Liam James and Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back
Nate von Zumwalt
There is a theme that dominates the longstanding trend of actors opting for a stint behind the camera. More often than not, these are stories fueled by personal experience that no other filmmaker could, or even should attempt to tell. Most recently, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, the co-directing team behind this year’s nostalgic summer comedy The Way, Way Back, reiterate that refrain.
“We realized we could finish this vision on our own and really see it from the beginning of the journey to the end,” says Rash. It’s a familiar sentiment, and Rash and Faxon chose to deviate from their traditional roles as writer-actors in order to properly “own” what would become their directorial debut. The duo recently opened up about the hilarious personal experience that spawned The Way, Way Back and how their insights as actors helped inform their new roles behind the camera.
Apart from the fact that you co-wrote the screenplay, why is this a project that you felt compelled to direct?
Jim Rash: Mainly because we wrote it eight years ago and it’s been on a roller coaster of ups and downs. It was almost made and not made and by the time we got the chance to do it, we just realized we could finish this vision on our own and really see it from the beginning of the journey to the end.
There’s a sort of universal empathy that comes with telling coming-of-age stories, because we’ve all been there. What are your hopes for how this film resonates with audiences?
JR: I think this is, at its core, an ensemble at its best, because each of these characters is going through a rite of passage because all of their lives are in flux and so they’re each connected or helping each other in little or major ways. I think that speaks to a lot of people that have not only had a coming of age, but also a moment in their life when they had a mentor or someone important and I think that’s a heart-warming tale to tell.
Steve Carell, Liam James, and Sam Rockwell have such great chemistry on screen. How quickly did they acclimate to one another during production?
Nat Faxon: It was very fast, considering that we had very little to no rehearsal time at all, which goes to show how incredibly talented they are and how great their range is as actors. We had long discussions with each of them about their role but they had very little time together to get on the same page, so it’s a tribute to their ability.
Is there a particular personal experience that spawned the idea for The Way, Way Back?
JR: Yes, the very first scene of the movie where Steve Carrell’s character asks Liam James’s character, Duncan, what he is on a scale from 1 to 10, and they have a conversation about Liam’s character being a 6 and him being a 3—that actually happened to me when I was 14. I was actually in a station wagon on our way to a summer vacation when I had that conversation with my stepfather, so that was an autobiographical moment that we used, in addition to memories of our times growing up on the east coast and going to water parks.
As an actor, did you find that you had insights that helped you when working with your own cast?
NF: Yes, absolutely. We not only met with several friends that are directors, but I think also being actors ourselves helped inform how we wanted to direct and the ways in which we as performers felt the most comfortable. So we drew from our own experiences in trying to make a loose, comfortable set where our actors felt like they were trusted to really go in any direction that they wanted.