Every summer needs its own feel good film, and this season it’s Academy Award winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s The Way, Way Back. Taking the familiar formula of a summer film, Faxon and Rash pull both duties of directing and writing a funny yet somewhat poignant coming of age story.
The Way, Way Back centers around an endearingly awkward 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) who’s saddled with the unfortunate circumstance of having to spend his summer vacation with his romantically challenged mother, Pam (Toni Collette), and her extremely abrasive idiot-of-a-boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Seemingly doomed for a miserable summer, Duncan looks for a distraction and stumbles upon the Water Wizz Water Park.
From Duncan’s water park encounter on the film really finds its niche and gives a new sense of meaning to the typical summer adventure. Its there that the introverted teen makes an unlikely friend in water park manager Owen (Sam Rockwell). Through Owen’s unorthodox mentoring, Duncan grows into his own skin, and finally finds his own sense of purpose in life. While experienced actors like Steve Carrel, Rob Corddry, Toni Collette, and Maya Rudolph all hold their own, it’s Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney that steal every scene they’re featured in.
Janney and Rockwell shine especially by utilizing their theater skills, giving the film most of its life. Janney gives a high-octane performance as the dizzying, chatty next-door neighbor who has a hankering for consuming as much alcohol as possible. Holding down the other half of the film is Rockwell who plays a refreshingly funny water park mentor, who’s fast-talking, no-nonsense energy captures the most important relationship of Duncan’s summer.
The Inquisitr’s very own Niki Cruz attended the press conference for The Way, Way Back for an interview with Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, and Toni Collette.
THE INQUISITR: The heart of the story is really about the relationship Owen has with Duncan. How was that created? Sam, did you pull any pranks on Liam?
SAM ROCKWELL: Cage fighting! No. I think it was a pretty immediate chemistry between me and Liam. We had an immediate understanding of the relationship. It was so easy. We kind of read it a couple of times, and we didn’t alter it at all. We just knew what it needed to be. It was instinctive. It was a very free feeling on this movie.
THE INQUISITR: For Allison Janney and Toni Collette, how did you get into the heads of these women? Did you call back to your own youth or was there anything personal that you drew on?
TONI COLLETTE: I just started with this wonderful material. It was so clear, so rich, and so complex, and enjoyable. I’m not one of those people that draw on previous experiences. Everyone was so receptive to the material, and it was such a wonderful atmosphere to work in. I think that did create a very open vibe and it allowed something very relaxed and natural and special to evolve.
ALLISON JANNEY: Well, I love parties! Everybody knows I know how to throw down at a party [LAUGHS]. I like to dance and I like to have a great time. So that part I was really excited about when I first read for Betty, but also I was interested in a character that was self-medicated and used alcohol, and all of her chatter, to cover up what was underneath. That’s what was fascinating to me, because she was a bit more unconventional than playing just a silly character. She was actually more complicated than that. It was incredibly rewarding and I responded to her. She’s a brilliant character. A little Betty goes a long way!
THE INQUISITR: Summer is often a time where transitions happen. Can you talk about your summer of change?
ROCKWELL: Well I had summers with adults because I was in theater as a kid, so I was around some bohemian sort of people who were maybe crazy and stuff. I had some unconventional summers for sure.
JANNEY: I did a lot of theater work in Dayton, Ohio. I would do backstage crew work so I got a big eye full of some colorful people. I was around fourteen or fifteen-years-old. It was an unbelievable world and it opened my eyes to professional theater.
COLLETTE: Well Australia is just one big beach so it’s all oceanic and salty. It’s mixed feelings of freedom. Summer is my favorite time of year. I absolutely come to life and love it. There’s this one holiday that I had that wasn’t planned at all. I had a fight with my parents on Boxing Day and they went to visit my Aunt in the city. I ran to say goodbye to a friend who was going on a road trip, and she said, “Why don’t you just come? There’s a spare seat in the car!” And I literally just grabbed a s–t load of things, put it in a duffel bag, grabbed my guitar, and ran out. I didn’t know where I was going. We just drove up the coast and I slept on beaches, got kicked off beaches by rangers, and joined drum circles. I had the time of my f—ing life!
THE INQUISITR: There was a Meatballs reference in the film. Sam, for your character were you channeling the character Bill Murray plays in that?
ROCKWELL: Yeah. It’s pretty evident in the script. I think it’s kind of an homage, but there’s a lot of prototypes for Owen. I think Walter Matthau, and Richard Pryor, just the adult who talk to kids as if they’re adults. It was fun.
THE INQUISITR: Toni you play a passive character. How did you play that character, and how did you manage to have a connection without drifting away from the audience?
COLLETTE: You have much more of an explosive experience because you’re reveling in this new world, but from my point of view, I thought “Oh my God, the audience is going to find her so frustrating. She’s so passive and so inactive.” What I loved about it is that there’s so much going on. She knows the truth. She’s lying to herself. She’s trying to provide something for her son with the wrong person. There are a lot of wheels turning without so much being expressed for a very long time. I think there’s so much you can express without words, so I kind of enjoyed that.
THE INQUISITR: Allison the first introduction of Betty, it kind of tells you everything you need to know about her. She’s so out there, and energetic. Was it daunting, or was it fun?
JANNEY: I was thrilled that I got to do a scene like that because it’s like being a pinball machine, and I got to be in control of it and loved doing that in my acting. I’m not so much good at that in my real life [LAUGHS] but I just relish getting to take over in a scene like that. I loved being the one that was spinning all over the place. I can’t get enough of it. I couldn’t wait to do it. It was fun that we got to go all the way through it, and then we had to break it up because it got to be harder to do the coverage on it, to keep the same energy. By the end of the day I was exhausted.
THE INQUISITR: How was it working with two actor-directors?
ROCKWELL: I love working with actor-directors. It was just a great loose set, and they wrote such a great script. It was a no-brainer, but also Maya Rudolph would come in and I felt like she was almost like therapy or a stress relief for Jim and Nat. Because they’re so funny they would throw me ad-libs and I would start to laugh. They throw you zingers!
JANNEY: When Nat and Jim were directing me in the scenes with River Alexander, the kid that plays my son, it was such a great piece of direction because they said to act as if we’re an old married couple. It was really fun to play with him. Some of the things Betty says to her son on the page seems pretty harsh. I wanted to make sure that was balanced with the enormous amount of love I had for him. I wanted that to be there so it came from a place of love. It’s funny in an awful sort of way, so that was my challenge, but they were wonderful in directing me.
THE INQUISITR: How was it working with Steve Carell?
JANNEY: I used to love to watch him laugh when they would yell cut at the end of the Betty scene, because I would literally just slump and fall out of my chair. I would go from Betty to zero and he couldn’t wait for that part of my performance. He would make me laugh. Then there was one night when we were preparing for a scene. It was a late night shoot and the title of the scene was, “The Adults Stumble Into The Dunes” so being a method actress [LAUGHS] Steve, Toni and I went to one of the houses that was the actors holding room and had some champagne, some beach punch, and we sat around and told stories, and laughed. Then they called us to the set and we literally ran and stumbled. We nailed that scene!
THE WAY, WAY BACK HITS THEATERS ON JULY 5.