OWF recently had a chance to talk briefly with Thomas McCarthy, the acclaimed writer-director (and occasional actor) whose third feature, Win Win, was released in the U.K. to overwhelming acclaim this past Friday. His previous films, The Station Agent and The Visitor distinguished him as a unique humanist voice, and with his third feature fully he cements his stature as such.
In our chat we talk to Thomas about how the film might be received differently by a European audience, the challenge involved in casting the character of Kyle, the film’s personal relevance and who he would like to work with in the future.
Full interview after the jump…
Tom McCarthy: Hey, how’s it going?
OWF: I’m great thanks, how are you?
TM: I’m great.
OWF: I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time out to talk to us today.
TM: No problem. It beats watching CNN all day [Tom chuckles. The interview was conducted the day that Osama Bin Laden was killed].
OWF: I first just wanted to say that I really enjoyed Win Win.
TM: Thank you very much.
OWF: And it’s been getting rave reviews pretty much since Sundance and with its theatrical release, you must be pretty thrilled with that.
TM: Yeah, well it’s at that point now where it’s nice to just able to sit back from the film a little bit. It was a fast shoot and it’s now coming out in Europe and everything so it’s all been pretty fast.
OWF: How long did it take to shoot?
TM: We shot it a while back between March and May of last year, which is very fast. With the film doing press in Europe though I’m quite interested to see how it’s recieved by Europeans with the whole wrestling angle as you guys aren’t as familiar with it over there right?
OWF: Yeah, high school wrestling isn’t really done over here in the same way at all. But the characterisation and the great script and performances I think will be enough for this to connect with audiences.
TM: Where are you calling from now? [Tom is in L.A.]
OWF: I am calling from London.
TM: Oh right.
OWF: But yes I really hope it does well with Europeans and I think it definitely has that capacity with its richness. But my next question was about how the film, and in fact right from The Station Agent, The Visitor and Up your films seem so well-observed in terms of characters, they feel very real, and I wondered how much of yourself you put into these films. As I understand it you have a background in wrestling?
TM: Well I would use the term “background” loosely [Tom laughs]. I basically wrestled at high school, with Joe Tiboni [co-credited as providing the story] who formed the basis for Paul [Giamatti]‘s character in this film. But yeah I grew up in New Providence where the film is set, though we couldn’t actually film there, for tax reasons we filmed about 20 miles away. But the film is a very personal one to me. It’s such a small story that you sort of wonder again whether it’s going to connect with people as it’s in such a small town that’s basically nothing to some people.
OWF: I guess it’s the same thing as with the wrestling in the film, where there’s the worry that it might not translate to Europeans who lack the same sense of small-town America, but then the performance quality and the strength of the writing is so great that I imagine it won’t be a problem. I hope it finds legs and I’m sure it will. My next question is about the actors, because there are so many great actors in this film, yet the most pivotal and important to me seemed to be Alex Schaffer as Kyle. Could you tell me about the process in which he landed the role? Was he one of the first that you looked at?
TM: No, we actually looked at a lot of kids, we did a big open casting call, and had a lot of kids who were just tough kids, so in the end I decided that I actually wanted a wrestler [Schaffer was an actual high school wrestler]. Alex didn’t seem like a jock at all. He really captured the monosyballic, withdrawn quality that we wanted for Kyle, where with a teenager it’s not that he isn’t thinking but that he just isn’t telling you everything.
OWF: He’s introspective.
TM: Exactly. I mean, it was a process and it took work; we had to work with him on it at the readings with Paul and Amy [Ryan], but he really grew into it and I feel, looking at the final film, it really works.
OWF: Absolutely. He did a great job and I hope he sticks with it if that’s what he wants to do.
TM: Yeah, I think he’s really running with the ball on this one.
OWF: And while we talk of performances, I wanted to ask, with so many great actors in this film, how collaborative was the process, compared to say, The Station Agent with Peter Dinklage and how that was?
TM: I think the process was pretty similar through all three actually; you just have to get the script nailed down and be happy with it, and I know Paul which helps. It’s a case a lot of the time of just getting to know your cast, going out for a coffee and just finding a common ground.
OWF: Finding a way for your sensibilities to sort of coincide?
OWF: Finally I’d like to ask if there are any particular actors you’d like to work with on your future projects?
TM: That’s a tough one, because there are so many great actors out there to think of. It seems obvious but I don’t get asked this question much, but if I had to choose, because she just makes your job so easy as a writer, it would be Meryl Streep.
OWF: I would love to see that. Well in wrapping up I’d just like to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us, and I wish you all the best with touring the film around Europe, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.
TM: Thanks very much.
OWF: Bye Tom.
Win Win is in U.K. cinemas now. You can find my review HERE.
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