Nat Faxon Interview

Nat Faxon, co-star of Club Dread and Lower Learning, Oscar nominated Screenwriter for The Descendants, poses for Twenty Seven and a Half Photography

There isn’t another actor in Hollywood who plays more of a variety of characters that women do not want to date than Nat Faxon. Chris Neumer chats with Faxon about acting, writing comedy and the fear-based decisions that dictate what films and television shows get made.

by Chris Neumer

Extra Information

CHRIS NEUMER: I happened to catch a rerun of Reno 911

NAT FAXON: Yeah, yeah, yeah…

CHRIS NEUMER: Where you play the head shop guy.  There’s this moment where you pull the curtain back. It’s like you’re doing the stoner thing and then you reveal that it’s an act.

NAT FAXON: Right, right.

CHRIS NEUMER: I found that so interesting.  Here you are, you play this sort of stoner character and you know, I’m imagining that you have this extensive…in my head I’m wondering if you’re this Julliard trained actor.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs)

CHRIS NEUMER: Then I started looking at some of the other projects you’ve done.  I saw you in Beerfest and then purely by accident I saw you in Lower Learning and I thought: I don’t think there’s another actor around, except for maybe Tom Noonan, who plays more of a variety of characters that girls do not want to date.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) You couldn’t put that better!

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s like if I had a daughter and it’s like “Hey I’m dating this new guy. His name is Nat.” I would be like “Out, Out!”.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) It’s so true. I often go out for…like I’m always the really hot guy’s best friend. Or the quirky neighbor.  Never the leading man. That’s fine with me because the supporting characters are always more interesting than the leads in my opinion. This guy and I, Jim Rash, my writing partner, and we have forever wanted to do a show that’s just the B characters, the people that you are much more drawn to than the boring, romantic leads.  It’s just a matter of getting a network on board with the idea.  I get it, they need the pretty people to be the centerpiece so people will watch it, but I’m so much more intrigued by the supporting characters.

CHRIS NEUMER: I think everyone is.

NAT FAXON: I would think so. I mean that’s exactly why certain shows do so well. Freaks and Geeks did really well for that reason because it was a lot of weird, quirky people. It did really well in the underground.

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s funny.  You take a show like Freaks and Geeks and you take a look at maybe Arrested Development, Family Guy, the first time, there’s a show that I’m particularly partial to that got cancelled very quickly called Keen Eddie. I don’t know if you know that.

NAT FAXON: No.

CHRIS NEUMER: It was actually on Fox for about 13 episodes, they showed 6. Mark Valley was in it, about 5 years ago, about an American cop who ends up working over in London, but it’s like these are shows that are commonly held as really, successful, good shows. The trait that they all have in common is that they all got cancelled!

NAT FAXON: I know.

CHRIS NEUMER: If I want to see crap with Damon Wayans and Jim Belushi, I’ve got that like 4 nights a week.

NAT FAXON: Welcome to my world. It’s maddening; it’s totally maddening. I totally agree. I think that there’s some shows—like The Office for example—that have an element of that where it’s a lot of normal, non-glossy people.

CHRIS NEUMER: I think that was the point.

NAT FAXON: Yeah!  Which I love. It’s fun to watch different types of people on TV and not just the stand-up comedian and his really hot wife.

CHRIS NEUMER: And their two kids—

NAT FAXON: And their crazy neighbor who keeps mowing over their roses!

CHRIS NEUMER: He can’t put the couch together!

NAT FAXON: And yet TV executives continually put that stuff on air.

CHRIS NEUMER: It seems like that one thing I notice in that respect, networks like FX and some of the basic cable channels have really started to pick it up. Like I’m a huge fan of It’s Always Sunny.

NAT FAXON: I got to know Glen [Howerton] from my friend Jill. He is such a nice guy. They were doing this pilot that didn’t get picked up by Fox that was so frickin’ funny. I just think it was too—Fox didn’t really know how to handle it. It’s unfortunate.

CHRIS NEUMER: When you say these things I always think of what studio execs are responding to.  I don’t know how they look at these things and then think,
“We’re going to pass on this, but we’re going to do another teen drama.  Yeah, yeah let’s do that.”

