Exclusive Interview: Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash Talk "The Way Way Back", Growing Up, & More


The Way Way Back is this summer’s charming coming-of-age tale starring Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell. The directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for writing The Descendants and also wrote and act here, has received a positive response from critics who see it as a refreshing departure from the heavy-hitting action flicks and larger-than-life epics that have dominated the silver screen this summer.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Faxon and Rash just before the film’s release to pick their brains about their experiences with The Way Way Back. I came in a little bit nervous (knowing they had spoken to some reporters from the media heavy-hitters just before me), but they were incredibly down-to-earth and welcoming, so the conversation flowed naturally.

wwbposterAshley Higgins: Let’s start from the beginning; what was the inspiration for The Way Way Back?

Jim Rash: The main thing was the opening scene, in which Tim asks Duncan what he is on a scale from 1-10. That whole 6/3 conversation is ripped from my own life. When I was 14, I had that same exact conversation with my stepfather in the station wagon on the way up to Michigan. Also, Nat and I have a fondness for waterparks after growing up as kids on the East Coast, and there’s something about destination vacations, when you reconvene with the same group of people. Those are sort of the themes and ideas we launched with.

AH: One of the things that struck me immediately was how many amazing actors and comedians were involved with this project. How did you get all those guys involved?

Nat Faxon: We had some personal relationships. Alison Janney was someone we knew through social circles, so we sort of wrote with her in mind. She was probably the first to come aboard and most of the others were people we had long admired and respected. Maya was someone we had probably known the longest, having come up through The Groundlings with her, and we adore her and loved the idea of working with good friends. We tried to go after not only great and talented people, but also people that do these sorts of movies. Once we had Alison [Janney] and Sam [Rockwell], it helped to attract some of the other cast and build momentum. I think good actors are attracted to working with other good actors, so it sort of all comes together that way.

AH: I loved Alison Janney’s role. She was fabulous, and I’m not surprised you wrote it just for her. Did you also know the parts that you would play yourselves when you were writing?

JR & NF: Sort of.

NF: Sadly, yes. [Laughing]

JR: We did write for ourselves in a way. Lewis changed a little bit from its initial thing. Over the years as we honed it, we pulled back on some of the broader stuff and some other characters because we wanted to make sure they all lived in the same world as the Duncan’s beachhouse story.


AH: Speaking of writing specifically for certain actors, I never would’ve imagined Steve Carell as the mean guy—villain, even. What made you choose him?

JR: We sort of knew we wanted to go against type with Trent. It was important that he be sort of layered and complicated. What Steve brought to the table was that he has this innate likability that’s just within him. But he’s also a great actor and he identified with and understood what this character needed to be. I think he was excited to play against type and as someone that provides the audience with a sort of visceral reaction. And despite the fact that Trent is a jerk, when you get down to it, there’s this sympathy you can have for this guy who is stuck being his own worst enemy, in a cycle rather than an arc that you’d tend to find for our characters. He’s probably not going to change. Even though he knows he needs to, he just isn’t capable, and those are real people.

AH: Did you find it challenging balancing both sides of the screen?

NF: It was stressful, certainly. Being first time directors, there was a lot to learn and a lot of questions that you’re asked and a lot of responsibility. It’s such a full-time commitment that oftentimes we were thinking about the day and the scenes and the shots and then all of a sudden you realize “Oh, I’m in this scene too!” so you have to quickly put on a wardrobe and run and do it. So it was certainly challenging. Luckily our parts were manageable so we didn’t bite off more than we could chew, and we were able to manage it pretty well.

AH: Do you find that you like doing multiple roles, or could you ever see yourselves switching to focus just on acting, writing or directing?

JR: Well, you never know what the future is going to hold. That said, I think we’ve always embraced all three of these things: acting, writing, directing. Directing is obviously brand new to us and sort of came from a passion to tell the story the way we wanted to, both with words and visually. I think we will always want to keep nurturing that. Whether we’ll always be in the same project together? Probably not. It’s whatever the story calls for.

NF: I think there’ll definitely be moments where we’re just doing one or the other, but it’ll be a project to project decision based on what makes sense.


AH: If you had to pick your favorite scene from the movie, what would it be?

NF: I have many. It’s hard to narrow it down. I love the goodbye moments in the movie. The Duncan/Sam moment is always extremely emotional for me, as is the Betty/Pam moment—I think that’s really heartfelt. Those probably resonate the most for me emotionally.

JR: I would agree, those are all nice moments. I think I’ve said it before, but I think if it’s your favorite it’s the one you keep saying, so for me it’s…

NF: you can say your own scene, Jim

JR: It’s my scene. It’s just some sort that I did where I’m just blown away by myself [laughing]. No, not that. For me, it was the sequence of waiting for Trent to come home where it’s just the three of them and they’re washing dishes. To me, it’s an example of what can be so great when little is said but so much is said all at once. As a writer and director and actor you’re chasing that constantly, the restraint. I feel like the performances they gave us in those quiet moments were invaluable and they’re both one shot each, which was just a challenge we had to face with a small budget and a small amount of time. It just reminds you that sometimes it’s not about money, it’s just about telling the story.

AH: One word to describe the movie?

JR: Nostalgia

NF: Hope

Thanks again to Jim and Nat for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview. Can’t wait to see more from these two in the future!

Check out The Way Way Back today at a theater near you. Rated PG-13.

Ashley Higgins • Staff Writer

An unabashed movie junkie, Ashley spends an inordinate amount of time in front of the screen, watching just about anything she can get her hands on, with a special soft-spot for old Hollywood and anything clever and thought-provoking. 


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