MH chats to Steve Carell & Alison Janney about The Way, Way Back


No B.S., I got to sit down with one of my favorites to watch on screen, the talented Ms. Allison Janney, (I was very close to bringing Ms. Janney a pack of goldfish but suspected my fan-dom might’ve scared her) and I guess it didn’t hurt that funny man Steve Carell was there too, but they both took some time to sit down and talk about their latest, “The Way, Way Back,” the directorial debut of screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

What made you both want to be involved in this?

Carell: The directors primarily and the script. I had never met them before but I started corresponding with them and they sent me the script and we spoke on the phone. I thought they were smart, funny, very talented writers. Once I saw the cast they were assembling, I just wanted to be a part of it. I thought it was an interesting character; it’s a character I really haven’t done before and that was intriguing to me. The script really resonated with me. The first scene seemed very true to me, very honest. I was intrigued by this guy because he didn’t, in my estimation, seem like a pure villain or a complete jerk. He seemed like someone that didn’t possess the best tools to do what he wanted to do. I likened him to a coach that I might’ve had growing up that I may or may not have had (laughs). Someone who is tough on you and wants to build character but maybe his actions aren’t the most-what’s the word I’m looking for-

Janney: Agreeable…productive.

Carell: He just doesn’t have the best way of going about things.

Janney: And neither does Betty, our characters are kind of similar that way, they don’t have the best methods, but they have good intentions. They’re just a little misguided. The script, for me, Betty just leapt off the page, like she does in the movie too, she just comes at you, full barrel. It was exciting to play her and also really exhausting. The writing and the script, I happen to be fans of Jim and Nat’s and watching them in the Groundlings, which is one of my favorite things to do here in L.A.

Steve, this was a hard character for me to like-

Carell: Yeah, when you approach it…I hate sounding like the pretentious actor stuff, but I think you have to find things within the character that are likeable or at least human. Not to go at it-I’m sorry I’m not thinking very well today, I just flew in from Australia.

Janney: When you approach you have to find things-

Carell: Yeah, what do I do… (laughs)

Janney: You don’t go in with the intention of playing some evil character-

Carell; You don’t have any predetermined notions as to what the character is. There is a word I’m looking for…

It’ll come to you.

Carell: It will, I will tell you later.

Janney: I flew in from Japan, so I’m-

How do you describe or see the relationship he has with Duncan, it seems very volatile, we see at the beginning of the movie, he’s calling him a 3-

Carell: One of the aspects of that scene that I liked so much was that it was harsh and it was very real. And it was because it was based on one of our director’s actual exchanges with his stepdad, so it rang true to me in that sense. That’s the scene that drew me into the script, but the way I approached that scene was not a guy trying to be mean to a kid but a guy ultimately trying to help that child. If you listen to the dialogue, he wants the kid to get out there, he wants him to expand his horizons, he wants him to not live in this little cocoon, which he had been living in. So, I think, in theory, all of those things are good. It is good advice to a certain extent, but I think his methods were all wrong and really callous. I think that way you can easily see the guy as a jerk but underneath it all, I don’t think his intentions were all that wrong.

How was it working with Nat and Jim as co-directors? Did one of them deal with you more as actors? Them being actors themselves did that come into play and add to your comfort level?

Janney: They worked very well together, they have great communication with each other and they worked well on the set. They’re different personalities, Jim tends to be more serious and Nat is more the loose one but they’re both hysterically funny. They definitely talked after every take and agreed on- I never saw them disagree about a scene or where a scene should go. Especially with Betty, with all those crazy scenes I had to do, they were very- try it this way or how about this way. They were fun; they worked well together and were just two of the nicest people on the planet. So, we’re all really excited for this movie to do well for them because they deserve it, they’re good guys.

Jim and Nat has such a good background with comedy, with the groundlings-

Carell: For sure, they understand the comedy of the situation but at the same time I think they were confident enough in it to not be looking for jokes. The script itself is really lacking in joke structures, it’s all situational and character based. I think that’s their strong suit as writers. They write these characters that are relatable and funny. Like Allison’s character is so out there and so crazy but so real at the same time. We all know people like this character, that neighborhood- I didn’t know this until you [Janney] were talking about it earlier but your monologues were based on those letters that you get from relatives. The once-a-year letters that account for everything, including, my cat has cancer, all the stuff you just really don’t want to know about a person comes out in within the first thirty seconds of seeing this woman, once a year. That’s funny but there are no real jokes with it.

