Director Thomas McCarthy takes us behind the dramatic comedy Win Win starring Paul Giamatti, on Blu-ray and DVD today!
Struggling attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who volunteers as a high-school wrestling coach, takes on the guardianship of an elderly client in a desperate attempt to keep his practice afloat. When the client's teenage grandson runs away from home and shows up on his grandfather's doorstep, Mike's life is turned upside down as this Win Win proposition turns into something much more complicated than he ever bargained for.
Co-written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, Win Win is an inspirational comedic drama that shouldn't be missed. The film makes its Blu-ray and DVD this week. In honor of this release, we caught up with Thomas McCarthy to chat about Win Win's home video debut.
Here is our conversation.
Can you take me through some of these special features and why you included them on this disc? It looks like you have quite a bit of material on here...
Thomas McCarthy: Do we? I didn't know that. I didn't think we had that much on there. I actually don't have a copy of the DVD, so I can't do that. I can't take you through there. Unless you have it in front of you. Maybe you can tell me.
Right off the bat, you do have some deleted scenes. Why did you think it was important to show these off to people?
Thomas McCarthy: This happens because the studio says, "Hey, do you have anything?" We say, "I think we do." It just gives people a little extra incentive. Honestly, I don't know why we do it. I think the deleted scenes we choose to share were pretty innocuous. Any time you make a movie, you are going to shoot some deleted scenes that you actually like. I think we have one scene in there where Paul Giamatti is interviewing a woman and her son. A good friend of mine, Craig Walker, plays the son. I just thought that scene was hilarious. I loved how Paul played it. It just didn't fit with how we were putting the beginning of the movie together. It's actually nice, now that I think about it. From my perspective, I say, "God, I love this scene. It just doesn't fit in the movie!" Well, guess what? People will still get to see it if they really do care about this movie.
Are you ever worried that a scene like that may alter how someone initially views the movie as a whole? That it could change their perception of the piece?
Thomas McCarthy: No. We don' ever include anything that would allow you to reimagined the movie. That particular scene, you have to figure that Paul Giamatti's character Mike must have hundreds of interviews like that a year. We see one or two of them. This feels like an extension of that. Its not like we have included something that would have ended the movie differently. If I had that experience, where my movie changed wildly from the page to the screen...Sometimes, I think it can be really interesting. There were a few more scenes...If I would have had my druthers, maybe I would have included those scenes. You have to work with the geometry of the film sometimes. So it turns into, "Eh, not happening!" Honestly, would I add that stuff back myself? No, I would probably just release the movie. But everyone asks you for that stuff now. I say, "Alright. I'll play."
In terms of the script, a lot of the stuff we see in the movie is autobiographical, but a lot of it is not. How did you pull those real moments together, and weave them into this work of noted fiction?
Thomas McCarthy: Yeah, I think saying this is autobiographical is a stretch, right? I grew up in that town. I grew up with Joe Tiboni, and we both wrestled. For me, that's where it ends. It was personal in a sense, because I felt like I understood this community. I understand these people, and where they are at. That was exciting for me to go back and explore. With Joe, who co-wrote this, he grew up in that town, and he is an elder law attorney in that town. He is married with kids. He gave me enough to really get inside this character. Joe Tiboni brought a lot of added material to the screenplay in terms of his own personal experience. Now, he is a very different person from Mike Flaherty. He has a successful law business, thankfully. But to that, we were able to really talk about things. How much money is enough? How do people struggle? Why don't they get along. What are common day threats, both professionally and other wise, that affect the people out there? We banged a lot of this around. That informed us production wise, in terms of the production value. It even helped us get into the costumes. We looked at how Joe dressed. How would that work for Mike Flaherty? And how would it change after spending time in this town. I will go as far as to say that this is not autobiographical in any way. It is, probably, very personal. That is more on the nose.
How did people in that town react to the movie? What was their opinion after they saw it?
Thomas McCarthy: Joe would be more privy to that then I was. I haven't really been back to the town since we shot this. My parents live there. My brother and sister live in the town next door. A lot of people reached out. Certainly more reached out to Joe. Because they know where to reach him. From what I understand, they were really enthusiastic about it. And they enjoyed the movie. They felt it was an honest portrayal of the people out there. That is what we were going for. We weren't trying to sensationalize or sentimentalize the situation. We were just trying to present it, to see if that was compelling enough for people to get caught up in the story.
I know Bobby Cannavale mostly through his stand-up work. He is terrific in this movie. What did you see in him that made you feel he was right for this role?
