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Nat Faxon on 'Married,' for better or worse

TelevisionEntertainmentMoviesTelevision IndustryMarriageNat FaxonThe Way, Way Back (movie)
Oscar-winning writer Nat Faxon enjoys acting in 'Married,' which takes the institution way beyond Facebook
Nat Faxon won an Oscar for 'The Descendants' but he's happy being in 'Married'

Nat Faxon is that rare breed of actor best known for his writing. Along with writing partner Jim Rash, whom Faxon met while part of the Groundlings comedy troupe, Faxon is otherwise known as the Oscar-winning writer behind the 2011 George Clooney-vehicle "The Descendants." The duo later worked as writer-directors of the indie coming-of-age film "The Way, Way Back."

But Faxon says he's most at ease in the acting realm. After starring in the failed Fox sitcom "Ben and Kate" as an immature adult, the 38-year-old is putting on his grown-up pants in the unvarnished look at matrimony in FX's "Married," from Andrew Gurland, which premiered last month.

First, what do you think went wrong with "Ben and Kate"? It was the only casualty of the Tuesday time block.

I don't know. Critics fully embraced it after a while. For whatever reason, I think that night struggled — that block they put together. I think for whatever reason we sort of became the scapegoat for the night not working, and they sort of let us go and they kept the rest, and I think that was kind of a way to appease maybe advertisers or whomever, sort of saying, "we're trying to figure this out, and we're making some changes." That's just my two cents.

I remember going around the country to promote "The Way, Way Back" and the amount of people who came up to me and said, "I love 'Ben and Kate.' I'm so sad it got canceled." I just sort of got progressively more angry as the tour went on. I was like, "I know! I wanted the show to continue too!"

So were you looking for something edgier — there's a sad masturbation scene before the opening credits roll?

Yeah, I sort of took a step back to figure out what I wanted to pursue and what the next move was. We had just finished "The Way, Way Back." I was excited about the idea of doing projects in all different arenas, be it film or TV or anything, and different facets: writing or directing to whatever. So I was a little reticent to jump into another network series, mostly just due to schedule.

When we did the pilot, and when we did the first few episodes, I remember struggling a bit with the transition of going from network to cable. There are very specific rhythms in network TV — you're sort of aware of where the writing flows, where you need to push a little bit, where something is a little more physical or more heightened. Doing this show was so on the other side of the spectrum. You underplay things. You're not stressed out about anything being false and live in this very real space, where you sort of feel like you have cameras peeking in on this life. It's got a little bit of the documentary style, where it's sort of just observing a family.

And I also loved the rawness of the script. And the honesty of it. And the un-glossy version of marriage. The real — in my mind — highs and lows of it, and the work that has to go into making it work. So I auditioned for Andrew.

Does he not know who you are?

I think the network wanted to make sure, which is fine. It was a good way for me to actually make sure it was right for me, in a way. And I knew that there was promise because when I read the lines with my own wife, to sort of rehearse for the audition, normally she reads her parts like a casting director. No emotion, just monotone. On this, she kept stopping and being like, "Wait. What is this? This is really funny and eerily real."

But did she put you on notice for when it'd be time for you to do press for it, like, watch what you say about how it echoes our marriage?

No, she didn't! She probably should have, because I've been talking a lot about how hard marriage is. She's going to be like, "What the hell?" if she actually reads the interviews I'm doing — which, I mean, she probably won't. But I think she would agree. We have three kids ourselves. And navigating all facets of life with kids and schedules and also trying to remain connected to each other, I mean, it isn't easy. And that's kind of what a lot of themes of the show revolve around — at least, in my mind.

Because it's so unlike what we see people saying about their marriages on Facebook. Marriage is such a delight in status update-form.

Exactly. Nobody puts the fights they have. I feel like this is the honest version of marriage. It encompasses the beautiful moments, the moments that you have with your spouse where you're connecting and you're partners and you're sharing a nice moment together — whether with the kids or without. Then it's also filled with the moments that are challenging and difficult, and you're sparring with each other. Your patience is being tested. Often times, on TV, marriage is sort of represented as this sort of glamorous lifestyle. This is the nitty gritty, the warts and all version of it. When I read the script, I'm often like, "Oh, I've had this argument before."

Is it hard for you to turn off your writer side when you maybe felt things weren't going right with the scripts?

There was something very nice and relaxing about not having to stress about fixing the problems, if there were any. When someone was like, "Oh, this isn't working, how can we rewrite this?" I could sort of sit back and be like, "I'm going to, uh, go to craft service and get me some Trader Joe's peanut butter pretzels and just kick back and you guys will figure it out."

Do you feel more at ease in acting versus writing?

Yeah, I do. I feel more at ease in acting just because it's something I always wanted to do. I came out here to be an actor. That was my goal. And this writing thing just came out of collaborating with Jim. It took me by surprise. Certainly I never imagined being on stage accepting an award —

An Oscar, not just any award.

Right. And for something that we wrote. It was surreal and rewarding and incredible. And it provided some currency. Then it was just a matter of how you want to spend that and what you want to spend it on. For Jim and I, it was, let's go back to "The Way, Way Back" and it was so important to us and personal and a passion project. Let's go back to the movie we wrote and direct it. And so we did. And it was fulfilling. And I'm so glad we did that as opposed to taking a job that maybe would have provided more financially. But, hey, Hollywood, don't let that stop you from thinking of us!

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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