Jim Rash and Nat Faxon on The Way, Way Back

With The Way, Way Back out this week, writer-directors Jim Rash (Community) and Nat Faxon chat to us about comedy and Steve Carell...

As we’ve mentioned in our review, The Way, Way Back may end up being your favourite film of summer 2013. A warm coming-of-age comedy with a great cast, including Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette, it’s the  directorial debut of writers and actors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. They’ve coaxed some fine performances from their cast, including the young Liam James in the lead role as Duncan, a teenage boy stuck on the family vacation from hell.

With that in mind, it was a pleasure to speak to Rash and Faxon about the cast, writing the script, and their on-set experiences.

So, which one of you is Duncan?

JR: Guess! It’s me because that very first scene happened to me, so it’s an autobiographical moment that we pulled from. Being asked what I on a scale on one to ten, when I was Duncan’s age, in a car, like Duncan, on the way to summer vacation – all the same things, except it was my stepfather. I said six and he said three and we were off and running.  Look at me now!

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NF: Now, he’s a five!

JR: My God, that’s higher than he normally says!

Was casting Steve Carell against type a deliberate decision?

NF: It was. Steve did offer a likeability that was important for the role, certainly to understand why Toni Collette’s character is attracted to him, but I think, this is a guy who is done parenting – his daughter is old enough to take care of herself and he just wanted to hang out with his friends and his girlfriend and party and this kid is just sort of getting in the way of that. Obviously he’s a tragic male character, he doesn’t evolve, he’s just sort of stuck in this cycle, and I think Steve really embraced playing that and really enjoyed playing against type. It was exciting for us to see him play that, and it was certainly different for him. 

The scene in the car sets Trent’s stall out very early – was it important to set up his dickishness to put a stop to any expectations of Carell’s usual good-natured goofiness?

JR: Yes, it’s a highly dramatic way to start this movie, and I think that was important to us to set this journey for this kid, to latch onto him and to have our heart go with him, and then I guess maybe tease people that maybe Trent will be lighter later – but then obviously, it’s Alison Janney’s job after that to give us relief.

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NF: I was a unique by-product of casting Steve, it tells people right off the bat that he’s not going to be the way he normally is. And it is shocking to people;  they’re  like, ‘Is he going to get better later?’ and he doesn’t, and I think that’s a good thing.

Liam James is perfectly cast – did you have a sense of what you were looking for when you were casting Duncan?

JR: Liam definitely embodied it. When he walked in the room there was something very introverted and hunched over and sheltered and shy…  Whether or not he was playing it up in the moment, he sold it and we fell in love with him really quickly. 

Sam Rockwell did an amazing job with some very fast-paced dialogue – did he improv any of his lines? Or are you stringent with your dialogue?

JR: Our magic words…

NF: We’re very precious about them! No, we come from an improv background, so we always embrace it, but with this shoot we had a very small window. We had to shoot a lot of pages a day, we had one camera, and all these things sort of work against being improvised. That being said, we had so many comedic actors that we encouraged them to add their own little bits wherever they could, add parts of their personality that felt right for the character so, a lot of those little nuggets went because in. It was just garnish, as Sam might say, to what was already there.

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It was a tight shoot, but did you get a chance to have some fun?

(Nat grins and nods, Jim grimaces)

JR: I think Nat is able to unwind faster than I am. I think I grimaced only because, during that time my brain only saw the stress, but there were wonderful times with these people when I was able to relax of course; when we were shooting those days were pretty intense. 

Jim, The Way, Way Back was a rare opportunity for you not to wear dresses or makeup… Must have been nice not to have to shave your legs for a few weeks?

JR: If I’ve ever shaved my legs!  I don’t think the Dean cares that much! Well, he cares a lot, but believe me, some days when I’m wearing pantyhose, it’s so gross, because it’s just matted…

And finally… whose idea was it to perv on the underage girls?

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JR: I’ll wait for you to answer that, Nat…

NF: Er…. Errr…

JR: That scene was in there from the very beginning, because I think we just enjoy that moment that goes on too long, and becomes unfunny, and then becomes funny again. The thing we’d talk about was, with all the wonderful lessons Liam can learn at this place, they can’t all be gems. These are childish guys, so we definitely didn’t want to just say, ‘oh, this place is perfect…’

NF: Yeah, there’s gotta be some immaturity there…

JR: And it’s just, you know, unfortunately, a way that guys can be…

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, thank you very much.

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