Paul Giamatti's Character In 'San Andreas' Isn't Based On A Real Scientist, But There's Still A Lot To Learn From The Film
San Andreas, the newly released disaster movie, has received mixed reviews from real scientists on the seismology used in the film. It depicts the possibility of a huge earthquake that rocks California at the site of the San Andreas fault. In the disaster film, Paul Giamatti plays Lawrence Hayes, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) who initially detects the quake. But was Giamatti's San Andreas character based on a real scientist? While the real Caltech has a seismology department, one of the most prestigious in the world, it does not appear that Hayes was based on a real department member.
Giamatti described his character as a "brilliant scientist and something of a renegade, at the forefront of this research." While the character might not be real, his goal of detecting earthquakes is a major preoccupation of the seismological field. Given this preoccupation, it is possible that Hayes is based on Douglas Given, the Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator for the United States and the Project Chief of Southern California Earthquake Monitoring. They don't even look entirely unalike, and Given's website suggests that he did work at the Caltech Seismological Laboratory. However, this is purely speculation. Neither Giamatti, the film's director Brad Beyton, nor Caltech have suggested that the character is based on a real scientist.
In the film, Hayes notices a spike in magnetic pulses that suggests that the quake is coming, but such a simple solution has not been found. Unfortunately, it is still very difficult to figure out when an earthquake will strike. However, one element of the film that scientists have praised is that it serves as a PSA for how people should behave during earthquakes, especially considering the recent devastating Tibetan quake. Hayes at one point shouts for everyone to "Drop, cover and hold on!" While his character might be fictional, that is some very real advice.