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Jim Rash and Nat Faxon on The Way, Way Back and Getting in Trouble at the Water Park

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, otherwise known as the Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants, make their first outing as directors with The Way, Way Back, in which they also have extended cameos. Rash (usually seen as Dean Pelton on Community) plays Lewis, a beyond-jaded equipment rentals manager at the Water Wizz water park, while Faxon (last seen on the short-lived Ben and Kate) is the sunnier Roddy, who mans the waterslide. The creative partners chatted with Vulture about shooting at a water park, casting sessions, and Rash’s secret fear of waterslides.

You were shooting at a functioning water park. Sam Rockwell mentioned that he forgot it wasn’t a closed set when he was ad-libbing some racy stuff …
Rash: We got in trouble that day.
Faxon: I forgot about that.
We started really early before the park opened, so we were okay for a while, and it didn’t dawn on us that they had opened, and we were still shooting that scene, and then he was sort of improvising at some point, and I remember them coming over and almost ripping the microphone out of his hand! [Laughs.]
Faxon: Some of that is in the movie.
Rash: It wasn’t even that super-X-rated. It’s a family-run place, and I think they’re maybe slightly sensitive, because there are a lot of young kids running around everywhere, so that was maybe slightly inappropriate.
Faxon: Yeah, and I think it’s on a constant loop, take after take, so everyone’s enjoying the place and they keep hearing, “Herpes!”

Were there other problems shooting there with the tight schedule and all these moving parts?
Faxon: Sound, and it was also hard to mike people when they’re wearing these little, tiny bathing suits. And there’s so much noise, especially from all the kids and the water, so that was a challenge. And there was music coming out of the speakers.
Rash: And the other issue with the park being open and us shooting within it, you do battle a lot of lookiloos, people walking by and staring right into the camera. We had our AD team dressed in Water Wizz employee outfits, so they could be disguised as they moved people along during the shot. We had our own Water Wizz T-shirts, which were a different color blue.

We know you’re remarkably fit from your shirt-baring episode of Community. But why do you think you’re TV ugly, as you call yourself on your Twitter?
Rash: That’s not actually a self-deprecation thing. That was a weird expression that Nat and I heard in a TV development meeting, when we were doing a pilot many years ago. Someone used that term, “TV ugly,” which I had never heard. They were putting actors in categories, and they were using the expression to say, “These are good-looking people, but on TV they’re not as good-looking.” [Laughs.] And I just made a joke that I was “TV passable,” but they didn’t really get my joke. But the idea was that we were categorized, and I just enjoy that expression! I can’t tell whether they’re saying it’s a positive thing or a negative thing, whether they’re saying, “They’re attractive, but they can be sort of goofy,” or whether they’re saying, “On TV, they’re … okay.”

Does that run through your mind when you’re casting? Because Nat, you had to find bikini girls for Roddy to ogle …
Faxon: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But it was really difficult having those casting sessions, because it felt like you’re this voyeuristic, lascivious guy, when you’re trying to cast the role appropriately but also trying not to be too creepy. It’s working on many levels.
Rash: One of them, Andria [Blackman], was a stuntwoman, too. We had a working stuntwoman, so it was this coup — she was good and funny and, at the same time, not scared to do anything. She went down the slide with the camera and everything.
Faxon: Luckily Jim was not cast in that role, because he was terrified of slides. [Laughs.]
Rash: [Pretends to scream] Aaaaaaggghhhhhh!

Your Community cast members also “auditioned for your part, Jim.
Rash: You just saw the short version. It really got deeper than that. We had to make sure that they understood Lewis, that they understood what it was like to have two dads, what it was like to live inside a tent-size T-shirt. All these things are multilayered. [Laughs.] And let me just say that is Joel exactly. Joel came in, and we said, “Let’s just play around,” and I don’t think he ever actually got around to reading the line once. He just kept berating our reader. That’s the frustrating thing with Joel — you try to get him to do something, but he’s always in control.

It would have been nice to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s audition in that, since he was originally up for a part.
Faxon: We met with him in New York, and he wanted to chat about the character, and at the time, he was sort of contemplating whether he could be this Owen guy.
Rash: So we just had a nice conversation about it, and ultimately I think he decided to do something else. We never even got to that place where he’d considered another part. Maybe he would have been more comfortable as Lewis. That was really complicated. Deep stuff. [Laughs.]

How do you feel about Dan Harmon coming back to Community, Jim?
Rash: I’m super excited that Dan’s back next season. The history of Community’s always been “I think we’re coming back … maybe?” We’ve always been on the bubble. So if this is, let’s say, the final thirteen [episodes], it’s nice that we can have the opportunity to have Dan there to bookend this series. It’s his baby, you know? It’s nice to have his mind back, because he knows these characters so well, and that’s just the specificity that we were missing. I was honored to just get to write one, but I by all means trust him implicitly.

Were you bummed that he dumped all over season four? Because that included the episode you wrote.
Rash: For me, it’s like we did all we can do, and we did our best. I thought the cast and the writers did a great job taking over a difficult task. And despite that some episodes were probably tonally different, I think they fit in. And we had Megan Ganz, we had Andy Bobrow, great writers who were there two years before, you know, and wrote great episodes last year. So I feel good about what we did to keep it afloat, but it’s nice to have Dan back.

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon on The Way, Way Back