'Downhill' Directors Nat Faxon And Jim Rash On Why They Remade 'Force Majeure' And Directing Comedy Legends [Interview]

Filmmakers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash took some time out of their schedule to sit down with /Film for a phone interview to talk about their new film, Downhill.

Downhill premiered at the Eccles Theater during the first weekend of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The film is the the English-language remake of the Swedish dark comedy Force Majeure. In addition to directing the film, Faxon and Rash co-wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong. Downhill marks their return to Sundance for the first time since premiering The Way, Way Back in 2013.  The duo previously won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants with Alexander Payne.

Searchlight Pictures will release the film in theaters this weekend.

Downhill marks your first Sundance premiere since 2013 with The Way, Way Back. How thrilling was it to return to the mountain?Nat Faxon: It was fantastic. Obviously, Sundance holds a special place in our hearts because of our experience with The Way, Way Back. That was probably one of the most thrilling, rewarding experiences in our career. So to come back and to a place that is so welcoming to film felt like coming home a bit.Force Majeure premiered to critical acclaim in 2014. When did you become interested in remaking the film in the English language?Jim Rash: Well, the whole thing started with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Searchlight's desire to work together again. They're the ones who started floating around the idea of an American take. We actually ended up sitting down with them well into that process. Jesse Armstrong had already started adapting it. We sort of came to the table and thought that was an intriguing take with room for different characters with Julia and Will Ferrell's characters being American fish-out-of-water and experiencing some of the same events. We thought that there was a world at which Americans could experience so we jumped on board.Can you talk about directing Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus?Nat Faxon: I think we were up against a challenging task by shooting this movie in the mountains and on the ski slopes. When you are battling weather and cold temperatures and far away from any kind of base area, you need really willing and able partners. Will and Julia were that and more. They were completely game for the experience. Their talent obviously is unmatched.  They're just good people. It was very collaborative process. From the start, we all kind of knew what kind of tone we wanted for the film. They were ready to jump in from day one.Given the improv history with this cast, did actors have the freedom to improvise or was it mostly sticking to the script?Jim Rash: We sort of go with what was on the page. In line—that was a big place for improv. In the middle of the movie, there was a long take scene between them and there was a moment that happened almost like in a play so in a sense, it was great to do the smallest improv or just improvise this moment. There was a little bit of wiggle room with them sort of with what they already know.What was the most challenging aspect in shooting the film?Nat Faxon: I would say probably just the elements. It took a lot of prep and it took a lot of cooperation and willingness from our line producer and production team to just be flexible and nimble. You're shooting on lifts that you don't own. You're shooting on gondolas that don't want to stop for you. You're shooting on the side of a mountain where a snow cab drops you off at 7:30 in the morning and picks you up at 4:30. You're in the elements and you just have to have good preparation and patient people, which we did.The two of you won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants. How do you manage to stay grounded?Jim Rash: I don't know if I'm necessary grounded but I—Nat Faxon: I do have my restaurant—an Oscar-winning restaurant—but other than that, I'm pretty grounded.Jim Rash: I think winning an Oscar was a huge honor and another amazing moment and out-of-body experience.Searchlight acquired The Way, Way Back in 2013 out of Sundance. How collaborative was the Searchlight team when it came to making this film?Nat Faxon: Extremely so. I think right from the very first meeting we had, we again, along with Will and Julia and our producers all understood that the sort of delicate balance between drama and comedy. They were very supportive of that from the start. Having worked with them on The Descendants and The Way, Way Back, I think we had a nice shorthand and familiarity there. They are one of the few studios out there that are really making these kinds of films so we are very lucky to be working with them on this.Did it feel a bit weird to watch the opening credits and not see Fox above the Searchlight logo?Nat Faxon: It did. I think we were the first one ever.