'Win Win': Director Tom McCarthy On Wrestling With Moral Vagaries Melissa Block talks to Tom McCarthy, the director of Paul Giamatti's new film, Win Win, about high school wrestling, moral quandaries, and how he found a high school wrestler who knew how to keep his acting simple.
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'Win Win': Director Tom McCarthy On Wrestling With Moral Vagaries

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'Win Win': Director Tom McCarthy On Wrestling With Moral Vagaries

'Win Win': Director Tom McCarthy On Wrestling With Moral Vagaries

'Win Win': Director Tom McCarthy On Wrestling With Moral Vagaries

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134458616/134470050" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan star in Tom McCarthy's new film Win Win. Kimberly Wright/Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

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Kimberly Wright/Twentieth Century Fox

Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan star in Tom McCarthy's new film Win Win.

Kimberly Wright/Twentieth Century Fox

On today's All Things Considered, Melissa Block talks to Tom McCarthy, the director of the new film Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti. McCarthy previously directed The Station Agent as well as The Visitor, for which Richard Jenkins was nominated for Best Actor. As Melissa Block notes, all three films rely on "collisions with strangers."

In Win Win, Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer who works as a high school wrestling coach on the side. Through some shady circumstances, he connects with a potential superstar for his team, and the question becomes how far he'll go to win and how much he can restrain himself. McCarthy refers to a theme of "self-regulation — doing what's right, even though you can get away with other things." He acknowledges fairly evident topical connections to some high profile instances of the problems that arise from "ignoring the obvious," even though Win Win is, as he puts it, "a Main Street story, as opposed to a Wall Street story."

The other question, of course: Why high school wrestling as the setting of this particular morality tale? McCarthy's answer is unsurprising: He was a wrestler himself, as was his co-writer Joe Tiboni. The two had plenty of stories — of head-smacking coaches, for instance, and a banner on the ceiling that said "If You Can Read This, You're Pinned" — many of which wound up in the movie.

There's no shortage of widely regarded professional actors in the film — playing Mike's wife is Amy Ryan, who's been on TV series as diverse as The Office and The Wire and who earned an Oscar nomination for Gone Baby Gone. But Kyle, the wrestler who drops into Mike's life, is played by a Alex Shaffer, a real high school wrestler McCarthy found during an open call. Shaffer has, counting Win Win, exactly one credit in the Internet Movie Database. But he had what McCarthy was looking for: "There's nothing jock-ish about him," the director notes.

Shaffer was profiled during filming here, not long after he won the state wrestling championship McCarthy talks about in the interview. Don't believe it? Here he is getting the big win — and he kept the bright yellow hair for the movie.

Ultimately, McCarthy says that the world of high school wrestling, while it provided good opportunities for jokes, also made a good stand-in for an internal struggle to do the right thing. As McCarthy says about the sport — and perhaps he'd say the same thing about the film at times — "It's funny, but it's brutal."