Movie Interviews
3:51 am
Fri July 5, 2013

Oscar Winners Rash And Faxon Team Up Again For 'The Way, Way Back'

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 5:13 pm

The coming-of-age story is a summer-movie staple — as writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who struck Oscar gold with The Descendants in 2011, can attest.

Their latest film, The Way, Way Back, is another entry in the canon; it's the tale of an awkward teenager, Duncan, who's floundering through a seaside vacation when he's taken under the wing of Owen, the sweetly demented manager of a summer water park. Comedy ensues — and in passing, Duncan learns some important lessons about adulthood.

Some audiences will notice that the film's characters aren't situated in any particular time period — and that was no creative oversight. Faxon tells NPR's Renee Montagne that the first draft of the film was actually set in the '80s, but the realization soon set in that a period piece would require a larger budget, what with the vintage cars and locations.

"More important ... and I think it was a great thought, is to make it timeless, to sort of blur the lines a little bit," Faxon says.

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash joined Morning Edition to talk about nostalgia in summertime movies, the inspiration behind the character Owen and some surprisingly autobiographical details that were woven into the story.


Interview Highlights

Rash on the inevitability of nostalgia in summertime films

"I think also summer has that type of feel. It feels like you're less connected to technology, a lot of times, when you're on a summer vacation. Old beach houses sometimes don't have TVs, or you don't get cellphone reception. And so that nostalgia theme and the timelessness really made its way into every discussion we had in terms of how we wanted to shoot the movie and see the movie."

On how a famous camp-counselor character inspired Owen

Faxon: "Owen was loosely modeled after one of our cinematic heroes: Bill Murray [in] Meatballs. That was the template in writing the character. [T]his sort of freewheeling charismatic guy whose confidence comes from his personality. ... [He] exuded that confidence and that mentorship, and I think that was — those were qualities that we certainly saw in Owen.

Rash: "You know, he was a quintessential extrovert, which is what Owen is — you know, someone who feeds off the energy of his audience. And that was sort of important to have as what Owen was — what that water park does for him for three months out of the year."

Rash on the Steve Carell-Liam James interrogation dialogue

"[The 'How would you rate yourself?'] scene is autobiographical, in the sense that that actual conversation, pretty verbatim, happened to me when I was 14. ... And so we sort of just ripped that from my pain headlines ... and plugged it into the movie, because we thought it was a great way to start this coming-of-age story.

"And, you know, obviously, the character wasn't exactly my stepfather. ... ... But, honestly, something sort of sneaks its way into his brain because he eventually leaves the beach house and discovers this eclectic water park and has this rite of passage in this summer of his life."

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The coming-of-age story is a tradition of summer movies, something about three months of sun and no school. And today in theaters, "The Way, Way Back," a tale of a shy, awkward teenage boy taken under the wing of a sweetly demented manager of a summer water park, it's written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who as screenwriters hit Hollywood gold when they won an Oscar for their adaptation of "The Descendants," starring George Clooney. "The Way, Way Back" has a stellar lineup of comedic talent: Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney - not surprising, considering the two directors first met doing improvised comedy here in L.A. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash joined us to talk about the film. Welcome to the program.

NAT FAXON: Oh, thank you.

JIM RASH: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Now, this movie begins with a conversation that sounds like the beginning of a dreadful summer vacation. You have Steve Carell playing against type...

RASH: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...he's a bully - who's driving his new girlfriend and her son to his beach house, and he starts needling her son, asking him: How would you rate yourself?

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WAY, WAY BACK")

STEVE CARELL: (as Trent) Pick any number, scale of one to 10, just shout it out, just say a number.

LIAM JAMES: (as Duncan) A six.

CARELL: (as Trent) A what?

JAMES: (as Duncan) A six.

CARELL: (as Trent) I think you're a three.

MONTAGNE: Whoa. So that exchange takes place between Steve Carell and Liam James, who plays Duncan, the boy, who is sitting in the way, way back of the boyfriend's...

FAXON: Yes.

MONTAGNE: ...vintage station wagon, not a great start to a summer vacation.

(LAUGHTER)

RASH: No. You know, that actual scene is autobiographical in the sense that that actual conversation, pretty verbatim, happened to me when I was 14.

MONTAGNE: Now, Jim Rash, this is you talking.

RASH: Yes, yes. And so we sort of just ripped that from my pain headlines...

(LAUGHTER)

RASH: ...within my youth and plugged it into the movie because we thought it was a great way to start this coming-of-age story. And, you know, obviously, when the character wasn't exactly my stepfather, but, you know, even in the movie, it's like Duncan hears these harsh words, but, honestly, something, you know, sort of sneaks its way into his brain because he eventually leaves the beach house and discovers this eclectic water park and has this really - rite of passage in this summer of his life.

