SXSW Film: Win Win’s Paul Giamatti



Breaking away from those fraught and often sermonizing trappings popular in the recent wave of recession-era movies, Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor, the actor who played the corrupt state editor of the fictionalized Baltimore Sun on The Wire)’s Win Win is an unassuming take on everyday people who, when pressed to improvise and support their families, make risky decisions. The film stars Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty, a suburban father, high-school wrestling coach, and downcast elder-care lawyer who decides to become the legal guardian of one of his clients in order to receive some extra money on the side. Kyle, the client’s grandson—played by newcomer and natural talent Alex Shaffer—has run away from home and shows up needing a place to stay. Speaking in monotone, he displays typical tokens of teenage rebellion: tattoos, cigarette smoking, bleach-died hair, a lanky frame, and somewhat unresponsive posture. Flaherty and his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), “adopt” Kyle. As fortune would have it, they discover that he can wrestle really well—it’s a movie after all!

Speaking to Interview at a recent press day on what it was like working with Shaffer, who “two weeks before [shooting] became the New Jersey high school state champion,” Giamatti said, “He had no baggage at all about acting. It wasn’t a lark for the kid—he wasn’t intimidated either. Tom would say he was really easy to direct, probably because he’s a good athlete and he’s told what to do all the time. He was just so open to whatever. He wasn’t arrogant or confident, it was just this kind of ease-and he was really relaxed, he would fall asleep all the time between takes.”

Giamatti—who joked about taking on the role because, like his character, “it was for the money, frankly”—went on to explain what it was like working with McCarthy, a long-time friend from drama school: “He’s a really good actor; the compassion he has for actors is very nice. He’s a very precise guy. Part of it, with me, is that I’ve known him for 20 years, and I’d never done anything with him before. For me, he was a guy I went out and got drunk with. And then he started making these wonderful movies. He knew me really well as a person, and he knew me as an actor—he knew my tricks, which he kept making me avoid. He was tough on me a lot of the times, which is okay, ’cause he is my buddy.”