You Might Have Heard Of... Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy on the, erm... right-hand side in Duplicity.

Those of an eagle-eyed nature might have spotted Tom McCarthy in a variety of bit parts over the last few years. The actor, who turns forty-five on Sunday, has cropped up in films such as Syriana and Good Night And Good Luck as well as more recent outings in DuplicityLittle Fockers and as John Cusack's kid's stepfather in 2012. McCarthy specialises in the sort of 30-40 something role that passes through a film unnoticed, there for a scene to be abused by a kid or killed off anonymously and quickly.

Below this in front on the camera surface though, which seems to take up most of McCarthy's time (IMDb lists thirty-seven acting credits to date), he also directs.

Like his acting roles, McCarthy's directorial projects are individual yet one and the same. The director in McCarthy goes for small-town, isolated, stories about individuals who, whilst often attractive morally, can struggle socially. Like the characters he picks to act out, McCarthy's heroes in his directing projects are the kind of people you'd pass in the street without giving a second glance to.

The wonderful The Station Agent.

Take Fin McBride in McCarthy's first feature, The Station Agent. Fin moves to an abandoned railway station deep in lonely New Jersey only to find companionship from a young child which then leads on to a more in-depth relationship with fast food vendor Joe (an outstanding Bobby Cannavale), an attractive young local (Michelle Williams) and a lonely woman (Olivia Harris). The film is a tour-de-force in exploring individual introspection and examining the need and balance of companionship and solitude. In 2004 it won McCarthy the BAFA for Best Original Screenplay and then disappeared off the face of the mainstream.

In 2007 McCarthy returned with The Visitor which again re-visited similar themes and saw McCarthy noticed significantly for the first time thanks to Richard Jenkins' Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The film's love of music sees it wear its heart on its sleeve much more than The Station Agent but McCarthy still examines the balance between widower Walter Vale's (Jenkins) quest for solitude and enforced socialising, brought about by finding a young couple living in his apartment. The direction the film takes, forcing Walter into an uncomfortable but dependant relationship with one of the 'visitors' Zainab (Danai Gurira) and the other visitor's mother (Hiam Abbass) is both unexpected, awkward and beautiful and McCarthy manipulates all of these themes around a New York setting which is constantly shot to emphasise its small, communal, aspects.

In 2011 McCarthy's third directorial outing will hit screens with a bigger publicity push fronted, for the first time, by Fox Searchlight. Having shown in Sundance, a place where McCarthy films surely belong, Win Win is already attracting positive reviews which accentuate McCarthy's grasp of creating 'real' small-town characters. The film is sure to be one to look out for later in the year and will hopefully see McCarthy convinced that his real talent lies behind the camera.

McCarthy has a story credit on Up, which deals with similar themes.

In between The Visitor and Win Win, it's also interesting to note that McCarthy has a 'Story' credit on Pixar's Up, which of course won the Animated Film Oscar at last year's ceremony. The parallels to his earlier work are uncanny. Up features not one but four loners (Carl, Russell, Doug and Muntz) all forced into social situations which each one, to some degree or another, is initially unwilling to explore. Whether the story was one of McCarthy's inception or whether he was brought on my Disney to flesh out an already burgeoning idea is unclear but kudos to them for doing so either way. McCarthy is a master at creating reluctant social situations which ring true and are explored with a complete absence of traditionally clammy indie-ness, resulting in clever and direct films with nicely teased performances that, hopefully, we'll see a lot more of in the future.


  1. Nice feature. I've been hearing about Tom McCarthy (been trying to watch both the Station Agent and The Visitor) but for some reason never knew what he looked like. Now I do!

  2. Cheers! I really both his films and yeah, I'd encourage you to get hold of them as soon as possible. They're very quiet, very indie, pieces but both are really close to being perfect.

  3. Up and The Station Agent are two of my all time favourites. Will look out for him and the new film with great interest.

  4. THE STATION AGENT is fantastic and I think the UP fact is very interesting - would love to know exactly how much input he had. One article I've read since writing this one claimed he worked on writing a complete script for them over three months so sounds like it could have been significant.