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Nat Faxon and Jim Rash on the Story Behind The Way, Way Back

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On a trip to Lake Michigan one summer, Jim Rash’s stepfather asked him to rate himself on a scale of one to ten — the then-fourteen-year-old Rash thought he was a six, and his not-so-helpful stepdad informed him that he was a three. This real-life hurtful moment provides the basis for Rash’s latest film, The Way, Way Back — co-written and co-directed with the Oscar winner’s creative partner, Nat Faxon. (The two last paired on The Descendants).

“The very first scene in the movie is true, that horrible conversation, verbatim,” Rash told IFC. “It’s not like it led to this horrible summer vacation, nor did it lead to the amazing one depicted in this film, but it’s about the connections we have with people, whether it’s for a split second, for a summer, or for the period that they’re married to your mother, and how they give you something, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.”

The fourteen-year-old in the film, Duncan (played by Liam James from The Killing) is offended by the ranking, which in the film is given by Trent (Steve Carell), his mom’s boyfriend, in order to try to urge the teenager to get out and participate in life more often, instead of just hanging around the house, i.e. his beach house where he wants some alone time with the mother (Toni Collette) that summer. At a later point, Duncan finds a bicycle and makes his way to the other end of town, where he discovers a water park called Water Wizz, and a quirky water park manager named Owen (Sam Rockwell) who offers him a job, takes him under his wing, and gets him to, yes, participate in life.

“It’s the same message, but in a more nurturing way,” Rash said. “However you feel about what Trent said, Duncan took it to heart and acted on it, perhaps in rebellion, but he still did it. Sometimes someone we don’t look back fondly on might have given us some words of wisdom we didn’t expect. Because weirdly, what Duncan does is what both Trent and Owen were alluding to, regardless of the tact that wasn’t there when Trent said it.”

It took Rash and Faxon eight years to get the film off the ground — Shawn Levy (Real Steel) was even proposed as a director at one point before the pair managed to snag that job for themselves. “You have to have patience,” Rash said. “Little Miss Sunshine took four years. We had the opportunity to make it fast the wrong way, but we went for the long route.”

Along the way, Rash and Faxon were offered the screenwriting gig for The Descendants, based off the unproduced script they wrote for this one. (Alexander Payne’s company Ad Hominem had read it, and brought them aboard to adapt its tonally similar dysfunctional family story). Still, they kept hoping to get The Way, Way Back started. Rash and Faxon cast Allison Janney as a booze-cruise neighbor first, and then started looking for the water park manager who would provide the heart of the story. Jake Gyllenhaal was considered before they found Sam Rockwell. “We met with Jake, but he didn’t work out,” Rash said. “But it was great to meet him and talk about it.” Rockwell, however, got the inspiration of Bill Murray in Meatballs for his character right off the bat in the first phone meeting, which helped seal the deal.

And then once The Way, Way Back got its own little dose of Little Miss Sunshine casting — courtesy of Carell and Collette, now playing lovers instead of siblings, it got the needed traction as far as financing was concerned. “With Trent, we wanted to go against type,” Rash said. “We wanted to be a real, true, tragic male character, not a villain. And we tried to find great and perfect people.” To make it easier for Carell to accept the gig, Rash and Faxon even moved production to be near his summer home.

Although the film starts with Rash’s “sad memory,” Faxon said he brought “the happy ones” to the table. “I was fortunate enough to spend most of my summers on Nantucket Island,” he said, “and there was a whole crew and community of people I saw three months a year. You’d change in the other nine months, but you’d go back to that special summer place, and it would all be the same somehow.” Creating a sense of community, as Duncan learns to do at his odd job at the Water Wizz park, is something Faxon did while working odd summer jobs in Nantucket. One of his jobs involved collating newspapers at the local rag, The Inquirer and Mirror, in the basement with five elderly women. “No TV, no music, just gossiping!” he laughed. (It also helped him learn to become a storyteller, he said: “Lots to draw from.”)

Even though Rash has long since learned to “get out there,” and has channeled his life lesson into this summer comedy, Faxon said that his creative partner still tends to retreat into his shell. “Every night in L.A., I’m telling Jim he needs to get out and come to a party,” Faxon laughed.

“It’s hard for me!” Rash protested. “It’s like a boy in the bubble. If I had a bubble, I’d be better off.”

“I’m your bubble, Jim,” Faxon offered.

“He’s my bubble,” Rash agreed.

The Way, Way Back is in theaters now.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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