“We remain friends and see each other a lot,” McCarthy tells CityBeat. “We talk about that transition from stage to film, because we both started doing it about the same time. We had all these early conversations about it, about how different it was, and how comfortable we were on stage. Paul's such a great stage actor. But now it seems silly, because that's almost 20 years ago, and now he's done everything on film.”
McCarthy's face is likely familiar, because he's acted in plenty of projects, including Syriana, The Wire and Meet the Parents. But he's most celebrated for the two films he's previously written and directed, The Station Agent and The Visitor, the latter garnering Richard Jenkins a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
In Win Win, Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a small-town New Jersey lawyer who makes a couple of bad decisions and has to suffer the consequences. He takes over the guardianship of one of his clients, Leo (Burt Young), in order to make a little extra money and then moves him into a nursing home against his wishes. It's almost the perfect crime—that is, until Leo's grandson, Kyle (first-time actor and nationally ranked wrestler Alex Shaffer), shows up from Ohio and explains that his mother is in rehab and he needs a place to live. Since Mike has essentially made it impossible for the kid to live with his grandfather, he and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) end up taking Kyle in, and it isn't long before Kyle becomes the star of the last-place wrestling team Mike coaches with his friends Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) and Terry (Bobby Cannavale).
It sounds a little too coincidental, but the situation evolves organically. In fact, even though you know that Mike's new reality is a house of cards, the way Kyle fits into the Flaherty home and his new school is so warm and enjoyable that you don't want it to collapse.
“That's exactly what we wanted to happen,” McCarthy says. “Paul and I talked a lot about that. If we all made bad choices, and we all remained focused on those bad choices all the time, the outcome would be different. But what we do is compartmentalize. And that was the intention, that from out of this bad decision a lot of good things emanate, and we do actually start rooting for them.”
Like McCarthy's other movies, Win Win—opening Friday, April 1, at Hillcrest Cinemas—is funny and touching, offering a personal take on a contemporary issue, in this case the financial straits plenty of people face in the post-economic-meltdown world. McCarthy says he doesn't set out to tackle social issues, but he says it makes sense that his films feel current. “It's what's compelling to me at the time,” he says. “But my primary objective is telling a story and entertaining, grabbing an audience, whether it's through humor or drama, and keeping them in their seats.”
Giamatti, always an engaging actor, is terrific in his role as a sad sack who does the wrong thing in order to do what he thinks is right by his family. That's righteous, McCarthy says, and even though some good comes from it, Mike isn't exculpated from responsibility.
“It's still bad,” he says. “Yeah. It is. And it's also bad if he's doing it for his two lovely little girls and his wonderful wife. You can't couch that in ‘I'm doing it for my family.' I've seen a lot of that. It's almost like, ‘I have this, and I'm going to do whatever I can to protect it.' That is noble, but it doesn't justify the means. That doesn't mean you get a free pass. You do a bad thing, you've still done a bad thing.”