Faxon and Rash bring humble wit to the big screen

by David Dixon

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Courtesy of Claire Folger/TwentiethCentury Fox/MCT

Courtesy of Claire Folger/TwentiethCentury Fox/MCT

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash visited the W San Diego Hotel to promote the hilarious and poignant comedy, “The Way Way Back.” Rash is best known for playing Dean Pelton on “Community” and both Rash and Faxon wrote “The Descendants” along with Alexander Payne. Faxon and Rash wrote, directed, and co-starred in this crowd-pleasing, but deeply personal summer flick.

The Daily Aztec: How did the two of you come up with the idea for “The Way Way Back?”

Jim Rash: It was a combination of things. The first scene of the movie has Trent (Steve Carrell) asking Duncan (Liam James) how he would rate himself on a scale from one to 10. That actually happened. My stepfather had that conversation with me when I was 14. We launched with that and then we also have affection for growing up in the East Coast. All these things added up to inspiration.

DA: Was Liam James both of your first choice for the role of Duncan? And why?

Nat Faxon: As soon as he walked into the room to audition, you just got the sense that he was Duncan. We had a lot of kids come in who were great, but maybe a little more polished and more rehearsed. Liam just felt very honest and someone that you could immediately root for. He just embodied that quiet understanding that was perfect for the role of Duncan.

DA: Do the two of you consider yourselves to be writers, actors, or directors first and foremost? And why?

JR: We started as actors and we met at The Groundlings Theatre so we were inherently writing sketches for the stage. I don’t know if I would put them in any order, because we have always appreciated the idea of every facet of what it takes to tell a story.

DA: Are there any plans for you to write more episodes of “Community?”

JR: Not at this moment. “Community” creator Dan Harmon is obviously back putting together a great staff. If the opportunity presents itself I will, but I’m more than happy to follow their lead.

DA: “The Way Way Back” is maybe the only other film to come out this summer besides “This is The End,” directed and written by a well-known comedy team. Would you encourage more screenwriting duos to try directing?

NF: If they’re passionate about it. Certainly. Film is a director’s medium and often the director may not share the same ideas as the writer. The only way as a writer to protect your material, or at least see your vision from start to finish, is to direct a movie. It’s a big task and wrought with many obstacles and challenges but it’s also extremely rewarding. You get to do it on your own terms.

JR: As partners you have two heads. Especially when you’re directing, it’s nice having someone there to bat around thoughts and take a little bit of the stress off.

DA: While watching the film, I noticed how many hysterical one-liners there were with Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney. Were those characters written that way or was there a lot of improv that happened behind the scenes?

JR: On the page, they were originally written that way. Janney’s role was certainly supposed to speak with a stream of consciousness just as Rockwell’s was written like a quick-witted Bill Murray character. That said, we had two actors who understood these characters. We were open to them adding things in when they had an idea that they wanted to throw in or have some fun with one of our takes. We had some nice moments from that and would catch us off guard.

DA: Which well-known actor or actress do either one of you want to work with in future projects?

JR: We always keep on bringing up Frances McDormand. If we have the ability to write for her, that would be awesome.

NF: There’s something really fun in working with your friends and people that you know. We came up with a lot of people in The Groundlings Theatre that have gone on and done tremendous work. We got the chance to work with Maya Rudolph in “The Way Way Back.” We’ve known her for a long time. In keeping with that, ideally we can continue to reach out to more friends and collaborate together. Friends of ours that I’d like to work with include Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone and Will Forte. The list goes on as far as Groundlings alumni.

DA: Are either of you Comic-Conners?

JR: Yes.

NF: I’m definitely a Comic-Conner. I partied hard last time and may have gone too far, but I had a blast at the festival.

DA: Any advice for San Diego State students?

NF: Pursue the things that make you happy. Set goals for yourself and try to accomplish them. Don’t wait for someone else to do them for you.

NF: Exactly, be proactive. Listen to people’s advice, but it’s all about being creatively proactive. There are so many ways to be original with Internet media, so why not take advantage of it?

NF: As Owen says in the film, “Choose your own path.”

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