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Win Win

Tom McCarthy Explores Human Condition

Mar. 21, 2011
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As a screenwriter/director, Tom McCarthy demonstrates a penchant for oddball protagonists grappling with existential issues. His debut, The Station Agent, involved a misanthropic dwarf, who wants to isolate himself from the rest of the human race. His follow-up, The Visitor, focused on a university professor, who remains chronically shut down following the death of his wife years before.

In his latest work, Win Win, a struggling attorney, portrayed by Paul Giamatti, makes a dubious decision that imperils his practice. Like the protagonists in McCarthy's other films, this one has quirky qualities that set him apart from conventional norms. However, he is married and has two young daughters. The character is integrated into his community, both as an attorney and coach of the local high school wrestling team.

McCarthy acknowledged, "This main character is much more involved in his life, as opposed to the other two films, where the protagonist is more detached and disconnected to the community. I guess that I'm always interested in that kind of interaction between people, the random events that send people in other directions."

During his days as a New Jersey high school student, McCarthy was a member of the wrestling team. He described the genesis of Win Win, "I called one of my oldest friends that I grew up with and wrestled with at New Providence High School. He chuckled, "We were both really mediocre at wrestling." Nevertheless, their background as jocks informs the film, "We just started developing the story together."

With Win Win McCarthy again depicts the development of a surrogate family. According to the auteur, "I don't over-intellectualize the process when I start. I'm not very reflective as a filmmaker in that sense.  It's more just what grabs me in that moment that makes me what to sit down at the computer and explore a story or a character. It's tough for me to deny that theme is there in my work, but I don't know the answer to why it appeals to me." McCarthy emphatically disclaimed that it was evocative of his own background, "I came from a big, happy family."

McCarthy has accrued an extensive résumé as an actor in both film and television. If you are a devotee of the television series, The Wire, you will recognize him as the character, Scott Templeton. "I was an actor first, so I'll probably always define myself as an actor." McCarthy's background as a thespian has helped him as a director, "Being an actor, I've had the good fortune to work with a lot of very good directors and some not so good. As a result you learn a lot. You get a sense of what's helpful to actors and what's not in terms of communication and preparation."

McCarthy extolled Paul Giamatti, the film's lead, "I've know Paul for 20 years. We went to school together a long time ago and have been trying to work together for a long time. For such a talented guy, he makes it look very easy. He keeps it so light on set that it doesn't feel like work, but he's very focused. He's a quiet leader in that way."

McCarthy discussed the issue of budget, "I had a little bit more money than I did on the last one. Every movie, it bumps up a little bit. This is the first film I've made with a studio, which is Fox Searchlight, and we're very pleased to be in business with them. It really allowed us to make the film we wanted." He added, "They were good collaborators; they do a heck of a job, especially with distribution." McCarthy demurred, "In terms of distribution, it always really just comes down to audiences, right?" Despite the progressive increases in the budgets of his films, don't expect McCarthy to be making any big Hollywood blockbusters, "That's not within me. It just doesn't turn me on!"


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