Thomas McCarthy: To be honest with you, I don't think Bobby does stand-up. I knew Bobby Cannavale because we met doing a play fifteen or sixteen years ago. He was nominated for a Tony on Broadway this past winter. I have only known him as a stage and film actor. If he does stand-up, he has been hiding it from me. I will have to have a talk with him about that. Bobby Cannavale was in my first film, The Station Agent. We became really close friends, and we continue to be friends. I love writing for him. He brings so much to the movie, in terms of heart and comedy. He is a very talented guy, whose voice I really like. That was an easy decision for me to make.
Maybe I am a complete idiot. I am looking at his bio, and yeah, he's not a stand-up comic...
Thomas McCarthy: No, you sound like a pretty smart guy...But I can safely say, he has never done stand-up.}
Who am I confusing him for? Who does he remind me of?
He must be an extraordinary actor. He has been in a lot of movies that I have seen, and I don't remember him from the guy I saw in Win Win.
Thomas McCarthy: Bobby is just one of those guys. He is so naturally funny and talented. He is so charismatic. He makes this look easy. But if you saw him on stage? I just saw him in Mother Fucker with a Hat. It's a great play. And Bobby is amazing in it. He plays a strung out, recovering addict. He is so heartbreaking and hilarious. You see someone like Bobby do Win Win and Mother Fucker in the same year, and you realize, here is someone with great, great talent.
In my defense, he was recently on Louie, which is about stand-ups. Maybe that's why I'm thinking he was a stand-up.
Thomas McCarthy: Yes! I think he and Louis C.K. are good friends. That is very funny.
Did choreographing the wrestling scenes in Win Win come easy to you, seeing as how you have a history with the sport?
Thomas McCarthy: Yeah, I did wrestle for quite a long time as a young guy. Joe wrestled as well. We spent a lot of time going back to watch the practices and the tournaments. We really soaked it in. Ultimately, we hired wrestlers. Every kid you see wrestling in that movie is either a very good or bad wrestler. Alex Shaffer was a very good wrestler, and all the guys he went up against were really good. We could loosely choreograph these matches. But then we would let them really go at it. We would pull back the camera and just film it. That really produced the effect we were looking for. Which is as though you are sitting in the bleachers and watching this match, to some extent...
What keeps you from appearing as an actor in the films you direct?
Thomas McCarthy: Just the work. Writing and directing is enough for me. I highly respect people that can do all three. I just don't think I'd be able to do it. I have had the opportunity in three films, and it just hasn't occurred to me in any concrete way. I don't see it happening anytime in the future, unless someone drops out, or there's a role that looks easy, and as a filmmaker, I am more confident. But I don't feel the need. I love acting. I'd love to be acting right now. I enjoy it tremendously. But when I am in the writer/director mode, that takes my full attention. I foresee a time when no one is going to want to hire me to act in movies. So, either way, I will have something to fall back on.
How does that work for you, when you go on the set of another director's project, and you've gained this reputation as quite an accomplished director yourself? Does that director ever look to you for guidance or an opinion?
Thomas McCarthy: (Laughs) I am the last person to look to in that situation. I enjoy nothing more than shutting down and focusing on one thing. That is the beauty of being an actor. You are there to do one job. It's a very difficult job. It takes a lot of focus. You try to block everything else out. Other than having sidebar conversations with people on set, I just go there to do my job. I love working with other directors. Now, it's really interesting to me to see how they may approach their material differently. Ultimately, I am only working on projects that I want to do at this point. I am there to do my job. I am there to support the director, do well, and go home. I don't think that ever creates any tension. Whenever you are on the set, no matter what you may have done in the past, you are there to serve the vision of the director. It's not a democratic process. It's a very collaborative one. Understanding that is important.
Win Win is a very funny comedy. It also has quite a bit of drama going on. In your eyes, is the comedy more reliant on the drama? Or is the drama more in need of the comedy?
Thomas McCarthy: To have that balance, you can't shy away from the drama, or the sincerity of the world. If you are just focusing on the laughs, it's hard to have the audience invest dramatically or emotionally. Because you are coming from a place of 'let's get that laugh'. I think a lot of comedy comes out of drama, especially in the most difficult times. It can get ridiculous. Things can be said on miscues, and miscalculations. There is so much there. It is a constant challenge. It becomes a balancing act. Thinking back to the deleted DVD scenes, we had some scenes that we wanted...I am not sure if these have been included or not...But there are some really weird, funny scenes later on in the movie, and they were either just too funny or too weird for this movie. We had a scene that dealt with this boy's fate, and we couldn't include that. There were wonderful actors involved. They were good in the moment. And I was like, "Damn, I wish I could have included this." But that is part of the process. It can be very humbling in a way. When I am writing these scenes, there is a lot of energy that goes into them. But at the end of the day, you are like, "Eh. That doesn't work." It doesn't mean that you didn't get it right. There were some great performances. That scene just doesn't work in the movie. You have to throw it to the left.
Win Win is on Blu-ray and DVD today!