NAT FAXON: I have no idea. In the last four years, my writing partner and I have developed—we have just gone up against the networks every time and they pick up stuff that is maddening.   As an actor, I’ll end up auditioning for a lot of this stuff and it’s maddening because I’m like, “How could you pick up this and not ours?”  Obviously I’m biased because I wrote it and wanted it to get on the air, but still…

CHRIS NEUMER: You also have a good idea of what’s good and what’s not.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, that was inspiration to start writing.  I couldn’t stand all of this crap that I have to go out for, so let’s write something that I would be excited to play. And that crap has stayed the same for however long I’ve been doing this. It’s just…I don’t get it, in a bang-your-head-against-the-wall sort of way.  I don’t understand why you would do that.

CHRIS NEUMER: I know some of the writers that work on some of these shows and they’re very talented guys; they’re very funny guys.  If you get the writing room from Two and a Half Men and you give them $3 million to come up with an independent film, it would be hysterical.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, absolutely.

CHRIS NEUMER: But the thing is that this doesn’t translate over to their show.  It’s like “Oh. Charlie’s coming home with a new girl!”.  I’ve used this joke over and over again with my friends and I still find it funny; somebody will say, “I was watching Two and a Half Men last night. I respond: ”Is this the one where Charlie brings home a couple of really hot girls and the kid is jealous and his dad tells him that less fun is more healthy?”

NAT FAXON: (Laughs)

CHRIS NEUMER: I have a very similar joke for House.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, every story line is the same.

CHRIS NEUMER: I’m surprised there’s not one show that is being grown, like the way when Seinfeld started, nobody believed in it.  Nobody did anything except let it grow.  I can’t believe that with the way things are going that NBC or ABC can’t say, “Okay, put this show on Tuesday night at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock and we’re going to give it some time because we think its good.  Were going to give it two years.”

NAT FAXON: Absolutely!

CHRIS NEUMER: Half an hour!

NAT FAXON: Absolutely. Even one year. I completely agree. I mean, they put stuff on and cancel it after one episode. That is so unfair. You know, they don’t promote it or they’ll bury it under some other show. Or they’ll [horribly] schedule it. ABC will do a half an hour comedy and then Dancing With the Stars. Or they’ll do Dancing With the Stars and then a half hour comedy and then another drama. And it’s like who’s going to tune in for that little half hour between these two shows, you know? I think most networks have had success when they block out a chunk of time.  When we were growing up they had The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Cheers.  It was a big block of time and you were psyched to watch all of those through. To watch one half hour sandwiched in between three reality shows, I don’t know that you’re going to get anybody that’ll tune into that.

CHRIS NEUMER: I find it fascinating that I know this, you know this, and we don’t have any experience in TV. And yet, here we are.

NAT FAXON: I know. I think it’s—I mean, this is probably cliché to say, but I feel that the industry is so fear driven, fear based, people are just terrified to do anything different.

CHRIS NEUMER: You just keep doing what you do.

NAT FAXON: Yeah. I mean, it’s like you were saying about leaving a show on. I’m pretty sure they used to do that. I think All in the Family was given a full year to determine whether it would work or not.

CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah.  In the beginning there’s so much of this juggling, it’s like trying to get comfortable in a pair of clothes.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely. If you give a show a full season I think you could determine if people like it or if they don’t.  If you give something two episodes…  It’s like in the pilot you have to get so much information out that it’s like: here’s the jumping off point. It takes until the fifth or sixth episode to get a rhythm.  That’s when the writers start figuring out what these stories are.

CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah.  Now this is something else.  I’m not sure what this says about me, but mid-last year it dawned on me that Club Dread is my favorite movie of all time.

NAT FAXON: That not only is surprising, (laughs) but I have to ask you, why?

CHRIS NEUMER: I’ll tell you why.  I like the guys from Broken Lizard.  I like them a lot. I’m actually talking with Jay and Kevin next week.

NAT FAXON: Oh, nice!

CHRIS NEUMER: And actually I’m talking to Mark Lafferty tomorrow.

NAT FAXON: Oh, no way!

CHRIS NEUMER: So if you’ve got any dirt I want to know let me know…

NAT FAXON: I’m going to have to lay that down.

