Actor, comedian and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Nat Faxon, 39, was raised in Manchester-by-the-Sea and attended the Holderness School in New Hampshire before studying theater at Hamilton College. He joined the LA-based comedy troupe the Groundlings in 2001 and remained a member for 10 years. In 2011, he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants, starring George Clooney, and he also co-wrote the acclaimed film The Way, Way Back starring Steve Carell and Toni Collette. Perhaps best known for his starring role in the Fox comedy Ben and Kate, he has appeared on numerous television shows and portrays Russ Bowman on the FX comedy Married. He is also currently co-writing two feature films, one starring Kristen Wiig. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.
Jonathan Soroff: Do you relate to Russ Bowman?
Nat Faxon: Probably too much. I’m pretty much the same guy. That’s why it felt so right to do this project. I guess I’m in a better financial position than Russ, but I have said I was going to work and instead went surfing. I have never gotten a hall pass, but I’ve wanted one at several moments. Married and raising three kids? There are a lot of similarities.
Maybe not being a great communicator. My wife has said many times that things would be a lot easier if I just used my words.
I wish there was an answer like “In my bathroom, because I take baths with it,” but it’s actually on the mantel, right next to broken parts of toys, missing puzzle pieces and other small things that my youngest will try to eat.
Yeah. It’s kinda weird any time someone says words that you wrote. It always feels a little strange. You had them in your head, but having them spoken out loud by Academy Award-winning talent is all that much more surreal.
No, and I’ll tell you what. It’s bullshit. Hopefully the invitation will be coming ASAP…just as soon as he can figure out who the hell I am.
Acting is probably more enjoyable, because there’s the immediate gratification of it. Writing can feel very solitary, and you become neurotic and crazy, which is why I have a brilliant writing partner.
For me? Drama. In comedy, you know whether it’s funny or not. Either people are laughing, or they’re looking at you like you just took a big deuce in the room. As a theater major, doing serious material, it was always much harder to tell if it was working or not.
I can’t single one person out, but I can say that one of the funniest moments I experienced on set was with Jack Black doing Orange County. We were shooting at USC, and he was surrounded by all these fans and being very gracious, talking to them. This one kid said, “Would you sign my guitar?” And Jack Black said, “Sure.” He took the Sharpie, and he was writing, and it was taking a long time. Just as I was wondering why it was taking him so long to sign his name, he handed the guitar back, and he had drawn a huge, super-graphic cock and balls all over this guy’s guitar.
Growing up, it was Saturday Night Live. That and The Dukes of Hazzard.
I did. I grew up watching Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers and all those guys, and I loved those sketches. I dreamt about doing that. Then as I got older and joined the Groundlings, a lot of my friends and people I worked with ended up going to SNL and becoming huge stars. I did audition once, and they had us do a live improv show in front of an audience, with Lorne Michaels front and center. Instead of doing what improv demands and working off each other, making each other look good, everyone was trying to outshine and upstage everyone else, and it was just a disaster.
That wigs and mustaches are funny and important. Make sure you have good spirit gum. Seriously? It taught me a lot in terms of writing. Creating a three- to five-page story is not much different than creating a 30-page TV show or a 100-page screenplay. You have to have all the same elements in place. Doing sketch comedy was like a graduate course in writing.
Sure. It scares the shit out of me, but I’d love to try something dark. Not horror, per se, but something more dramatic.
A lot of people say Seth Meyers, but Jay Leno said I looked like a Kennedy who was hit in the face with a lead pipe. So I guess somewhere between those two.
I have a lot of auditions I wish I could take back. I played hockey growing up, and I was pretty good. When I got out here, I tried to pad my resume with the stupidest things for skills—things like foosball, pool, pingpong. And of course, I included hockey in bold. I got a call, and they said, “Head out to this rink with your skates.” I show up and I go out on the ice, and they said, “Are you ready?” I said, “I’m not sure,” and they pressed play on this big boom box. “Greased Lightning” started blaring. Apparently, I was auditioning for Grease on Ice, and instead of saying, “I’m not right for this,” I proceeded to act like an amazing figure skater. I kept wiping out, but for the finale, I figured I’d finish big, so I skated over to one corner and came flying at the camera with the intention of throwing up my arms and going down on my knees…except that I misjudged my speed. I fell to my knees, yelled, “Nat Faxon!” and slammed really hard into the boards.
Yes. It really is. It was terrifying, because any time you act on a show you love, the pressure feels insanely higher than if you weren’t a fan. I religiously watched Mad Men, and when I got the part, I was so scared and nervous about screwing it up. I was supposed to smoke a cigarette throughout the whole scene, but they kind of forgot about that, which I was relieved about because it was one less thing to stress out about. So we’d done two or three takes, and someone said, “So sorry. You’re supposed to be smoking the whole time.” Then they hand me a cigarette and this old-fashioned lighter, and since I’m supposed to be cradling the phone, I was trying to just do it with one hand, and it was a disaster. I found out that day that I can’t do anything with my left hand, especially handle an old-timey lighter. Thirty flop-sweats later, they finally decided to bail on the cigarette idea.
The Way, Way Back
The setting of that movie was inspired by my childhood memories from summers on Nantucket—the idea of a place that opens for the summer and it’s a community of people you only see that time of year. And it’s kind of like spring break for adults. Parents don’t really parent that much. The kids run free, and the parents get drunk. It was that very nostalgic feeling of freedom and escape from normal day-to-day life.
Worst job you ever had?
I worked on Nantucket for The Inquirer and Mirror. I was stuck in the basement where the printing press was, with six elderly women, and we collated the newspaper. There was no radio. It was frowned upon to wear headphones. It was deadeningly boring and tedious.
The seasons, and in concert with that, pond hockey.
Why not shoot for the moon here and say Meryl Streep. I think she’d probably pick me if asked the same question, by the way.
Photography: Kevin Scanlon; Grooming: Kristan Serafino; Wardrobe styling: Sam Spector;
Wardrobe: Vince shirt, Levi’s jeans; Location: New York