Creators of ‘Win Win’ sit down with The Daily Aztec

by David Dixon

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Actor Alex Shaffer, director Thomas McCarth, and actor Paul Giamatti relax in-between takes of their dramatic comedy about the world of high-school wrestling. Courtesy of Kimberly Wright

Actor Alex Shaffer, director Thomas McCarth, and actor Paul Giamatti relax in-between takes of their dramatic comedy about the world of high-school wrestling. Courtesy of Kimberly Wright

Writer and director Thomas McCarthy’s comedy drama “Win Win” features a breakout performance from a young, nationally ranked wrestler named Alex Shaffer. Both men have natural senses of humor and discussed their careers and the film itself.

DA: This is your first film, Alex. How nervous were you? Did utilizing your wrestling talents make you feel more comfortable?
Alex Shaffer: One reason why I was not so nervous was because I came into it just after wrestling season. I was still so into it, that coming into the movie really did not make me that nervous. During re-shoots, I was definitely more nervous than I was during the whole filming of the movie. And one other thing is the fact that the high-caliber acting ensemble, which includes Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and Bobby Cannavale, could have tossed me to the side since this is my first role, but they all made me feel really comfortable and they treated me really well.
Thomas McCarthy: They actually wanted to do that and I told them not to. They wanted to kick you to the curb, and I said, “Guys! Guys!”
AS: Tom was very supportive of me.

DA: How did you relate to your character, Kyle?
AS: We are not that similar. I am much more loud, obnoxious and goofy. Kyle, on the other hand, is more serious. He has more tasks to face. Thankfully, we both had different lives growing up. One thing we will relate on is wrestling. We both have such passion for it. He uses it as an escape from life, while I use it as a way to show off.
DA: Tom, speaking of the wrestling aspect, how important was it for you to cast a real wrestler? I think many people would not have known the difference if you used young actors going through the motions.
TM: I think anyone into sports notices what is not authentic in film. We also felt that we found the right kid for the part. It is a gamble. If Kyle does not work, the movie does not work. The relationships have to work. Not just in his performance, but how he connects with the other actors is crucial to this movie working. I feel like working with actors is one of the things that I do pretty well, even better than some other things. I had to trust that instinct and just had to push forward and go for it.

DA: Do you mind if I ask a question about the main character, Mike?
TM: Yes I do, next question. I’m kidding.

DA: I have seen “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Up,” which you co-wrote. The protagonists show very human characteristics, but they start out as very lonely people. Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is different. He has close friends and is a decent husband and father. Did you intentionally want this man to be so dissimilar to the heroes from your previous films?
TM: I think so. It was the natural circumstances of the story that started to develop. I was aware that the energy of the movie would be different. I was not dealing with a guy who was disconnected in a quiet place. I was dealing with a guy who has way too much going on. He’s got the family, he’s got the kids, he’s got the wife, he’s got the job, he’s got the clients, he’s got the wrestling team, he’s got the buddy who’s unemployed. He’s being pulled in a lot of directions and I think that there’s a lot of energy in that. I wanted this movie to have more energy than my previous films, I wanted it to have more humor. I wanted it to be more kinetic and represent a man who is very much involved in his life.

DA: Alex, in the film you say that the key to winning a wrestling match is to do “whatever the blank it takes,” but did you have another strategy that helped you with wrestling or auditioning in general?
AS: I wouldn’t exactly say “whatever the blank it takes,” but I taught myself in wrestling that I had to get out of trouble. I also taught myself to think that I’m better than my competition, that they aren’t going to hold me down. With auditioning, I first was nervous. I eventually realized that I did not have to be nervous. It’s something that I got used to over time. I’m not as nervous anymore, because I started realizing that it doesn’t matter. I used to think that I have to get this part and get another job. It’s really not like that. It’s I have to get better at acting. I have to become the best that I can be before I can get every role that I want.

DA: Are you going to pursue acting or do you just want to concentrate on wrestling?
AS: After doing this, I love it so much. Acting is what I really want to do.

DA: Thomas, I like the film a lot, but the trailers gave so much away. Why was the plot not more secretive?
TM: The studio, Fox Searchlight Pictures, really believe in it and they fight beyond it. To be fair, Searchlight does a great job of getting butts in seats. They’ve done it, consistently, better then anybody else. I do agree with you. There’s too much information out there in general about movies. The best thing an audience can do is walk into a theater, know nothing about it, and see the movie. People were invited to screen this movie before the trailers came out. Many of them have said, “I’m surprised how good it was.” I say back in return, “I’d be taking that as an insult.” Seriously, they mean it in the best way. They came in with no expectations and they really enjoyed themselves.

DA: Alex, if you won an award for this film, who would you thank and why?
AS: Well I thought about this…
TM: Buddy! Buddy! Come on! You’re supposed to tear up right now. I don’t even think I should be here right now. I’m just stepping away.
AS: I don’t like to think about winning an award, but if I were to thank someone I would 100 percent thank Tom and I would thank my acting coach and my parents.

Information about “Win Win” can be found on foxsearchlight.com/winwin.

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