CHRIS NEUMER: But back to Club Dread.  I saw it when it came out because I was really a big fan of Super Troopers.  I saw it and thought, “That was okay.  Certainly better than average.  It wasn’t Super Troopers, but it was good.” I’ve seen it a couple more times over the last five years and I always feel a sense of… comfort in watching it. And I’ve tried to figure it out and it doesn’t make any sense to me. I have normally very discerning taste. I’m not saying Club Dread is the best movie ever, I’m not even saying it’s a good movie… but it is my favorite.  And I’ll tell you why: you know when you’re flipping channels and you’ll come across, say Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on TNT or something.  You think, “I’m just going to watch this until that one scene where they go to the restaurant and the waiter keeps turning the wrong way.”

NAT FAXON: Yeah.

CHRIS NEUMER: Every scene in Club Dread is that scene for me. Every single scene.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) That’s great.

CHRIS NEUMER: I find it very funny that—your character is a little more overt—but it seems like the guys genuinely wrote jokes and tried to hide them.

NAT FAXON: Right.

CHRIS NEUMER: Like there’s one scene where Eric is talking with the Mexican police and is asked about the serial killer and he says, “Well, he knows how to operate a machete.”  I find that to be really, really funny.  I think that’s hysterical.  The whole movie is like that for me.  It’s the only film I can think of that I could almost watch on a loop.

NAT FAXON: Really?

CHRIS NEUMER: Yes, it’s so disturbing to me that this is where my life is. So yeah, I have to be careful who I tell that to. You tell that to some European DP and he’s like “Uh, we’re through here”.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) I know… I say I’m surprised because most of those guys are—I mean people like Super Troopers or Beerfest. Club Dread often falls by the wayside just because maybe not that many people have seen it or they like those other movies better.

CHRIS NEUMER: Actually, I think that a lot of people think that it is what it was trying to satirize.

NAT FAXON: Right, right. Exactly, I completely agree with that. I love those guys and I will say that that was of the most fun experiences that I have ever had.

CHRIS NEUMER: Larry Sher, the DP for it basically told me, “I’m pretty sure they wrote this movie just so they could go to Mexico for 3 months“.

NAT FAXON: I think actually they did because they did Super Trooper in Vermont? Pennsylvania? I forget where it was but I think if they got to do another one they would do it in some warm climate. And yeah, we lucked out. I mean I was there for like a month. We were down in Mexico before we started to work. We took over the place, there was no one else at the resort. It was a dream come true.  

CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. And your character in the film, even though you don’t have a huge role, you’re there the whole time.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, absolutely.  I think I was there for 30 days and then worked most of those and we were in a 4-star resort.

CHRIS NEUMER: And not only that, but they were flying in an attractive Mexican extras…

NAT FAXON: (Laughs)  Yeah, and they don’t speak English so, you know, you act like you’re huge in the States.  That was so much fun, I had such a blast.  I don’t think there was anything subtle about my part (laughs). There weren’t any hidden jokes…

CHRIS NEUMER: No, extremely overt. Extremely.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) Extremely over the top.

CHRIS NEUMER: You were doing a lot of stuff that was with Mike Waver?

NAT FAXON: Yeah!  He is a good friend and is hilarious, but he is forever disgruntled. You could be, you know, in absolute paradise and he’s just like “Ah, this is bullshit! This is crazy! I’m getting diarrhea from this goddamn food.”  It was like that the entire time.

CHRIS NEUMER: You know, I can appreciate that. I suppose it’s sort of a reflection of what I do.  I do a lot of interviewing which means I deal a lot with publicists, actresses and models too.  To get out of that world I just need to seek out homeless people and fat chicks.   This is my life.  This is what I want, I want to surround myself with fat and ugly people. That’s where I’m at in life.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) That’s me?

CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah, I’m glad you could parse through that to get what I was saying. No, I just appreciate people who are in paradise and are complaining.  That’s where I would gravitate.

NAT FAXON: That is Mike Weaver, to a T. He is hilarious, that’s why it’s fun to do stuff with him ‘cause he will give you that rawness. You can count on him to be like,  “Oh, that sucks!”.

CHRIS NEUMER: “This gold belt, it’s heavy!”

NAT FAXON: Yeah.

