You may know Jim Rash as Dean Pelton from TV’s Community, or perhaps from his outreached leg accepting the Oscar for writing The Descendants with his partner Nat Faxon. Rash stars in a new movie in theaters this weekend, Bernard and Huey.
Bernard (Rash) and Huey (David Koechner) are estranged friends until Huey comes back into his life. Bernard helps Huey’s daughter Zelda (Mae Whitman) break into publishing, and has an affair with her too.
Rash spoke with Monsters and Critics about his role, as well as other scripts he and Rash are writing. Bernard and Huey is now playing.
Monsters and Critics: We know how Hollywood likes to put people in boxes and you’ve had success as a funny supporting character. Is it really special to get this kind of a lead role?
Jim Rash: Yeah, it was fortuitous in the time that it happened. When Dan Mirvish, the director approached me, or we met for coffee, I think I was just finishing the six years of Community, if not very soon after.
I think with anything, especially most of my career has been TV, I think with anything you start to be seen as not necessarily that Dean Pelton type character but you’re in the sort of area.
I think this was a chance to play someone a little bit more unlikeable than I had been for so long, and also play off of some other avenues or a little departure than what I’ve been known to do. That was very appetizing to me.
M&C: As a writer yourself, did that give you more insight to understand the dynamics of a character like Bernard?
JR: Yeah, I think so. I think I’m always, as a writer, attracted to people that are flawed. We all are, technically. We have our little idiosyncrasies. I’m always interested in characters where you’re studying why they’re the way they are, the context of them.
Obviously Jules Feiffer is a well known writer. I imagine that Bernard and Huey are two parts of his brain at play within himself. I think fractured is interesting to me.
Like anything, whether people are in your lives that you want around or don’t want around, when you have an understanding of why they’re the way they are, it takes on a whole other meaning so I think I like to come from that place, both in reading material but also in developing characters.
M&C: Are you more of a Bernard or Huey?
JR: I know I’m more Bernard, not just because I play him. There are aspects of Bernard that are totally not me, but I certainly understand them.
There are some horrible things that come out of Bernard’s mouth as far as what he believes is who he is, but that’s what we all do. I think we all have a perception of ourselves and then our friends say something, “You’re so like this.”
You’re like, “I don’t want to look at that mirror and see that but maybe it’s true.” If you’re asking me to put it into two camps, I definitely played the one that made more sense to me.
M&C: Is this ultimately a positive friendship, or is it toxic?
JR: That’s tough. What I like about Bernard and Huey is the fact that I think they’re getting to a place where they better understand each other as the movie gets to somewhat of a conclusion.
I think that it is definitely a friendship where they need to be honest with each other in order to survive. In other words, to call each other out. We often have someone in our lives that we idolize.
I think that’s what this friendship started as, Bernard obviously idolizing what Huey had. That’s a dangerous place to be. You’re comparing yourself to someone. So then I think Bernard’s journey is trying to be his version of Huey and then realizing that he is very much a Bernard. I would not say it’s toxic. I would say it’s complicated.
M&C: I relate when Bernard tells Huey he’s exhausting. I’ve had to stop seeing certain friends so regularly, and some are still acquaintances, others are not even Facebook friends anymore.
JR: It’s difficult but an important truth for all of us that there are going to be times where you have to cut people out. By that I mean distance yourselves because it’s true.
We serve a purpose, probably, and the people we meet for a reason. Doesn’t mean they have to stay there. There is a real thing. Sometimes people are toxic and hopefully we don’t find that we’re toxic for someone but maybe sometimes just for the way they’re made up, it happens.
M&C: Especially since you won an Academy Award for screenwriting, do you have people asking you to help family members become writers?
JR: You get asked, at least not maybe by family members, but you certainly get asked for some council on how to, which is a very difficult question to answer. There are people that are much better at helping you learn the ins and outs of certain truths about writing and structure and stuff.
Family and friends have asked me to read their friend’s something which sometimes I do and sometimes you have to just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” Only just because you’d bury yourself in “to do.”
M&C: Did you have any interaction with the young actors who played young Bernard and Huey?
JR: A little bit. Not in the shooting because we obviously physically couldn’t be in the same scenes. We had a couple of days at the director’s house to in a way rehearse, not just read it but do a few scenes.
He invited them to come, I think mainly to watch David Koechner, to watch our approach to the present day scenes. I think one, they’ll pick up on our approach, they’ll pick up idiosyncrasies of the way we move, gestures, body movement.
It’s almost scary how weird it was that they look like us. My young version physically, yes, but just behaviorally they did a great job inhabiting David and I.
M&C: Jules thought he lost this script. Do you have any lost scripts somewhere?
