Actor, writer and director Nat Faxon is a true Hollywood “multi-hyphenate,” given his talents in virtually all aspects of film and TV production. But in a number of current acting projects, the subject of marriage is a key theme. In “Tammy” he plays the jerk of a cheating husband to Melissa McCarthy. In the upcoming “Sex Tape,” he is a married pal of stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.
Faxon’s “Married” series on FX debuts Thursday. He co-stars with ex-Chicagoan Judy Greer as a couple who can barely remember what life was like before kids.
Faxon phoned last week to chat about it.
Q: “Married” is a good example of cable networks, in particular, creating limited series of relatively few episodes. Your thoughts about that?
A: First of all, it also lets us, as creative people, let loose a bit as well – and get a bit edgier. I’m also a big proponent of keeping things concentrated. I think you get better quality that way. Instead of shooting for 20 out of 26 episodes being good, you concentrate on 13 out of 13 being good. I think you have a higher sort of success rate.
Also people are sort of trusting the creators of the shows to do a little more work upfront — and then stepping back and allowing the actors to sort of go for it.
Success or failure, these people are showing what they can do. I think you generate better material that way.
Q: Marriage — for better or for worse — is a rich “mother lode” of material for comedy, isn’t it?
A: Without a doubt. This “Married” show is the sort of nitty-gritty, warts-and-all version of it. That was what attracted me to the show in the first place — the rawness of it, the honesty and the fact that it’s not glossy. It’s not putting a shine on marriage that you may have seen before in television. This is the ugly truth of it all, which I’m fully a proponent of. That’s what marriage is. It’s tough, and wonderful and brutal — and all at the same time.
Q: Did you think about your own experiences in marriage as you filmed this series?
A: Oh my God! Absolutely! Some of the stuff that was already written before I started, made me think, “My God, have you been peering into my life before you wrote this?”
Plus some of the discussions I had with the [show’s] creator Andrew Gurland and the writers — as we were shooting — found their way into the script later on.
There is an episode where Judy Greer, my wife on the show, catches me surfing. She says, “I thought you were sick. I thought you called in sick at work.”
And I basically, say, “Well…. I’m sick of working!” I will say, that’s happened to me a few times in real life.
Q: Judy Greer, is a former Chicagoan. Talk about working with her? Was this the first time?
A: She really makes things feel effortless. Our paths crossed, while we were doing ‘The Descendants’ [for which Faxon won an Oscar for co-writing the film, and in which Greer co-starred], but we weren’t on camera together. But, of course, we met each other through that experience and spent some time on the set and through that whole awards season campaigning, etc. But this was the first time we actually worked together as actors.
Q: Since you are an Academy Award-winning writer, I guess it would have been unfortunate if the “Married” writers didn’t ask for your advice, right?
A: They certainly were from the very beginning were very collaborative. It was sort of on my end that I said, I want to focus on the character and the acting, Certainly we talked about stories and plot points, but I really stepped away from a lot of that and trusted the very talented creative team who was putting it all together. There was something very nice about that — not having to worry about, things like ‘Does this storyline work? Or that storyline make sense?”
Q: How do you see the role of the kid actors in “Married”?
A: It’s essential to have those actors being realistic and believable. While they are not as critical to the story as the young actors were, for example, in [Naxon’s earlier film] ‘The Way Way Back,’ it’s still important to have them come across as real, and natural here as well.
Q: Do you think with the huge expansion and availability of media today, that there is a bigger pool of good child and teen actors — than even were around, say a decade or so ago?
A: I think so, I wonder if that’s tied to the huge increase in programming. There’s so much more out there now. There’s so many more opportunities for actors in general, and kids in particular. There’s so much cable and so much online. You have added access to these young actors and discovering them.
I also think there’s a different style of acting going on now on network TV. There’s certain rhythms take place now that are different. A lot of kids that were trying out for network TV sitcoms in the past, had a certain thing in mind.
Now, that’s changed with so much single-camera and cable TV shows, kids now are playing to that. As a result kid actors are more understated in their performances and not so over-the-top. As a result it all looks a lot more natural and real and that’s a good thing.
Q: Looking forward, besides “Tammy” and “Sex Tape,” what else do you have in the works?
A: Jim Rash, my writing partner, and I have written two things. One is tentatively titles “The Heart,” and we are in the process of trying to put that movie together. It’s a larger, action-comedy. Then the second is a family-dysfunction comedy, in the vein of “The Way Way Back,” that we are doing again with [“The Descendant’s director/co-writer] Alexander Payne’s production company and Fox Searchlight. Hopefully, one or both will happen in the near future.