Interview: Tom McCarthy – Win Win

Tom McCarthy is someone we have all seen in films before. Someone who tends to be memorable, but not so much that he is a common dinner table name like Justin Beiber. Most people however will be able to recognize him as “Dr. Bob” from the Meet the Parents/Fockers/Little Fockers series.

His roles in acting have now transfered into tallents for his writing and directing. Win Win is Tom McCarthy’s third screenplay after The Station Agent and The Visitor. (If you don’t count him for helping to come up with the story for Pixar’s UP) His dedication to his films creates an energy and conveys emotion, very rarely felt in other films made today. So when I heard that I was lucky enough to talk to Tom for his new movie Win Win, I grabbed my Doug plush toy and ran out the door.

Win Win hits theaters this Friday (April 1st) in Philadelphia.

Do you consider yourself principlally and actor, writer, or director and how has your acting effected your directing skills?

I was always an actor first when I started. So I’ll probably always define myself at that level. But I’m a big believer that those three things can work in harmony. I think they work for me and the type of movies I make and how I like to approach the work in terms of my relationship with my actors and other directors I find it incredibly helpful. As a director who also acts I have access to sets, not just to go on, stand around and watch which is helpful, but it’s much more valuable being inside the process and I think that is something that I can track what I’ve learned from different directors and actors on set. You see things like… Well I don’t wanna do that. Works for him or it doesn’t work for him, but I really want to do that. That is a wonderful opportunity.

Do you love Bon Jovi?

I do now! I was in Central Park for a concert of his a couple of years ago and it was really fun. I was with a bunch of friends and was like, let’s go see Bon Jovi. He was great! He’s got a very specific fan-base. A rather large one I might add. And the song just felt really right for that world and specifically for what I was trying to create with that montage. The energy was right. We called John and said this is what we’re doing and we can’t pay you 1/100th of what you should have for the song. He said “name your price” and we did, and he said fine. Incredibly generous with that song. And the band was incredibly generous to let us use it. You don’t see that everyday. Those big bands out there won’t even let you get on the phone if you don’t have half-a-million dollars for their song. They were great and I think the song was really just right for that moment.

The things I’ve noticed with the three films you’ve directed, is that they all involve surrogate families in some way. Is that something you are aware of before you start writing or is that some that’s personal to you?

I don’t over-intellectualize the process when I start. I’m not very reflective as a filmmaker in that sense where I go “oh, what am I building here and how do I want to build the next thing?” It’s more what grabs me at that moment, because I need something to make me sit down at that computer and start to explore a story or a character. Sometime after that I might do that. After the first couple of drafts. I may even go so far as to write away from something so I don’t repeat myself but, I’m rarely afraid of that in terms of theme. I think that they, no matter what are going to repeat themselves in your work. I don’t know the answers to why that appeals to me. I don’t know if it was something I read as a kid, or it’s something I’m lacking in or searching for. Someday I’ll figure it out. Right now though it’s hard for me to deny the fact that there is that theme in the work.

So nothing in your childhood?

No I came from a big pretty happy family. There was too many of us actually. I will say I like to travel a lot, and I like to spend time alone when traveling and that was something I started doing from a very early age. And I like that experience because I loved meeting people. I think there is something about that experience of bumping into people randomly from other cultures, communities, maybe the same community but in a very different place that I always found fascinating.

Is there a possibility in the future of you mixing things up? Handing over your script to another director? Directing another persons script?

Yeah, I hope so. I haven’t turned anything over… Well… yeah I have. I do studio re-writes. Polishs and re-writes and things like that. The thing I’m doing for Disney right now, I just started writing a project for Disney, and I’m not signed on to direct that right now. I think it’s interesting material I just don’t want to commit to it till I know how I feel about it. It’s sort of like dating before committing. I like the idea of collaborating with other writers. Now I’ve made three movies and I think, writing the movie and directing it was a way for me to understand the process from the inside out. I mean the whole process of making a movie and I’m feeling that after three films I feel much more confident in that process so I feel more confident doing something different.

What was the decision to have Cindy be a drug addict but when we see her she seems like more normal of a person?

I think when she comes in she was coming off of five weeks of rehab. I think also I didn’t want her to be exactly what we expected when she walked through the door which is withered, and strung out, and too obvious. I wanted her to reflect a little on the cute girl gone wrong. The cute odd girl. We had this one girl in high school, I won’t say her name because she is a real person, and me and my friends were like “HER!” in conversation. Kinda that girl who came from a bad home. Someone who still uses her sexuality, I think she’s smart, broken, but I think she’s tricky. Someone who uses manipulation. I don’t ever think you know where she is coming from, especially with her son.

Can you compare Richard Jenkins and Paul Giamatti as actors in your two films?

Funny I haven’t been asked that. They are pretty similar. They both come from the theater. They both have long theater backgrounds. I think character actor to them and a lot of actors, outside those actors who think it will hurt their leading man status, I think it’s a great compliment because it really just means range right? Actors can lose themselves in roles and bring something new to that role each time which is something all actors are striving for. They both have a quiet sense of leadership on set. They are incredibly workman like, they take it very seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously at all. They have a real process even though at this point in their careers it’s hard to see. Just like a great athlete, you think “Oh I should be able to hit a tennis ball like that, they just keep hitting it” They are both very good at direction, they don’t need a lot, but they respond to it very very well. They don’t miss much. It doesn’t mean they take big chances, but when they miss it’s all useable. Some actors will REALLY miss, and that’s part of their process, but they’ll miss far right and you’re like “alright that was great, but lets do it like a human being and do it this way and bring it back in” Those guys are always giving you something on target, which is cool so when you get in the edit room you can be, “yeah, you can get that weird with this.”

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