MONTAGNE: At the water park, Duncan meets a classic man-child who happens to be managing the place. Nat Faxon, let me ask you, tell us about Owen.

FAXON: Yeah. Owen was loosely modeled after one of our cinematic heroes, Bill Murray from "Meatballs." That was the template in writing the character. And this sort of freewheeling charismatic guy whose, you know, confidence comes from his personality.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEATBALLS")

BILL MURRAY: (as Tripper) Attention, campers. Arts and crafts has been canceled due to bad taste. All junior girls are now junior boys. And Nurse DeMarco says that the raccoon fever epidemic is officially over.

MONTAGNE: That was Bill Murray in the 1979 film "Meatballs." He was a camp counselor and...

FAXON: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...very much a summer movie.

RASH: Yes.

FAXON: Yes, exactly. And the character was very much - exuded that confidence and that mentorship, and I think that was - those were qualities that we certainly saw in Owen.

RASH: You know, he was a quintessential extrovert, which is what Owen is, you know, someone who feeds off the energy of his audience. And that was sort of very important to have as what Owen was and what that water park does for him for three months out of the year.

MONTAGNE: We're going to play a clip of tape of him, and this is a pretty typical exchange, in this case with his fellow worker and a love interest, who's played by Maya Rudolph.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WAY, WAY BACK")

SAM ROCKWELL: (as Owen) Suit up. You don't look too pumped. Come on. Let's get pumped. This is the place where dreams are made or destroyed, depends on how you feel about working at a water park.

MAYA RUDOLPH: (as Caitlyn) We have a situation over at Harpoon Lagoon.

ROCKWELL: (as Owen) Is it a homicide?

RUDOLPH: (as Caitlyn) Yeah. It's a homicide.

ROCKWELL: (as Owen) I knew this day would come.

(LAUGHTER)

RASH: You know, it's funny as Sam made the choice to sing that line. That was the line we wrote...

FAXON: And dance.

RASH: ...and dance to it, which was fantastic.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Sam Rockwell, the actor, of course, playing Owen. His - well, you know, this movie does have quite a bit of nostalgia about it. I mean there is that vintage station wagon. There's a song from REO Speedwagon that figures prominently.

RASH: Yes.

MONTAGNE: The water park itself has a feeling of another time. Did you consider setting this, you know, in the 1980s?

FAXON: Yeah. The very first draft we ever wrote, it was set in the '80s, but only for a brief second. One, it changes your budget right away.

MONTAGNE: Because you would have to have period cars...

FAXON: Yes.

MONTAGNE: ...and all kinds of expensive things.

RASH: Exactly.

FAXON: Yes, yes. But more importantly just - and I think it was a great thought is to make it timeless, to sort of blur the lines a little bit.

RASH: I think also summer has that type of feel. It feels like you're less connected to technology a lot of times when you're on a summer vacation. Old beach houses sometimes don't have TVs, or you don't get cell phone reception. And so that nostalgia theme and that timelessness really made its way into every discussion we had in terms of how we wanted to shoot the movie and see the movie.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, I'm wondering the two of you - you're writing partners. How much fun do you have when you're writing together?

FAXON: Fun?

MONTAGNE: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Exactly.

FAXON: All right. You know, we hold hands...

RASH: ...while we're reading, and one of us is typing, and the other is just...

(LAUGHTER)

FAXON: The other one is supporting the one typing and saying you're doing a good job.

(LAUGHTER)

FAXON: No, we - not to get mushy, but we were friends before all of this began. You know, we met 15 years ago. And I think we always make sure that our working relationship never jeopardizes any of that.

RASH: I like to think that my (unintelligible)...

FAXON: And I'm - someone just shed a tear from what I just said because...

(LAUGHTER)

RASH: I literally can't contain my weeping.

FAXON: But it sounds like you can.

(LAUGHTER)

RASH: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

FAXON: What were you going to say? I interrupted Nat...

RASH: No.

FAXON: ...and I'm trying to be a good friend.

RASH: That's a good little piece of our relationship, me trying to get a word in and Jim just steamrolling over...

FAXON: And we're out of time, and we're out of time.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you both very much for joining us and good luck with the film.

RASH: Thank you very much.

FAXON: Thanks so much.

RASH: Thanks for having us.

MONTAGNE: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon wrote and directed "The Way, Way Back." It opens today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "CAN'T FIGHT THIS FEELING")

REO SPEEDWAGON: ...And I can't fight this feeling anymore... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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