One of the best reviewed films from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival was Thomas McCarthy’s (The Station Agent, The Visitor) Win Win. The film revolves around a small-town lawyer (Paul Giamatti, Sideways) who makes a shady decision in a moment of desperation to better the lives of his family. One of the consequences of his action cause him and his wife (Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone) to take in a mild-mannered rebel teenager who is fleeing the abusive home life caused by his druggy mother (Melanie Lynskey, Away We Go).
While Win Win primarily earns its hype because of its amazing cast of fine actors, there is a newcomer thrown into the mix that equally deserves praise – Alex Shaffer plays Kyle, the polite hydrogen peroxided rebel.
Giamatti’s character invites Kyle to accompany him to various errands as a way of warming up to him, one of said errands being his side-job coaching a pathetic high school wrestling team. Trying to make him feel included, Giamatti asks Kyle if he would like to give wrestling a shot. Unlike anything that has ever happened on their mats, Kyle displays his perfectly-polished hidden talent and quickly becomes the heart, soul and strength of their team.
I am no wrestler and don’t pretend to know anything about the sport, but the second that Kyle takes his first opponent down, it is blatantly obvious that Alex Shaffer isn’t just acting, he is applying his own talent to the role.
Win Win is Alex Shaffer’s first film. Now a high school senior in New Jersey, prior to landing the role, Shaffer had only acted in tiny elementary school productions. The one area in which he had experience before Win Win was wrestling. Shaffer began wrestling around age six and since then it is has become his passion. Had it not been for wrestling, he never would have heard about the role.
“A friend sent me a text message saying they were holding auditions for this movie,” says Shaffer. “They were looking for wrestlers.” At first Shaffer blew off the notion that he could co-star in this major film, but encouragements from his friends saying that “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity” swayed his decision and he went through with it.
After six or seven different auditions, Shaffer landed the role as Kyle. He already knew he could wrestle, so he dedicated his efforts to acting. Shaffer explains, “The only things that I have in common with Kyle are the hair and wrestling, the love for the sport and the discipline. … I am just a typical loud and obnoxious teenager. … [Giamatti, Ryan and Lynskey] made me feel comfortable as the newcomer on set. … We did lots of rehearsals. Because of them I started becoming good.”
Shaffer joined the rest of the cast at Win Win‘s Park City premiere. The amazing reception of both the film and his performance “blew [his] mind” and “surprised the shit out of [him].” Shaffer never saw himself as acting in the future, but with such critical acclaim he is now pursuing it. Currently cramming classes in private school to achieve an early graduation, Shaffer looks forward to what lies ahead – serious acting lessons and auditioning every chance he gets.
Although Win Win has been in limited release for over a month now, it opens this weekend in Salt Lake City.