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'Win Win' turns a wrestler into a star

March 24, 2011 | 12:54 pm

Shows like "Gossip Girl" and "Glee" have given us teenage actors with abundant polish and self-awareness, or at least 25-year-old actors playing teenagers with abundant polish and self-awareness.

But if you've seen Tom McCarthy's "Win Win," the dramatic comedy about a high school wrestler who's taken in by Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, you've come across a different kind of adolescent: one who is smart but taciturn, polite but blase.

"I was tired of seeing 16-year-olds who are so emotionally attuned and articulate," McCarthy told 24 Frames of his teen lead, a New Jersey wrestler he plucked from obscurity named Alex Shaffer, after scouting dozens of non-actors. "Most 16-year-olds are like Alex: They're hearing it all and taking it all in. They're just not letting you know that."

In a profile in Thursday's Times, Shaffer demonstrates what McCarthy means. Describing why he decided to try out for the part, Shaffer said, "My friend texted me: 'You should audition for this. It's in the newspaper.' And I was like, 'No, man.' At the time, I was focusing on wrestling. And my friend was like, 'No, dude, you should audition. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.' And I thought about it, and he was right."

The teenager, who describes himself as a "big day sleeper" and who left high school earlier this year (to focus on acting), says he didn't get starstruck on the set. Well, except for when he saw Ryan: "I was like, 'Dude, that's Holly from "The Office."'"

Authenticity is a religion for McCarthy, who will do numerous takes and tweaks just to get the emotional levels right. It's paid off so far: The movie has garnered rave reviews and a strong opening weekend.

And Shaffer? He describes a post-movie life in which friends give him a hard time "in Chili's," where they hang out (when they're not in Shaffer's basement). The teen hopes acting is in the cards, though, as is a GED as he takes online classes. "I'll definitely graduate and then concentrate on acting until I feel the need to go to college." He pauses. "Hopefully, I won't feel that need."

--Steven Zeitchik



Alex Shaffer's true-life role

Limitless breaks out at the box office

Tom McCarthy's Win Win attitude

Photo: Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer in "Win Win." Credit: Fox Searchlight

Comments () | Archives (4)

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I am really looking forward to seeing McCarthy's new movie, as I have really enjoyed his last two films, "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor". His films are very touching and realistically depicted. This one also seems to fall under that same style; thus it looks quite appealing.

Dear Mr. Zeitchik,

If I enjoy the movie, as much as I have enjoyed your well-written review, it should be a win-win situation!


This kid was great. Real, authentic, engaging. Bought him as the real thing

I really enjoyed the movie, I didn't know before I saw it that Kyle (Alex) was actually a State Champ in wrestling. I said to myself, boy if that kid doesn't have wrestling experience, they really taught him well and should consider the sport. He looked bigger than 119 in the movie to me, probably because he actually got to eat...lol! My son, also wrestled at 119.

The only critique I would have about the movie, was when his mom was at States and he got disqualified. It didn't seem to be in his character. He was a polite, likeable kid who helped teamates he didn't know well. So for him to take out his anger towards his mom on his opponent didn't seem to fit for me. It would have been better if, during the match, they showed flashbacks of he and his mom arguing or something. Then we would see that he wasn't focused on the match. He could have lost the match by getting caught and pinned! Just my opinion, other than that, I loved it. Loved the wrestling parts in the movie, very realisic. Well, maybe not the scene when the coach was yelling to one of the wrestlers who was about to loose them the match.


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