Maya Rudolph has learned to be careful about giving herself a nickname around Sam Rockwell, as he apparently wouldn’t stop working one particular moniker into conversation during interviews for “The Way, Way Back,” their new comedy. “I referred to myself earlier in the afternoon as Mrs. Funbags, and it has not seemed to cease — which by the way, I’m very happy about,” she says. “Not to mention it came out of my mouth. But I’m enjoying it. I hope when we’re 80 I am known as Funbags.”
Goofing off comes naturally to her. Most of the adult cast of “The Way, Way Back” — including Rockwell, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet and Toni Colette — have backgrounds in improvisation, which was handy since co-writers and directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are big improvisers themselves. “It’s more just like a natural part of Jim and Nat, so I knew it would come out here and there,” Rudolph says. “But it wasn’t necessarily like a ‘Waiting for Guffman,’ like a completely improvised movie — although that would be fun, too. It’s just a natural… weapon. You bust it out. It’s like nunchuks. I always carry nunchuks.”
Yes, she insists, comedy is a weapon. “Sometimes a delicate weapon.”
Rudolph and her co-stars speak fondly of their experience filming “The Way, Way Back,” which is understandable since the film — set during summer vacation in a Massachusetts beach town — was also filmed during summer vacation in a Massachusetts beach town.
“It was rough, getting paid to eat lobster rolls,” Rudolph offers. “Yeah, New England summer is really pretty idyllic. Especially being there for the Fourth of July and being there with friends. [Faxon and Rash] wanted this experience to be what summers growing up on the East Coast were supposed to be. You really felt that the whole time we were making it. I think East Coast people — New Englanders especially — really appreciate summer. They don’t take it for granted like we do out [in California]. It’s like, ‘Let’s do this! It’s time to get wet and burned and eat some stuff.’ And then it’s going to get cold again.”
“The Way, Way Back” is a coming-of-age story for its 14-year-old protagonist, Duncan (Liam James), and on the set of the film James — who was 15 during the shoot — had an impressive handful of adult actors to help him come of age himself. At least Maya Rudolph tried to keep it clean.
“We got into some stupid [iPhone] apps. That was my contribution to his youth, I introduced him to stupid apps,” she says of her time goofing off with James. “There was a photo one, maybe it was OldBooth. I always turn people on to OldBooth. It’s the one where you can stick your face into an old high school photo — like ’50s, ’60s portraits — and then you have, like, a crazy afro. It’s really enjoyable and it’s G-rated.”