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Thomas McCarthy's game plan for Win Win

Putting up w's
By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 25, 2011

As an actor, he usually plays the colorful minor character. Which might explain why when he's a director, Thomas McCarthy's movies feature leading roles that would be bit parts in any Hollywood picture. A dwarf, a Cuban street vendor, and a grieving artist lead the cast in The Station Agent (2003). A burnt-out economics professor and an illegal alien are the protagonists in The Visitor (2007). And now in his third film, Win Win, there's a whole line-up of oddballs: a small-town lawyer, an accountant who coaches a wrestling team, an Alzheimer's patient, a streetwise teen with wicked moves in the ring.

The key to such characters' appeal might be that McCarthy sees them not as marginal but as mainstream. It's the Hollywood stereotypes he avoids that are contrived and phony. Here's what the Boston College grad has to say about how he instilled Win Win with the ring of truth.

>> READ: "Review: Win Win" by Peter Keough <<

I'D DESCRIBE YOUR FILMS AS THE ANTITHESIS OF HIGH CONCEPT. GOOD LUCK REDUCINGWIN WIN TO A ONE-SENTENCE PITCH. The antithesis of high concept, yeah, I would probably agree with you on some level. When I initially had this idea for this movie, it started with a friend of mine. We were laughing about wrestling, and I had a meeting slightly after that with my agent and lawyer, and I said, "You know, I just thought of an idea, and I think it can be really big and broad and sort of a concept genre movie that I could sell," you know? I've never done that. And they were like, "That's great, we could really make some money on that." After working with it for about six months, I was like, "Nope. It's gonna be another one of my movies." Their shoulders kind of slumped a little bit.

JUST COULDN'T DO IT, HUH? I just started to like the story and the characters too much, and then it started to kind of morph from the high-concept genre movie that I was setting out to make. I had this idea about high-school wrestling, and I called my friend Joe Taboni, and we were just laughing about it because we both wrestled and we had so many stories. It could be really funny and has never really been done well, I thought. But then it started, "Well, who is this guy, Mike Flaherty [Paul Giamatti], and what does he do?" That story line started to take on a life of its own, and I realized that though I liked the adrenaline and humor of high-school wrestling, it wasn't gonna be enough to sustain my interest for two years in making a movie, and I needed something else.

SOME PEOPLE HAVE COMPAREDWIN WIN TOTHE BLIND SIDE, WITH ITS STORY ABOUT A TALENTED, HARD-LUCK KID NURTURED TO GREATNESS BY A NICE FAMILY. I remember when that movie was coming out and I read the line on it and I was like, "Huh?" And Joe [Taboni] goes, "Don't worry, that thing will go away." One hundred million dollars later . . . It's funny how that happens. I remember Aronofsky's The Wrestler. When Darren announced the title of his movie, I was again, like, "Huh?" But, you know, they're all different movies.

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