It started with three friends, a tour of Madame Tussauds wax museum in Times Square and an immediate recognition of injustice. When writer-comedians Sophie Mann, Val Bodurtha and Rebecca Shaw ventured to the hallowed halls of the New York City staple and perused the collection of uncanny replicas of celebrities, their amusement gave way to serious concern. The reason for their justified distress? Madame Tussauds has no wax statue of New York-based, world-renowned actor Paul Edward Valentine Giamatti.
To right this wrong, Mann, Bodurtha and Shaw used the recommended procedures for redress — they sent Madame Tussauds an email, and awaited a reply. None came. They sent several more emails — still, silence. The women decided to take matters into their own hands, and the “Wax Paul Now” movement began. In its newest iteration, the movement brought a short film to the Virginia Film Festival, which screened on Saturday and Sunday.
“We had to chronicle this adventure,” Shaw said. “Because clearly Madame Tussauds needs to know that we’re not going away until we’ve reached our goal.”
The three women sat around a coffee table in the cozy Java Java Cafe on the Downtown Mall Saturday afternoon, where they shared details about the movement from its inception to its aspirations for the festival and the future.
“The movement started because we saw this tragic lack of a wax statue of Paul Giamatti in Madame Tussauds,” Shaw said. “But very quickly we realized that this was something other people were feeling as well. Maybe they hadn’t been able to put that feeling into words, but we were able to galvanize the very organic love of Paul Giamatti and the wrongdoing that was his not having a statue.”
When Mann, Bodurtha and Shaw spoke about Giamatti their delight and devotion was palpable and infectious. The movement and the mockumentary are a labor of severe love for a man who himself would likely never demand an effigy in wax. He’s just not that kind of guy — but that’s what makes the populist fervor for the statue so striking.
“He is lightly flattered, a little humbled and a little confused by the whole premise,” Bodurtha said. “He reacted as best as one could, I suppose.”
Giamatti’s awareness of the movement became public knowledge March 14, 2018, when the actor discussed the movement on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” The press boom led to a helpful boost in the numbers of the movement, which attracted the attention of Madame Tussauds and led to the fateful Night of a Thousand Pauls — a party hosted by the museum that doubled as a celebration of the actor and a screening of a new episode of “Billions,” which Giamatti stars in.
To Mann, Bodurtha and Shaw, it seemed the perfect night for Madame Tussauds to make a long-awaited announcement. The goal appeared within arm’s reach — but when the museum said it would only welcome the statue if a change.org petition received 500,000 signatures in a week and a half, the founders realized they would have to take the fight to the streets.
In making the short film — which begins with the shock received at the party and follows the movement as it continues the struggle — Mann, Bodurtha and Shaw wanted a global audience to revel in the clarity and positivity of the mission.
“This is something we want but it’s not for us,” Mann said. “It’s for [Madame Tussauds] and it’s for the public. And it’s for Paul.”
While the petition failed to reach the substantial bar of 500,000 signatures, it did gather close to 3,000 — a figure the filmmakers argued showcased the passion and steady increase in numbers of the movement.
“Has there ever been a group of 3,000 people united in wanting any of the figures currently in Madame Tussauds?” Bodurtha wondered. The consensus around the table seemed to be no.
From the obvious glitz of statues like Beyoncé and Brad Pitt to more obscure figures — YouTubers and influencers with, as Mann speculated, good PR teams — the question of why and how a person is honored with a statue by Madame Tussauds is something of a mystery.
“My favorite line in the entire film is something Sophie said, off the cuff, where she just said ‘the reality is that wax museums just should not have this much red tape,” Shaw said. The table laughed. What does Madame Tussauds have to lose by including a statue of Giammati? The women would like to know.
“We’re telling you there are at least thousands of people who want this,” Mann said. “At least. And no one objects to it.”
Each filmmaker returned to the concept of the lack of negativity more than once. As a movement and a film, “Wax Paul Now” is not about defeating Madame Tussauds or putting down statues that are already there. Instead, it focuses on the positivity of Giamatti, his life’s work and the rewards of diligence and good humor.
“This is by far not the most important issue in our world today,” Shaw said. “But it should be the least controversial.” Later, she added, “People only feel neutral to positively about Paul getting his statue.”
“And some people feel more than positive,” Bodurtha said. “There was a woman who reached out to us over Facebook and she sent us a photo of a sculpture she had made of Paul’s head made out of Tootsie Rolls.”
“It was excellent,” Mann said.
With a follower base comprised of everyone from the most fervent John Adams stans to more apathetic Twitter enthusiasts, the Wax Paul Now movement is looking to grow in its numbers with the new film, which will journey to the St. Louis International Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival and American Film Institute Festival in November. After its reception in Charlottesville, the filmmakers expressed high hopes for the coming months.
“It’s so clear that this movement has a countrywide, global appeal to it,” Shaw said. “It’s an exciting thing that we’re going to spread the good word of Paul Giamatti.”
Since the beginning of the Wax Paul Now movement, the goal has been simple and resolute — stop at nothing until Paul Giamatti is given a wax statue in Madame Tussauds. So what happens when Mann, Bodurtha and Shaw achieve their goal?
“We will go away forever,” Shaw said.
“We will stop,” Bodurtha added.
“We’ll take our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the museum to see Paul,” Mann said. “But they will not hear from us in a legal or business capacity ever again.”
Right now, the goal is still in sight, but the film marks a promising milestone in the journey towards justice. Until then, the founders and the followers remain bound to fight for the beloved chameleon of the screen and stage.
“This isn’t the end of the Wax Paul Now movement,” Shaw said. “In fact, it’s the beginning.”