Interview with Directors of "The Way, Way Back" - Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Jim Rash & Nat Faxon

Interview with Jim Rash & Nat Faxon on "The Way, Way Back" 


By Lisa Minzey of The Reel 


If you’re a fan of the t.v. show “Community” or “Ben and Kate” you may know the names Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. If they still don’t seem familiar, think back to the 2012 Academy Awards. The winners of Best Writing for Adapted Screenplay for “The Descendants”; the two guys up on stage with Alexander Payne were these two guys. Jim was the guy who posed like Angelina Jolie’s red carpet leg pose, which became the internet meme of the week. Now do you remember? Good, because Nat and Jim should be on your radar for anything that has their name on it. Which, luckily for you, the Oscar winners have a film released in theaters this week called “The Way, Way Back” featuring the likes of Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Toni Collete and a slew of amazing actors.


“The Way, Way Back” is the directorial debut for Rach and Faxon, which they also co-wrote and star in. Not a bad gig to have, eh? We sat down with the two cheeky fellows and found out some behind the scenes goodness along with a few filmmaking gems.

PFF: What was the casting process like for this movie? The cast was so fantastic! How were you able to get big players like Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell and Alison Janney? It was refreshing to see Steve’s and Sam’s typical roles flip-flopped.


NF: We wrote this script 8 years ago and it had,you know, many highs and lows, a roller coaster rides of it happening; almost not happening. Then about 3 years ago, we obtained back the ownership rights of it and that’s when we decided to direct the film. We really wanted to populate the movie with people that we long admired and respected as actors. It became, really, about trying to invite people to your “dinner party”, in the hopes that inviting one person would draw somebody else. Then it would help feed itself in a way.

We started with Allison [Janney] first, who we sort of knew through social circles and she was the first to join. Sam Rockwell, I think on the basis of the script and the role, we were able to get it to his agent, who loved it for him. We got on the phone with him [Sam] and we had this funny conversation where we were pulled off on the side of the road, preparing, “Well, we’re first time directors, We’ve got to really sell him on this!..Got to bring our A-game...Let’s go through the questions he may ask, and what our answers are gonna be, so we don’t sound like we don’t know what we’re doing.” Then Sam got on the phone and was “So, yeah. Let’s do this guys, it sounds fun! Great. I’d love to do this.” We were like “Uh, ok. Thanks Bye”.

Toni [Collette], I think she was drawn to the material, so she understood the vulnerability of Pam

JR: She wasn’t a vocal character, there was a lot of internal work from her.

NF: Yeah.

JR: She, like Duncan, is a very much a fish-out-of-water in this new world; an observer who really takes it all in; trying to fit in. A lot of people may look at the page and be like there’s not a lot of dialogue, but there’s so much in her performance.

NF: Soon, all these people wanted to join the project based on the great actors we had attracted. Maya Rudolph is someone we know from the Groundlings Theater. We’ve known her for 15 years, so the idea of working with our friends was really exciting for us. Finally, Steve Carrell was the last piece that we got and that’s when the movie really solidified and we were able to go out there and do it. Liam, who plays Duncan, was somebody who was auditioned in L.A., and was more of a discovery for us, although he had been on a few other shows.

JR: We always knew we wanted [the character] Trent to be against type, so Steve came in. We needed someone who had innate likeability to give that layer to Trent. Those two [Carrell and Rockwell], whether we’re flipping them, and you’ve met [Rockwell] you’d think “Why is he always the villain?” He has this... is his nurturing side and so we’re hoping this just opens up a whole new world.

NF: We had a lot of trouble with Jim’s deal.

JR: Yeah.

NF: So he almost wasn’t in the movie.THE WAY, WAY BACK

PFF: (Laughs)

JR: I almost walked.

NF: Yeah.

JR: I wasn’t top billing.

NF: His demands...

JR: I didn’t even make the list.

NF: His quote is astronomical...

JR: Over $50 a day.


PFF: What do prefer or find easier? Acting, Directing or Writing?