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s amazing all of the time I’ve spent both watching and thinking about Club Dread and trying to figure out what is so good about it.  The characters, they seem so caught up in their own shit the whole movie. You just think about it and Jay’s character goes to Brittany’s room and he tries to steal her underwear.  I mean, there’s a serial killer on the loose and here’s guy a whose mind is just on her underwear.  For some reason it works.  I think that there’s going to be a doctorial thesis in the future for me…

NAT FAXON: I would only encourage you, I would stand behind that.

CHRIS NEUMER: Anyone I talk to about this movie that has gone out and Netflixed it or bought it or something like that, they go “Ok, yeah. I see exactly what you’re saying” and others are like “I’m never listening to you again!”.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs)

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s layered. I found that watching Lower Learning it uses some of that same type of humor.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, there is.

CHRIS NEUMER: When I saw the movie’s poster and marketing materials, I thought it would be just another stupid comedy.  Then when I saw the movie, the comedy in it is higher and a more subtle, smarter form of comedy than what I was expecting.

NAT FAXON: Yeah. I know. I think a lot has to do with actors, who I think most did a great job.  Mark Lafferty is such a chill guy that is was relaxed almost. I mean there was a frantic taste to the movie just because it was low budget and we went through a lot during the day.  He’s such a nice guy though that it was so comfortable and there was an ease about everything.  That makes all the difference on set when you have someone that is willing to play around and do fun stuff even in a sort of cramped timeframe.  He made it a lot looser.

CHRIS NEUMER: When you’re doing comedy, you could use a different inflection or you can try once, sort of like Peter Sellers’ take or something.

NAT FAXON: Right, right. He was so open to all of it. Because he also wrote it.  I think sometimes when people write stuff they feel like it’s sacred or they don’t want to screw things up.  He was so willing to go off script and let things vibe.

CHRIS NEUMER: I will never understand why directors don’t give their actors—particularly comedians—more takes if they have the chance.  Will I use any of it?  Maybe not, but at least on set I’m going to inject that creativity into the proceedings and let the actors have fun.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely!  It only services the film and the actor.  The confidence you give an actor by allowing them to do that, you know? Because, like you said, you may or may not use it but at least it’s cathartic to do a crazy take like that.  And then you’re more willing to do a sort of scaled down version of that, which is what they will probably use in the end anyways. But at least you get it out of your system.  You get to go big or go crazy and then just scale it back and not do that next time.

CHRIS NEUMER: I’m acquaintances with Elliott Gould and I was talking to him yesterday.  He asked me, “What is funny?”  At first, I thought about trying to rip a huge fart and then just start laughing hysterically.  I was like, that would be what I want. That’s the correct answer to “What is funny?”…

NAT FAXON: Right, right, right.

CHRIS NEUMER: Because that’s funny. That’s the only correct answer I could come up with to the question, “What is funny?” And it’s sort of like if I was on set, the stuff that I find funny, or the ways that I look at things, you want to get that out there.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I use stuff at the Groundling Theater and every time you slightly plan something or have an idea of what you might do, it’s just dead silence, you know? And then the times where you say something that just comes out and you have no idea of where it came from, it’s like the biggest laugh. So I feel like it’s mostly the spontaneous stuff, the improvised stuff that truly works.

CHRIS NEUMER: Every once in a while, I’ll say something that I hope to be funny but the truth is that I don’t really say it for my audience, I say it more because I’m going to be entertained by it.  And if the audience doesn’t find it funny, to me, that’s actually more comedic than if they did.

NAT FAXON: That happens all the time at the Groundlings. And I think sometimes it can be taken as very self-serving.  Like the actors are so in love with themselves that they’re laughing at what’s happening but mostly it’s what you were saying…  When we’re putting up a show and it’s the first time you’ve done something in front of an audience, you have no idea of how it’s going to go.  It’s like, “Here’s your big moment!”   The whole sketch is inching on and your joke just dies and it’s just horrible and no one laughs.  You can’t but make eye contact with the other person and just be like “We have 3 more pages of this?!” (laughs) “This is going to be a total disaster!”  But it’s so enjoyable, almost, because you’re like, “Well, there’s no choice but to go through with it.”

CHRIS NEUMER: The Norm McDonald “Weekend Update” era…

NAT FAXON: Right.

CHRIS NEUMER: Which I still think is the best ever.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely.

