In 2010, Alex Shaffer was a wrestler at Hunterdon Central High School. During his sophomore year, Shaffer won the 2010 New Jersey State Wrestling Championship. His wrestling career is currently on an indefinite hiatus after breaking the L-5 vertebrae in his back. In 2011, Shaffer is receiving high praise for his cinematic debut performance in Win Win.
The film has also received numerous acclaim from critics across the country. We had a chance to sit down with the actor in celebration of the film’s Blu-Ray release. Even though his wrestling career may be over, he tells us that he still plans to move forward with acting.
“I’ve been auditioning and I have a manager,” Shaffer said. “I’ve been working really hard.” “I just came back from England where there was a three week intensive acting camp.”
Win Win tells the story of a lawyer and volunteer high school wrestling coach named Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who is struggling to make ends meet. His business isn’t doing as well as it should, and his team has yet to win a match. While trying to score some extra cash through one of his clients, Mike comes across a quiet and troubled young man named Kyle Timmons (Shaffer). He takes the kid under his wing and discovers he’s actually a very good wrestler. Just as it looks like everything is going Mike’s way, Kyle’s mom (Melanie Lynskey) shows up, fresh out of rehab, looking to set things straight and expose what Mike has done.
When it came to auditioning for the role of Kyle, Shaffer’s only experience in acting was in sixth grade in a stage version of The Pirates of Penzance. Despite this being his first time acting in several years, he went ahead with it.
“My fried texted me, telling me there was an article in the newspaper for this wrestling audition for a movie and that I should go in for it,” Shaffer said.
The funny thing about Shaffer’s audition is that he didn’t fit the requirement stated in the advertisement, but that didn’t stop him from getting the role.
“I went in for the audition and they really liked me and they told me to come in again, so I came in again,” Shaffer said. “It ended up being eight or nine more times and then I finally got the role.”
Having seen a lot of Giamatti’s films, and Ryan’s films as well, Shaffer was excited when he met them in person and worked with them on the film. He was especially excited to work with Ryan since she was in The Office, one of his favorite shows.
“When I met her in person, I was like ‘HOLLY!’” he said. “I was so impressed.” Preparing for the role wasn’t something Shaffer had thought of when it came to audition time. “I didn’t think of it as preparing,” he said. “I didn’t know how to prepare for a role. I didn’t really know how to since I didn’t really act much before.”
One thing that helped him out was listening to music. “I just tried to get myself into the mindset of being really, really angry and upset on the inside and not showing much of it in reality,” he said. “I got into the mindset of Kyle, I guess.”
“Other than the fact that we’re both good at wrestling, I would say that Kyle and I are extremely different,” Shaffer said. “Kyle’s much more quiet and to himself. If there’s someone talking in the room, he can be happy with letting that one person talk. Me, I cannot let that one person talk. I would go insane.”
Being a wrestler both on and off the screen helped Shaffer not with just doing his own stunts, but also with his portrayal of Kyle, he said.
“It also helped with the character a lot having this sport as an escape out of his life,” Shaffer said. “I can almost relate to that because I don’t look at wrestling as an escape out of my life, but it kind of used to be when I really need to be myself. And wrestling was always myself.”
The other kids featured in the movie were also wrestlers off screen. Even though there were stunt people, the fact that the kids in the movie knew how to wrestle outside of the filming stage was an added bonus. When it came to seeing himself on the big screen in his first major role, Shaffer didn’t get that surreal sense of feeling that other first time actors might have.
“It was watching myself be somebody else,” Shaffer said. “I’m watching myself be fake and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, wow, that looks so fake.’ It’s not the way I would naturally say it. It’s the way Kyle would say it. So the whole entire time I watched it, I just critiqued the shit out of myself.”
Since the release of Win Win, Shaffer has seen his popularity increase. Even though he’s been taking online classes to work around his acting schedule, he still hears people from his school talking about it.
“It was cool,” Shaffer said. “A lot of kids were like ‘Oh, that Alex Shaffer kid. He’s in that movie, Win Win.’ But it was nice. They weren’t mean about it. It was really cool.”
While Shaffer may not have any projects currently lined up, he hopes to continue to work on his acting until something comes up.
Be sure to check out Win Win, now available to rent or own on DVD/Blu-ray.