JR: It’s hard to put them in a particular order. We started as actors, and that led us to want to write for both for friends and ourselves, which led us into that world. Directing is such a new thing, this being our directorial debut, it’s hard to quantify where it goes yet, because we’re eager to do it again. We just enjoy all facets of it; especially when it’s something you’ve written. It’s just nice to see it to the end. We don’t always have to play parts, by any means and we’ve written stuff that didn’t have us in it and we’re not afraid of that, but the actor in us needs it a little feeding now and then. It would be hard to say this one, this one and this one.

NF: Hmmm. I think that because it’s such a personal story and it’s taken such a long time to get made and film is such a director’s medium, it was really rewarding for us to helm it. Like Jim said, see the process from start to finish it was very gratifying.

PFF: There’s kids that start in community theater and improv; how important was your experience with the Groundlings, where you two met, to establish that relationship and work from there?


NF: It was instrumental, obviously. It was the basis of what we do in every facet. Whether it be acting, writing or directing; it pays a part in all of those, every day and every moment. The basis of improv is really to listen and collaborate, add information, to not deny someone, what they said or to negate anything. It’s really about coming together and making something together. I think in a way that’s how we have certainly write, where we sit in a room and brainstorm. Acting, it allows you to get out of your head or think of something that the character would do that you hadn’t thought of. In directing, it opens your mind to a new suggestion. As far as the writing, the Groundlings, is improv but also teaches you how to write. There is not much difference between a 3 to 5 minute sketch to a 30 page pilot, to a 120 page screenplay. Really, you have to have all the same elements in place in terms of a beginning, middle and an end.

JR: Well, maybe just time...

NF: (Laughs)

JR: Time. And stress level. The beats are the same.

NF: It really teaches you about character and everything should come from character. To write obviously, what you know and what surrounds you. To draw from your family and friends, co-workers, understand what makes them who they are; find the flaws, the bad choices they make, and I think all those things make characters more human, therefore more realistic and honest. That’s something that is vital to everything we do.


PFF: It looks like you guys had a blast making this film. Do you have a favorite moment from the filming process?


JR: A couple come to mind. As far as the actual shooting of it. Again, I’m going to attach it to the spirit of a team effort. We got hit with rain in the very beginning and again on the last day of shooting. We were in that period of it was nighttime, it was raining and we had to finish this scene; if we didn’t get everything, we didn’t have the movie. There was no, “We’ll do it tomorrow” or “We’ll do it in L.A.”; this was it. So we had to go and figure it out, and it was our last day and we had gone through all this stuff and it was stressful. We had gone through 24 other days of this and your brain starts to die out on you for a second; and in that moment when we were trying to figure out what to do, a number of crew had already taken over at least part one, which was to lay down this giant tarp between the houses so we could shoot beneath it make it look like it wasn’t raining. It was a mixture of people, not just those who necessarily it was their job, it was a reminder that you were going to be presented with so many problems, think about for a millisecond, and start doing something about it, because time is of the essence. So that was one of the moments that sticks out for me.


NF: I think every time I got to direct you [to Jim] was an inspirational moment.

JF: It’s because I give so much as an actor, so to be on the other side of a monitor and watching my face, do what it does, is a gift you really can’t quantify.

NF: There was really so many... I know, we-

JF: Oh, so that wasn’t honest? You were joking?

NF: No it was true.

JF: I’m just floored by that...

NF: It was true.

JF: That was honest.

NF: No we had one in the scene where Duncan finally confronts Pam and Trent. We shot in Green Harbor, which is a part of Marshfield, MA. We were shooting on this house there's this sea wall that protects the houses from the ocean. It was a night shoot and when we were shooting the whole town, basically came and sat along the sea wall. The towns people were having like cocktails and parties in the houses next to where we were shooting and watching. It felt almost like a theater in the rounds. They were very respectful and quiet when we need them to be quiet, but it was a very cool experience to be among all these people, have them watch you do what you do. I think it was special for the actors as well. It was certainly a highlight.

“The Way, Way Back” opens in select cities starting July 5 and additional cities July 12, 2012. Follow the adventures of Nat and Jim on Twitter #thewaywayback.