Just because he’s on the road promoting his observant new comedy “Win Win” doesn’t mean Tom McCarthy — actor, director, screenwriter and sports fan — is going to miss out on his favorite season of temporary insanity.
“My brother and I joke that March Madness is the time we talk the most,” says McCarthy, 45, who describes ESPN’s “SportsCenter” as his drug of choice during the national immersion in wall-to-wall college basketball.
“We both lead busy lives, but I’ll call him up at 2 in the afternoon, ‘Dude, are you watching Utah State?’ You know, just one of those random universities that always makes the tournament. It’s great drama,” he says.
McCarthy, who directed “The Visitor” (2007), knows quality drama. Yet he didn’t envision “Win Win” as anything more than a conventional sports movie, based on his time as a high school wrestler, that he hoped to sell to Disney.
That changed, McCarthy says, as writing progressed.
“This movie is, in some ways, my most personal project because it’s set where I grew up in New Jersey, I wrote it with an old buddy and I drew from the culture I came from,” he says.
McCarthy never intended to go home again in one of his stories. Like so many restless young men, he had “run screaming” from the nest at the first opportunity. Visits home made him “feel itchy,” though he valued the people he had known there.
That’s what made “Win Win, which opens Friday” so enjoyable.
“It was kind of perverse for me,” he says. “I wanted to go in deep, immerse myself in their lives and make no judgments. I wouldn’t condescend to these characters because I have too much respect for them.
“Could I do what they do and live where they live? No. But so many times we see movies depicting the dark underbelly of the suburbs, the quiet desperation and all that. I find it more compelling to deal with a family that lives there and is happy with their choices.”
In “Win Win,” Paul Giamatti plays a cash-strapped attorney who coaches a client’s juvenile-delinquent grandson, also a championship wrestler, to the biggest match of his life.
Revisiting his sport prior to filming, McCarthy was fascinated by the adults whose happiness seemed to rest so precariously on the shoulders of their athletic children.
“You see this a lot in parents and coaches. The sport means so much to them, you can see it in their eyes,” he says. “It’s pretty intense. And when the kids are having great seasons, and then they lose — boom, it’s all over, just like that, and you have to go back to work on Monday.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young, Alex Shaffer
Written and directed by Tom McCarthy
Running time 1 hour 46 minutes