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Interview: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for “The Way, Way Back”

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Oscar-winning writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) at a reporter round table in DC. They were in town to talk about their newest film, The Way, Way Back, which is not only written by the talented duo, but is directed by them as well! Since they are also actors, Rash and Faxon even have their own parts in the film! Rash plays Lewis, a hilariously miserable water park employee and Faxon plays Roddy, a clever water slide operator.

We talked about the filming process and about some of the ways writers’ life experiences were included in the movie. In fact, Jim Rash (who some may know as Dean from the cult TV show Community) actually endured the self-rating scene from the film. His stepfather asked him how he would rate himself on a scale of one to ten. Rash answered “a six” and his stepfather replied that he thought Rash was a “three”.

I love being able to talk to filmmakers about their passion projects, and both Faxon and Rash were so excited to talk to us about this movie. Although it took eight long years to get this film to the big screen, The Way, Way Back is worth the wait! So far it’s my favorite film of the year and I’m excited I can finally talk about it!

**Oh, and for all of you Community fans, don’t worry, we got in a question about the show!

Jim Rash Nat Faxon The Way Way Back
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Lauren: Hey guys! Have y’all been to DC before?

Rash and Faxon: Just once, in high school.

Faxon: It’s been awhile

Rash: You can’t really count this because we’re just here [motions to hotel] but we’ll be back.

Faxon: Yeah, we’re just in the hotel.

Lauren: Your movie was my favorite film of the year so far. I really, really enjoyed it.

Rash: Awesome, thank you so much.

Lauren: I read that it took you guys eight years to get this movie made and that it was your passion project. How did the script evolve from when you first sat down eight years ago? Did it change a lot since then or has it stayed the same?

Faxon: I think it definitely evolved. However, I think at its core it was always the same. Certainly along the way we changed some things. I think the family we probably beefed up a little bit more and the dramatic elements of that and the emotion there. And certain characters grew probably a little bit larger. Kaitlin, for example, was someone that we created a little bit more for, especially when we cast Maya Rudolph who is an old friend of ours. We just tried to give that relationship between Owen and Kaitlin a little bit more depth. Surprisingly Jim’s character got bigger… a LOT bigger actually. Strange how that worked out! [laughs]

Rash: We tested the script and people said “I would love to see more of this Lewis character,” and weirdly it was me. Yeah, I think the main evolution also was… any writer is trying to find all of the restraint you can. You have a lot written and then you start pulling back and pulling back and saying more with silence. I think when you have enough time with a script, the best thing you can be doing is find where you can pull back. I think, if anything, that time gave us a lot of insight into the script itself.

Dean Rogers ( How did the idea of The Way, Way Back come to be?

Rash: It was two things really. One, we both grew up on the East Coast so we have an affinity for water parks. Getting dropped off at them and cast out by our parents. So that was part of it because I think we are always drawn to places where we can find eclectic characters and I felt like that was a good place for it. And I think another thing is, other than some character inspiration throughout all of the characters, the first scene of the movie is verbatim from something that happened to me. When I was fourteen, Duncan’s age, my stepfather and I had that conversation in the car on the way to our summer vacation in Michigan. I’m from North Carolina and we would drive up there. One year he had that conversation and asked me what I though I was, [on a scale of one to ten]. I said a six and he said a three and we had the same little life lesson he was trying to teach me. So we used that… we knew that was a place to start the movie and then went from there.

Lauren:  It appeared that your character [Nat] really enjoyed working at the water park, where as your character [Jim] didn’t.

Rash: Begrudgingly worked there.

Lauren: So I was just wondering what were your worst summer jobs or worst job before you became an actor?

Rash: You [Nat] have the worst one.

Faxon: I do. I had a few. I would spend my summers on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts and the first job I ever had was collating newspapers at the local newspaper. That meant going down to the basement where the printing press was and sitting around a table with five elderly women and waiting for the first section to come out, which would be the D section and they would pile it up against one wall… along the entire wall, like thousands of papers. Then the C section would come out and we would then manually put the C section inside the D section and put it over here, then fill the whole wall with that. Then the next section would come out and we would take all of those papers and put them on that side and the cover. No radio was allowed and no phones… but they weren’t really that huge… you couldn’t really do anything with your phone. So it literally was just me chatting with five ladies about what was going on on the island and it was four long days a week. I don’t know how I did not go crazy. I think I did, but…

Rash: Mine wasn’t… this was only one summer but I guess on the scale of looking back on it… When I was in junior high school, my dad, I have a lot of men in my life who I guess decided I needed something taught to me, so he decided I needed this development summer. The first half was outward bound and the second half was working construction. Because I had no special skills or allowed to use any of the cool equipment, so you were shoveling gravel pretty much. I lived in… I’m from North Carolina so it’s dead heat and humidity beyond belief and all we were building was a parking lot. It was so boring and so every Thursday at midnight you had to show up to pour the next floor because obviously the cement would not set during the day. In order to do that, it meant putting on boots and wading in the cement as they pump it. I couldn’t do anything cool so I was holding the extension cord to keep it out of the cement for the man who was holding, literally, a giant vibrator, which is a huge machine that you toss in there. It’s like a big snake that shakes out all of the air bubbles. So for six hours I just stood behind this guy holding this machine like this [motions holding the extension cord]. So I always tell people, if you park in that lot, you’re welcome.

Cast The Way Way Back water park
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Lauren: Did you carve your initials in it at all?

Rash: No, I didn’t do anything interesting. I got out of there so…

Faxon: You weren’t allowed to hold the tool…

Rash: [laughs] My initials tool. I at least got to meet a lot of interesting people.

Dean Rogers: Jim, congratulations on Community making season 5. It’s one of my favorite series. Now, you’ve written the episode “Basic Human Anatomy”, which was your first episode in television writing. How did you come up with that idea and what was your inspiration?

Rash: Basically, I went up in the writers’ room about two weeks prior or a little bit more before I was supposed to be sent off to write the script. I took a few ideas to them because we sort of had this… they had an available storyline. We talked only about breaking up Troy and Britta. That’s the only thing that had to happen in my episode. So with that in mind, we sort of started talking about… I just threw out Freaky Friday as something and randomly, the writers said, “Oh my God, we’ve talked about body switching for every season but we didn’t have a way to make it work.” And then just by that conversation we realized, it felt like a good way for our characters to break up with each other to see Troy as a man struggling with becoming a man and not able to face this task of breaking up with Britta and utilizes the idea that Abed will do it for him as him. For me, I love the Community episodes that move our characters in this new dramatic place. Once we sort of fleshed out that story, I was off to write.

The Way, Way Back hits theaters in DC this Friday (July 5)! Make sure you check it out! There is no better film to watch this holiday weekend and I am definitely going to see it again!

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