CHRIS NEUMER: Nothing worked…

NAT FAXON: You just do that look of “Well…we tried!”

CHRIS NEUMER: The only other type of humor I like more than that is something where people are just absolutely horrified or mortified by the wrongness of whatever it was said.  I guess the thing is, when you’re actually not racist, you’re not misogynistic, you’re sort of on a level of equality, then anything you say is sort of, game on.  And it’s funny.

NAT FAXON: Score!  Anything that makes someone uncomfortable, or squeamish, you know? Jim and I try that a lot too. I think that in our writing…

CHRIS NEUMER: Like a Tots a Lots level? 

NAT FAXON: Not necessarily to that depth but just—I think that’s why reality TV does so well, because when you’re watching it you’re covering your eyes a little bit. That squeamishness like, “Oh, that’s horrible! I can’t watch that!” and yet you’re still glued to the TV. I feel like those moments.  If you can create that in your writing, you’re doing something right.  It’s so much more fun to watch the ‘Claude’ characters [The character Faxon played in Lower Learning] who make bad choices than it is to watch people always do the right thing.

CHRIS NEUMER: I think that you’re describing my love of The Shield.  Are you familiar with that show at all?

NAT FAXON: I’m familiar with it but I don’t follow it.

CHRIS NEUMER: There’s a character on the show played by Walt Goggins. You’ve probably seen him as a red-necked racist in some movie.  I almost never yell at the TV screen or the movie screen, but with his character I feel like I’m constantly yelling, “No! Come on! You just got out of something!”.

NAT FAXON: Yeah I love those moments.  You can’t look away. Nothing’s better than watching a train wreck.  Not an actual train wreck, you know…

CHRIS NEUMER: No , no, I know.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs)

CHRIS NEUMER: I feel very good about this because my standard line is “I hate everything” so I’m always impressed when I enjoy things. And I absolutely love it when I enjoy things that other people don’t like because that so rarely happens. But I have a certain sense of pleasure and enjoyment watching really bad movies. Like I just watched Super Mario Brothers for the first time and I had such a thoroughly enjoyable time watching that movie and it was so bad, like the whole movie. I was actually taking notes and I wrote something on it and it was just like so… bad… but so good…

NAT FAXON: Yeah.

CHRIS NEUMER: And I’m so happy that I’m able to do that now.

NAT FAXON: We sometimes, the Groundlings, after a show, somebody brings in a laughably horrible movie and we all sit backstage and watch it. Have you ever seen Sleepover Camp? Oh, my god, that is fun to watch because there are some moments in that that are just so bad in such a fantastic way that you could just sit there all night and watch it on a loop. But I agree that watching horrible movies is so enjoyable.

CHRIS NEUMER: I absolutely love big animal movies for that reason…

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) Okay…

CHRIS NEUMER: They’re so bad and I’m happy about it. I’m happy that there is some crap that I like.

NAT FAXON: Movies that have animals in them? Or like…

CHRIS NEUMER: Some scientist genetically engineers a snake to be something and it gets out and starts eating teenagers that are making out, that sort of thing.

NAT FAXON: I thought you meant the funny comedies with the monkeys…

CHRIS NEUMER: No.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, bad horror movies are the best.  Have you ever seen Jack Frost?

CHRIS NEUMER: The snowman one?

NAT FAXON: Yeah.

CHRIS NEUMER: I’ve seen bits and pieces.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) You can only kill him with anti-freeze. The whole concept of that movie is amazing.

CHRIS NEUMER: And the snowman is voiced by Michael Keaton.

NAT FAXON: Yeah and it’s like he thinks he’s creative…

CHRIS NEUMER: Michael Keaton is somehow intimately involved with that movie.

NAT FAXON: Yeah.  There’s a car crash and antifreeze is mixed with snow and that creates the terrifying Jack Frost.  It makes sense if you think about it.

CHRIS NEUMER: Oh, absolutely.

NAT FAXON: I don’t watch half of those movies, but they’re too funny…

CHRIS NEUMER: I think we have too much respect for our time to watch something crappy like Bride Wars.

NAT FAXON: Yeah, yeah. Like once in while, the way you do theater, time can be more precious?  When you see a bad horror movie it can be completely satisfying.  You can watch Super Mario Brothers and feel like you accomplished something.

