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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Toni Collette stars as a mother in “The Way, Way Back.”

Collette praises film’s heart

Toni Collette is not exactly a disinterested party. She does, after all, star in “The Way, Way Back.”

Still, the actress enthuses in her native Aussie accent, “I personally absolutely adore this movie, and I challenge anyone to dislike it. I don’t think you could; it has such a good heart.

“Whether it’s a movie I’m in or not, if there’s a good movie and it’s low-budget and you know everyone’s done it just because they were passionate about it and they cared for it, if it has any kind of audience, it’s just a wonderful outcome.”

In “The Way, Way Back,” Collette is Pam, a divorced caterer who goes to her boyfriend’s beach house with her 14-year-old son in tow. Steve Carell, who portrayed Collette’s character’s suicidal brother in the Oscar-nominated “Little Miss Sunshine,” is the beau, Trent, and Liam James plays Pam’s son, Duncan.

The teen and the audience witness a side of Trent that Pam doesn’t in the opening scene. So, just what does Pam see in Carell’s character?

“I think that he’s incredibly charismatic and probably really flattered her and made her feel good about herself at a point in her life where she wasn’t feeling so great and was perhaps feeling a little bit lonely. So I think she fell for his charm.”

Pam’s son, however, helps to reveal Trent’s true nature in the course of the dramedy also featuring Sam Rockwell as Owen, the boyish manager of the Water Wizz park who befriends the teen (in a kind, not creepy, way).

“He’s a fine actor, he’s such a perceptive, subtle, sweet young man,” she said of James, 15 during filming and about to turn 17. “It was just a gradual kind of bonding, there was nothing forced, just over the course of the making of the movie we did quite a bit of hanging out.

“What I did notice was, he did all of his shooting with Sam before he did his shooting with me. I really did sense a kind of sadness at letting go of this high that he experienced with Sam because that’s where Duncan gets all of his confidence, and that’s the fun part of the movie for him. So when Sam left, it was like handing over the baton.”

“The Way, Way Back” had been years in the making by actors, writers and first-time directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. They and actress Maya Rudolph are alumni of the Groundlings, a Los Angeles improv company, and all three turn up as water-park workers.

“They had spent a lot of time honing this script, it was eight years in development,” Collette said in a recent phone call. “When I read it, I just thought, oh my God, this script is just so beautiful and so true and so funny and so sad and just very human and relatable.”

An opening exchange between Duncan and Trent was inspired by a real conversation between the youthful Rash and his mother’s second husband. “He made the same speech about how I wasn’t getting out there and taking advantage of what life had to offer,” the writer says in the movie’s production notes.

The coming-of-age story primarily was shot in Marshfield, Mass., and the surrounding area on the South Shore.

The Water Wizz amusement park, in East Wareham, Mass., plays itself. The houses doubling as the beach cottages for Trent and chatty neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) were found side by side in the Green Harbor section of Marshfield.

That’s also where many of the actors rented homes during production. “It was pretty great, we were right on the beach. I’d just ride my bike to the end of the street to go to work.” The water-park scenes, of which Collette has only one, required hotel stays.

“I really utilized my time there, let me just put it that way,” she said, affirming that she took advantage of the playful plunges, tubes and flumes.

“Yes, of course! I love rides, I’m such an immature person. I grew up going to a water-theme park not dissimilar from Water Wizz in the movie, called Water Works in the western suburbs of Sydney. That was very familiar.”

As a child, Collette enjoyed lots of vacations, although her family had no beach cottage like Trent.

“I think it’s important to relax in general. I don’t try to save up my relaxing for one month period of the year; it’s kind of a daily practice that I’ve tried to remain aware of. I love holidays. It’s such a wonderful time for the whole family to be together and not have to worry about schedules and that kind of thing.”

The schedule for the actress, an Oscar nominee for “The Sixth Sense,” an Emmy winner for “United States of Tara” and a Screen Actors Guild honoree for “Little Miss Sunshine,” is about to be dominated by a new CBS series, “Hostages.”

In the serialized suspense drama, she plays a thoracic surgeon whose family is taken hostage by a rogue FBI agent who wants her to kill the U.S. president. She is committed to 15 episodes, which not only leaves room for other work, but also (she adds with an upbeat laugh) for life.

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