkelman’s attorney, respectively. Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Zero Dark Thirty, Billions), Denis Haysbert (24, Heat, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance), 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 Lives 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 show.
How these actors were introduced on this project varied depending on when they came on board. McGraw, who took part in the 2017 pilot, says Woliner sold her the project over the phone, even though she couldn’t fully imagine what the series would be like at the time. Actors who signed up later received a reel of sizzle footage to avoid confusion, but this often required a personalized note or phone call from Woliner before accepting the role. When Wallace received the offer to play Finkelman’s seer Terri Jay, scheduling conflicts forced her to choose between Goldman or a pilot starring Kerry Washington, but the originality of Woliner’s project tipped the scales in his favor. “It was a real battle,” Wallace says. “But I just thought, It’s so unique, and if it goes, it’s going to go really 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. “It certainly wasn’t for the money,” he laughs.
Having a camera crew on set to document the show’s production was a first for most of the cast, and thanks to that added layer of storytelling, Paul T. GoldmanAudiences can see how the actors react to Finkelman in all his eccentric glory. Their unscripted interactions vary from warm, like McGraw showing him the ropes on a TV, to awkward, like Goldman trying to empathize about his experiences dating action movie star Grillo and finding out they’re each other. overlap little. (“That’s the worst!” Finkelman says with conviction. “I mean, I’m having a little fun,” Grillo replies.) Grillo fondly remembers the time he and Finkelman spent together. “He looks 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 any meanness or venom – you just laugh.” He’s not the only cast member on the show to wonder if Finkelman is a conscious participant in the laughs he generates.
grill in Paul T. Goldman.
Naturally, these fascinating interactions turned into moments that weren’t filmed. After wrapping up the pilot, McGraw says Finkelman gave him a copy of his book, Duplicity, with a touching inscription that read, “Thank you for giving me the sweet Audrey I never had.” (Finkelman’s ex-wife didn’t agree to go on the show, so her character was given a pseudonym.) The two have enjoyed a friendly relationship over text messages ever since. “He texted me when he saw the show’s billboard on Sunset Boulevard,” she says. “He tells me about his life in Florida and the alligators. He’s the nicest guy. 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 invented by Finkelman because “James Bond wouldn’t write the James Bond books himself” – notes that after filming together, the couple shared a ride in surreal car to their hotel which felt like “the scene continued”. Pais asked him to clarify a few specific details of his story, and Finkelman launched into an account of the entire saga of his life in dramatic fashion. “I texted Jason later,” Pais says, “and I was like, ‘We should have filmed this.'” Later, at the show’s premiere, he says Finkelman told him. presented a photo he had taken of the two of them during filming and asked him to sign it, then the couple took a photo holding this photo. “Jason said, ‘In a year, we’ll take another photo of the photo of the photo. Everything about it is so endlessly meta.
Going up against Finkelman as a creator for the first time presented its own unique set of challenges for the cast. They had to be patient, understanding and flexible – while filming their scenes on short notice thanks to the tight nature of the show’s production. What Finkelman lacked in natural acting ability and sophisticated writing, he made up for in raw instincts and enthusiasm. Wallace presented this as a sort of creative advantage, in that it allowed him to be “more honest” and “not put his brain into it”. Sometimes this led to him being a worse scene partner, such as when he asked McGraw to tone down the nuances in his portrayal of Audrey because he wanted her to appear more “obviously bad”. “I wanted it to look like, Well anyone would have been taken by herrecalls 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 the show’s dramatized scenes himself. “I thought it was funny,” Regal recalled. “I realized that I wasn’t going to be fired and it was just something that was happening within the confines of this exploratory space. But there’s something human about seeing another human being say, “I don’t like that person.” Can we get rid of him? ““At least one scene with Stanley — in which Finkelman put the script aside to pretend he was getting supportive texts from an imaginary live audience watching the show in real time — completely escaped logic. “He had been bitten by the celebrity bug a bit,” says Stanley, he realized while filming this scene. “I was finding out that he really wanted this show to be an interactive experience, and having it happen in the middle of a stage was kind of surprising and shocking. But at the same time, it’s Paul. All you have to do is meet him for five minutes and you’ll know that’s who he is.
Stanley reacting to Finkelman in the series.
The vast majority of actors speak positively of their experiences with Finkelman, even though the adjectives they use to describe him – childlike, authentic, pure, naive, off-centre, human, sincere, gentle, vulnerable, funny, even – don’t necessarily make for a flattering word cloud. “We don’t make fun of this guy, do we?” McGraw remembers asking Woliner at the start of their 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 the potential to offer catharsis to Finkelman that allowed them to put aside any worries they had about him being exploited and engage fully in its execution.
In fact, as the production progressed, some actors began to wonder if the power dynamics were as one-sided as they initially seemed. Many ordinary people are rejected by immoral partners, but almost none of them have the opportunity to “turn their pain into profit”, observes Haysbert. “Think how hard it is to get someone to Listen to your problems. So what is it about Finkelman that allowed him to turn into one of the few? Was it the will, the tenacity and the law of manifestation? May be. “Did he fuck with all of us from the start?” Cricket asks. May be. McGraw’s theory is a little different: “There’s this archetype of the fool who is wiser than everyone else, and I think Paul has that quality.”