CHRIS NEUMER: Super Mario Brothers is bad on so many levels I think it becomes an art form.  With your background in comedy and your writing with Jim, do you have any particular writing conventions or comedy conventions that you guys have vowed you will never use?  Characters running off scene or making a joke about ‘googling yourself’?

NAT FAXON: I don’t think we’ll ever have the animal thing…

CHRIS NEUMER: In terms of like comedy conventions, like somebody trying to put together a piece of furniture that maybe they can’t put together or—

NAT FAXON: We don’t write the way that a lot of sitcom writers write.  We don’t do that three jokes a page thing.  It’s like check, check, check, okay that page is done.

CHRIS NEUMER: We got the set-up, we’ve got the after, now we just need something funny in the middle…

NAT FAXON: Exactly. We try to write from our background at the Groundlings…

CHRIS NEUMER: Like when you say that, I have to interrupt, what do you mean by that?  That’s a tad broad.

NAT FAXON: I would say that Groundlings is focused more on characters than any other theater. It focuses mostly on characters, so you’re always writing from a character’s point of view as opposed to something that is premised based.  Something like “My neighbor ran over my roses and now I’ve got to figure it out.”  The story or plot comes from the characters and the flaws and the bad choices that they make. So when you write sketches, it’s primarily flawed characters making bad choices.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now that is funny.

NAT FAXON: That is funny. It’s very funny. So we write more in that style.  The comedy is coming out of the characters doing stupid things rather than the situation already being stupid and then people responding.  It steers itself away from that joke, joke, joke and more towards character and story and point of view. Obviously, we want there to be jokes in there, but sit-com audiences are so trained now on when they have to laugh.  They’re sitting in the audience like “Hahahaha!” and when you don’t have three jokes per page they’re confused.  It’s almost like you want to re-train them to listen and laugh naturally when, you know—

CHRIS NEUMER: They find something actually funny.

NAT FAXON: Exactly. So that’s the sort of thing that we strive for: staying away from that corny level of comedy.  That’s that premise, you know, of the three jokes per page writing.

CHRIS NEUMER: Are there shows that are particularly egregious in the flaunting of the formula that you have found?

NAT FAXON: Ummm…

CHRIS NEUMER: I mean, I’ll accept, “Yes, NBC.”

NAT FAXON: I think we were mentioning shows like George Lopez or According to Jim. I think those sort of… (laughs) NBC…

CHRIS NEUMER: Probably Step by Step really helped out a lot in telling that formula.

NAT FAXON: I would love for scenes to go on longer more like a play.  I’m specifically talking about multi-camera shows. It would be so nice to go back to that All in the Family thing where you could have a whole act in the living room with people talking…the comedy just coming out of the characters and the way they are reacting to each other…

CHRIS NEUMER: You know what show actually did that was Everybody Loves Raymond.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely. That was something that really would have been a throw-back to those times where you could just let things go for a long time and not be worried about like, “We’ve got to get back to this!”  Cut to this really quickly and cut back to that.  It’s so refreshing that you could just have—essentially multi-camera shows are plays. They’re in front of a live audience and it can be very farcical. I feel almost like single-camera shows can do a little bit more of that, too. They can be bigger, I think that the impression is that single-camera stuff has to be very small and subtle with the acting, but I’ve found that most of the successful ones are actually the opposite. They’re bigger.

CHRIS NEUMER: What do you consider successful?

NAT FAXON: Well, I guess for me successful is not necessarily, like people watching it.

CHRIS NEUMER: That’s why I asked.

NAT FAXON: I would say, like Arrested Development, for example, was successful. The characters were bigger and broader and they weren’t doing this very subtle humor.

CHRIS NEUMER: There’s nothing very subtle about Will Arnett.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely not, or David Cross or any of them. You have a tendency to get smaller because of the single camera but I feel like it almost works better when you’re bigger and broader.  I would say that TV in general is way too safe.

CHRIS NEUMER: I’ve got to agree with you.

NAT FAXON: I’ve done that sort of television were it really feels so fear-based. People are so unwilling to stick their neck out for something that they really believe in.   You’ve got to let it breath and let it run for a while and let people decide whether they like it or not. [Executives] are so afraid of getting fired or making the wrong call or if their boss is going to like it. It’s so much easier to play it safe and that rare time that someone does put their neck out, it’s like everyone else gets the credit for it. It’s like “Oh, we wanted to do something different”.

