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Oscar-winning writing partners make their ‘Way Back’

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Updated: July 2, 2013 11:57AM



“The Way, Way Back,” a coming-of-age story starring Steve Carell, Liam James and Allison Janney (among many others) and opening July 5, was eight years in the making.

But after its directors and co-stars Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won best adapted screenplay Oscars in 2012 for penning (with director Alexander Payne) George Clooney’s critically hailed (and multiple-Oscar-nominated) “The Descendants,” two things happened. Actors became more receptive to their pitches and the often arduous process of securing financing also became easier.

While writing, one of Chicago’s favorite sons served as a model for the goofy-but-wise man-boy character played by Sam Rockwell.

“We just kept imagining what it was like for us watching ‘Meatballs’ and Bill Murray,” Rash says. “There was just something so real about that person who was always on.”

Screenwriting partners for 15 years now, the former members of L.A.’s famed improv-sketch troupe The Groundlings stopped by Chicago recently to talk about their projects, working together and keeping it real — in life and onscreen. Sometimes they were serious. More often they were not.

“Most of Jim’s stuff in the movie was very broad, and so it was a constant battle to pull back,” joked Faxon, whose parents once lived about three minutes from where he sat at the fancy Waldorf Astoria Chicago on E. Walton.

“I love to get notes,” Rash added disingenuously. “I love good, constructive notes. And my relationship with Nat for 15 years has been [him] letting me know when I’m doing really bad and when I’m not being successful.”

Faxon, grinning: “That’s how the partnership works.”

It isn’t, really. But this much is true: they can and do speak honestly to one another without fear of tearing their bond asunder.

“In a working relationship,” Rash said, “you have to have a sense of humor.”

Other than not being “in the room together much anymore,” Rash deadpanned, the dynamic between them hasn’t changed a bit post-Oscar because, on a personal level, neither have they.

“I don’t think that, personally, it’s felt very different,” Faxon said. “It still feels as surreal and incredible as when we won, being up on that stage. I see the Oscar in my house and I still feel like, ‘That’s so weird that that’s there.’ I don’t ever feel comfortable. Like, ‘Yep, you’re damn right that’s there!’ It always feels so bizarre and strange and wonderful.”

But no, in case you’re wondering, their newly attained status isn’t such that a spontaneous cell phone call to Clooney from their perch on a random hotel room sofa would be well received.

“Why don’t we do it right in front of you,” Rash offered facetiously. “He won’t be inconvenienced by this.”

Nonetheless, both were transformed by their work with him.

“I feel like I’ve become more good-looking just hanging around him,” Faxon revealed of his and Rash’s limited time with Clooney on the “Descendants” set in Kauai.

“I think I’ve gone backwards,” Rash admitted. “I think he sucked some of my [looks].”

What about Carell? Being that he’s an alumnus of Second City and they the Groundlings, was there any mine’s-better-than-yours smack talk?

Faxon [referring to improv]: “We never ’proved off.”

Rash: “We should have.”

Faxon: “Because it was two against one.”

Rash: “He still would have beaten us.”



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