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Sundance 2011: Paul Giamatti and a newcomer hit the red carpet for 'Win Win'

January 22, 2011 | 10:45 am

Elizabeth Olsen may be the Sundance 'It' girl this year, but there are plenty of other fresh faces at the film festival who have been received well by moviegoers in Park City, Utah, this week.

Alex Shaffer, the 17-year-old who stars alongside Paul Giamatti in Tom McCarthy's "Win Win," took a break from his junior year at Hunterdon Central High in New Jersey to fly to Sundance. In the film, set for release in March by Fox Searchlight, Shaffer plays a teenager from a broken home who is taken in by a wrestling coach (Giamatti) and his family. In real life, Shaffer is a New Jersey state wrestling champion who was cast despite his lack of acting experience. (Before "Win Win," the only time he'd acted was in a sixth-grade production of "The Pirates of Penzance.")

"Tom had an article in the newspaper for all wrestlers around the area to audition for this movie," Shaffer told us at the film's premiere Friday. "I really wasn't that into the whole movie thing. I really wasn't that excited about it or into it or anything. Over time, like now, I love it."

It appeared the crowd at the Eccles Theater took to Shaffer. Standing on stage with the rest of the cast during a question-and-answer session after the screening, he received the most applause from the audience when McCarthy introduced him.

Later that evening, at the party to celebrate the film's release at a local saloon, Shaffer stood in a corner, non-alcoholic drink in hand, talking to his publicist.

"This is a really good indicator," she told him, referring to the audience's positive reaction. "They loved you. You're going to do well."

While Shaffer took in his new surroundings, co-star Giamatti seemed at ease, smiling as partygoers including Ed Helms back-slapped him and offered congratulations on his recent Golden Globe win for "Barney's Version."

"How am I coping? I don't know. I'm doing OK," he said, when we asked him on the red carpet about his whirlwind of a week. "It's all good. It's a nice thing. It's all positive. So I'm just having a good time."

His calm demeanor is thanks in part, he said, to one Sundance tip he's discovered on his trips to Utah over the years.

"I stay off Main Street, is what I do," he said. "Because it gets so crazy on there. So I just stick to the side streets. That's what I figured out."

-- Amy Kaufman



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