Tom McCarthy’s new film also debuted at the SXSW film festival. I had the
oppertunity to interview the cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and impressive newcomer
Alex Shafer. I snuck a camera into the tiny, intimate press room and even got Oscar
nominated Giamatti to say hello to TAF review editor Michael Woody, who was in the
midst of the Japan Earthquake at the time.
For the debut of the new film Win Win written and directed by Tom McCarthy, whose
previous films include The Station Agent and The Visitor, half the cast was on hand
at SXSW for casual interviews and promoting the film that really is one of the years
best. I saw the film prior to the interviews as was really stuck at how perfect McCarthy
blends the realism of these characters with a light heartedness similar to his previous
scripts. Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti (John Adams, Sideways) gives his best film performance,
and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, The Office) delivers yet another standout
turn. The dramady also stars Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor and Melanie Lynskey,
first time actor, 16 year old New Jersey champion wrestler Alex Shaffer steals the
“The title of this movie really is ambiguous; no one really does win anything. They
don’t win the matches and they don’t win the money and he comes out a better person,”
Giamatti said. The film follows a high school wrestling coach who takes in a stray
teenager with lots of issues with his mother (played by Lynskey). Being his first
film, Shaffer was asked many times about the difficulty of it, “It wasn’t that different
from wrestling the way Tom wrote the choreography of the scenes; We kind of had room
to wrestle, it wasn’t necessarily acting” commented Shaffer. Giamatti and Ryan admitted
Shaffer didn’t ask for acting pointers, and they admired his detachment from the
whole element; both agreed they likely learned more from him. The teenager did admit
sometimes it was difficult doing a wrestling scene where he is focused on the sport
then having to say a line to Giamatti.
I brought up the topic of awards, and how this film debuting so early might hurt
its chances at the end of the year, McCarthy responded, “Fox Searchlight knows what
they are doing, my main thing is getting the movie in at many theaters as possible.
My one bummer is it got the R rating for language. When we showed it to younger people
they really responded, there is a really strong message in a good way about family,
and there is power in that.” McCarthy and Giamatti have known each other for 20 years,
even attending drama school together. “I saw these movies he made and thought my
God I would love to do this with him. He knew me really well as an actor and person,
he knew my tricks which he made me avoid, he was tough on me at times but that was
ok,” said Giamatti who won a Golden Globe last year for his performance in Barney’s
When ask why McCarthy chose wrestling as a sport he admitted it was because he too
was a high school wrestler and simply you don’t see it in film very often. I ask
Giamatti what he saw in this character and this film over other projects he was offered,
he said jokingly, “It was the money frankly (lots of laughter). A lot of it was Tom,
more than practically anything, Tom saying he had a script for me to look at, and
I said I don’t even need to look at it. I really liked the world of it, portraying
sort of middle class suburban life and the character seemed like a lovely guy with
conflicts, he’s a good guy, a family man, I don’t play many good guys like that.
Giamatti also says about the importance of casting the right actor as Kyle the teenage
boy, “You don’t like that kid, the movie wouldn’t work.” Giamatti also commented
that Shaffer seemed easy to direct because wrestling is a sport where you are used
to taking so much direction. When Giamatti and Ryan first walked into the tiny room
full of us eleven journalists, both actors seemed surprisingly nervous. “Paul and
I are similar in that we are both shy at first, once the ball is rolling it feels
like someone I have known my whole life,” Ryan said about working with Giamatti for
the first time. She also commented on how many great roles are in this film for women.
McCarthy has been known for his strong female characters.
I ask Shaffer about the tattoos Kyle has in the film, “The tattoos are not real!”
he said. “My interpretation of the tattoos is the wings are an exit, a way out of
his hard life. With the compass he didn’t have a lot of direction.” Perhaps the moment
that really showcased Shaffer’s green nature to the entire acting world was when
the journalist started bragging on his performance and questioning if he would peruse
acting, “I am definitely going to keep doing it, I have an acting coach. I am doing
acting programs this summer.” Then we mentioned Oscar and Golden Globes. “Alright
that sounds just ridiculous, if I am ever up for one of those awards… I can’t even
imagine what my friends would say to that, I don’t think I am anywhere near prepared
for a golden globe or anything, but that’s nice of you to say so.”
Win Win will open in select theaters March 18th and then expand to more theaters.
You can read my full review for the film here.