Janney: Yeah and they didn’t direct like they were directing a comedy. Sometimes, it would be very serious and I would think are you happy with what I’m doing or…of course, they’d say, we’re thrilled but he could be very serious. He was looking at it like this a real moment and this stuff comes out of her for a reason, not because she wants to make people laugh, because she’s desperate to make a connection. She’s so thrilled there are other adults that have come back to the place where they summer together and someone to drink with and someone to not make her feel alone. She’s desperate.

Carell: I think there’s sadness underneath all that.

Janney: Yeah,

Carell: It’s interesting working two directors. This is the third time I’ve worked with a directing team and in each instance I’ve found that it’s a very efficient way to be directed because one of the directors may be giving actor notes while the other is helping reset a camera. So, you can essentially do twice the amount of work in half the amount of time. Like the other directing teams I’ve worked with, they really complimented each other styles and they were very much on the same page in terms of what they wanted to achieve, not every specific detail of it but the overall picture and tone and what they were hoping to do with it.

How scripted was the dialogue in the final cut? Was there any improv involved?

Carell: It was mostly scripted. We didn’t have the time to improvise a lot, it was a very tight schedule, so, we didn’t have days to meander through things and see what we could find. The script itself was, I think so strong that we didn’t have to deviate from it to find what the scene was about.

Allison, you had some great scenes with River-

Janney: He threw back stuff at me that I couldn’t even- he’s a great listener and he had to wear that eye thing, I don’t even know how he did that, seriously, because I would’ve been driven crazy. They put that big contact lens in him every morning and I’m sure it was hard for him to keep it in because he was blind in one eye. I just marveled at his ability to take the direction that we were an old married couple. I mean, how do you know what an old married couple sounds like-ya know- how old is he? 10?

Carell: He’s thirty-two.

Janney: Thirty-two (laughs) he knew exactly what that meant, I just found him so funny. He came to this movie with a great deal of experience already, I saw some of this stuff he did on youtube and we started looking him up because we were so impressed with him, his acting chops. He’s very, very funny, I loved doing those scenes with him. It was a challenge, because you can see that Betty loves him but she says some pretty cruel things to him, her parenting skills are misguided. I think she really just wants him to have tough skin and he’s going to be teased a lot by kids with his lazy eye and she wants him to hear from her first and then know how to toughen up and handle it. She loves him, I put some physical things in there, a hand on the shoulder, something that you see the love is there.

Steve, interesting enough, you grew up not too far from the shooting location and it does add an element, how important was the film for you to be on location, on the beach-

Carell: I think it’s enormously important. When they first started talking about doing this movie, I initially declined because they were going to do it in another location and we always spend the summer together, my wife and kids. We always go back to Massachusetts and spend the summer there, near where my wife and I both grew up and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the summer to go elsewhere. Then they asked, well where do you go? And I told them it was south shore of Massachusetts and it’s one of the locations that they were thinking about. So, they scouted the area, and it worked perfectly. I think it worked.

Janney: It was ideal because we all lived in different houses on the same street that we shot the movie. We all inhabited this little small town of Massachusetts. It was a summer vacation we were having ourselves as actors, on and off screen. We all lived together, in this house; they called it the actor house. We spent a great deal of time together, getting to know each other, and having fun and being silly. It was one of the most idyllic spots to shoot a movie. It was a great experience, overall, had a summer camp feel to it.

Carell: It felt like summer and I think you can see that in the movie too. It’s a very familiar type of place, people either go to their house on the lake or get together in-this was just a really normal, relatable place.

You going to try this for future roles? I’ll do it if you shoot-

Carell: (Laughs) right. It worked really well and the town itself loved having everybody there, nothing is ever shot in the town. I felt a sense of responsibility too, I wanted it to work and for the townspeople to be happy, so I felt an added sense of responsibility.

And what you’re both working on next?

Carell: Coming out next?

Anchorman! Anchorman!

Carell: I just finished that and that’s going to be really fun and then I’m doing “Foxcatcher.”

That’s where you’re playing John Du Pont, right?

Carell: Yeah.

Yeah, a really serious role, I’m looking forward to seeing it. You like mixing it up-

Carell: It’s fun, I mean getting to work with people like this, it sounds like a cliché but going home at the end of the day and saying to my wife, Allison Janney is unbelievably good and knowing the other side of them too, on a personal level, gaining these friendships is so great.

Janney: I’m doing a half hour comedy for CBS called “Mom” with Anna Farris, and I’m really excited because I’ve never done the multi-camera format and I think I’m going to love it because it’s a mix and in front of a live audience and the schedule. It’s probably one of the most civilized schedules an actor can have and I’m really excited about it.