If you watched the Oscars in 2012, you might have seen the writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash take to the stage with director Alexander Payne to collect a gong for their script for ‘The Descendants’. Rash – thin, balding, meticulously camp – stole the show with an impression of Angelina Jolie’s bare-thigh stance as she announced the nominees. Meanwhile Faxon – taller, slightly goofy, looks like an ageing surfer – was punching the air and laughing.
In the US, Faxon and Rash’s faces are fairly well-known as supporting comic actors from film and TV. But their filmmaking threatens to launch them into the big time. Their new film, ‘The Way, Way Back’, is their second script but their first as writer-directors.
It’s a coming-of-age comedy with a sad edge about reserved 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), who goes on holiday with his mum (Toni Collette) and her jerk of a new boyfriend (Steve Carell). Duncan secretly takes a job at a waterpark managed by Owen (Sam Rockwell), a man-child who teases him out of his shell. Faxon and Rash have small but very funny roles as two of Owen’s employees. ‘Small was as far as we could go,’ Rash says. ‘It would have been too stressful otherwise.’
The film went through eight years of writing and rewriting before the success of ‘The Descendants’ kicked it into gear. Rash thinks their Oscar win ‘provided the momentum but not necessarily the green light’ to getting it made. How much did their script change? ‘At first, it was a big, broad comedy set in a water park,’ says Faxon. ‘We wanted to draw on our sketch comedy background and have fun.’
But the tone altered once they decided to open it with a scene from Rash’s own childhood: he still remembers being in the back of the car and his stepdad saying how he was a ‘three out of ten’ and needed to buck up his ideas. It’s a harsh scene; doubly so as it’s real. ‘Oh yeah, I was 14,’ says Rush. ‘Steve Carell’s character is not based on my stepdad, but that came from him.’
Faxon says it was a relief to direct their script themselves: ‘You listen to other people’s ideas and you can’t help but feel: “Oh, that’s not how we’d do it.” Or a studio gives you a list of people you can cast, and you think: “None are appropriate.” Waiting eight years was a long haul, but it was worth it. We got to make it the way we wanted.’
‘The Way, Way Back’ opens in UK cinemas on Friday August 28.