CHRIS NEUMER: I think to a certain extent, that’s expected. But like I was noticing this recently, Charlie Sheen just received the title of highest paid actor in TV history ‘cause he’s getting like $500,000 per episode or something like that.

NAT FAXON: Oh God…

CHRIS NEUMER: Now, here’s the thing, like growing up, I was watching Seinfeld and Cheers so I’m used to hearing that Ted Danson made two million an episode or I’m used to hearing Jerry Seinfeld made two million an episode, or you know the guys from Friends making $1 million an episode. It’s really bizarre to me that Charlie Sheen is the highest paid actor and he got bumped up to $500,000.  It doesn’t seem like people are putting out that much money.

NAT FAXON: For a pilot, you used to get double what your methodic rate was… for the pilot. The thought was if the pilot got picked up you got more just because it was a one-time thing.

CHRIS NEUMER: And it’s twice as long.

NAT FAXON: Yeah. So if you were making $20,000 an episode it would be $40,000 for the pilot. And now it’s just $20,000 across the board. So I don’t think people…obviously the economy doesn’t help, but even before that, studios have been able to just bear down.  Because they can. If Two and a Half Men can go for 4 more years, he’ll probably get $2.5 million an episode.

CHRIS NEUMER: That will be the day that I’ll call you weeping (fake crying) “Oh, he got two and a half…”. I think the part that I like is the studios, at least the studios on the film side of things, generally tend to do better when the economy is bad. Films tend to be like a cheap form of escapism.

NAT FAXON: Absolutely. I think people are thinking about that when they’re developing and writing now, you know? I was listening to an interview on NPR talking to a producer, Michael London, who has done things like Sideways and The Mill, you know, fantastic movies. He was basically saying that they were looking into like a horror movie or a comedy, just more escapism type entertainment, you know, that’s not so heavy. And he said that he will always love to do a more adult subject matter but the reality is that people just want forget about things.

CHRIS NEUMER: This would be the perfect time to pitch my reality series “Blowjob Island”.

NAT FAXON: (Laughs) Absolutely!

CHRIS NEUMER: Let me tell you about this one…

NAT FAXON: Did you ever see The TV Set?

CHRIS NEUMER: Yes, David Duchovny.

NAT FAXON: I love that moment when they’re like talking about that show, “Slut Wars”. (laughs) They’re just talking about how successful it was.  That movie is awesome…  It’s such a perfect satire on the whole television thing.  Having been through it, I was watching it and just like “Oh, my god. This is my life.” That is honestly the way people react.  The process of getting these movies made is so difficult that it’s amazing that things get made and actually get out there. Because it is true, we’re basically told that if you get this level of a star, we’ll give you this much more money. It has a lot to do with whether you get good people to do your movie as well as who you get so you can afford to make the movie and distribute it, you know?  It just makes it really hard. Unless you’ve found people that support you or when it comes to money they don’t care.  I’m so baffled by the business most of the time…

CHRIS NEUMER: Does it ever weigh on you where you’re like “Maybe I should just think about getting out?”

NAT FAXON: Yeah. You know, I think there’s a certain level of masochism that you live with in this industry.  You get beaten down and as an actor you don’t get a lot of stuff but it’s like you get that one thing. I’m not a golfer but it’s sort of like golf in a sense.  It’s so difficult when you get that one great shot and then you have to keep doing it. It’s a little bit like that when it’s sort of like keep plugging away because you get tastes of how sweet it could be and you just sort of keep moving forward.  It’s usually when you’re feeling that moment of, “Is anything going to work out for me?” that you then you get this little thing that gives you enough confidence to do the next thing…

CHRIS NEUMER: I think what we’re doing is describing the psychology behind slot machines. I think this is what we’re doing. This is what it’s come down to, goddamn studio executives and publicists have turned into just pushing it forward a little bit.

NAT FAXON: It is, it is. I know. Plus I don’t know what else I would do so it’s always…there’s always well, if I didn’t do this I would be pretty fucked.

CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah. I would be homeless or—no that would be it, I would be homeless. I know what I’ve got to do.

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