JR: I don’t think to that level. there are certainly ones that should not be found.
M&C: You probably came up in the computer age so there’s always a copy of it somewhere.
JR: They are hovering around. I think most of the stuff, whether good or bad, is hovering on a current computer or in the cloud or somewhere.
M&C: Did Bernard and Huey have to be updated to reflect modern day?
JR: Yeah, it definitely did. Jules Feiffer wrote this in ’86 or around then. Dan had taken, along with Jules as far as consultation, updated it certainly, I mean, technology for one, obviously has changed.
I think Mae Whitman’s character’s career changed to a graphic novelist, which is much more current than I think it was a cartoonist at the time. I’m sure language-wise there were a few things.
Some of it works because Huey, David’s character, is stuck in the past so he speaks in the way he did when he was a kid in various ways. I think for the most part it was job changes, time changes, stuff like that.
M&C: Are you and Nat writing something now?
JR: We have something written that we’re trying to make next summer, not this summer, so a year from now. To direct. It’s a movie we wrote a bit ago, certainly after The Way Way Back.
We were going to make it last summer but the cards didn’t come together as often is the case with the smaller movies. Now with actor availability, it looks like maybe next year, knock on wood. Nat’s also in New York shooting his Netflix show Friends From College. Meanwhile we’ll see what’s next.
M&C: Was this the first thing you wrote since The Way Way Back?
JR: Yes and no in the sense that we’ve completed one. We have a second draft that we’re working on for this thing we’re doing at Fox.
M&C: Are you and Nat only writing things to direct now?
JR: At the moment, yes. I think we’re always on the lookout for Descendants-like stuff whether it’s an adaptation or an idea. I would never say never to something we’re not going to direct as far as writing, but I feel like because we have interest in all those capacities it’s nice that it’s a whole package. We might direct this movie that we did not write called Downhill that is an adaptation of Force Majeure, the Swedish movie.
M&C: The one about the avalanche and the husband runs for cover?
JR: Yes. So it’s possible looking into that. Other than that, most of it’s been from us.
M&C: Would that remake deal with an American family?
JR: I would say based on because certain things would be slightly different, but at the core.
M&C: Do American families, men and women, have different issues to deal with in that scenario?
JR: Yeah, I think it’s such an interesting debate, how you think you know someone, especially in a spousal situation I think is what that movie is playing off of.
In a moment of sheer panic how you operate and what that says about you. I think that that obviously is universal but obviously there’s a way to see it from an American point of view.
M&C: Is Dead Mall one of your projects?
JR: Yes, that’s the one we’re doing a second draft. It’s just been slow going because of Nat’s production and balancing everything. We’re in the process of a second draft of that one.
M&C: The idea of a dead mall is so fascinating to me because these are places with so much life in their height, and then people just go on to somewhere else. I visited a mall that’s not dead yet but whole ends are closed, and I used to spend every Saturday there in high school. Are you addressing those sorts of themes?
JR: Absolutely. The concept of Dead Mall as far as looking at a group of people who grew up in that sort of world of going to the mall on Saturdays. Now you have commerce has completely changed.
These very American institutions of malls, save for a handful, are slowly closing shop to the Amazons of the world and our online thing. I think it’s such an interesting play on your midlife place of these people. It felt like a ripe thing to comment on but also use as a backdrop for a character study.
M&C: I guess I feel like the ghosts of those Saturdays are still there.
JR: Oh, absolutely, especially if you see those pictures of them. They’re haunting, these large empty spaces with remnants of what was left behind. Some of them are bookended by stores that still exist.
So I remember a mall where my grandparents lived where you had Harris Teeter, a large supermarket chain, on one end of the mall. Then you had all this dead space in between and then there was Belk’s, which is sort of like a Macy’s department store.
So those two survived but in between was pretty much dead and empty save for they had made a little track inside for people to walk. You’d have people do speed walking. Now it’s basically an indoor track and field.
M&C: What’s the one you hope to shoot next summer?
JR: That’s the movie we call The Heart. It’s sort of in the vein of a Raising Arizona road picture with a task, but it’s very eclectic characters. I’ve always loved Raising Arizona so that sort of Coen Brothers vibe hopefully in some kind of capacity.
We were hoping to make it last year and then we just couldn’t get all the pieces to come together and so we’re trying it for next year.
M&C: Has the cast been announced?
JR: No, it hasn’t been at the time and hopefully still, but we would love to work with any of our Way Way Back people like Sam Rockwell and Allison [Janney]. We talked to them about it so we’ll see. Who knows? Life changes but that would be ideal. It would be ideal to work with people you love of course.
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