Young actor heads up coming-of-age by 'Descendants' scribes

Who: Liam James, actor
What:The Way, Way Back”
Where: Today at Eccles at 3:30 p.m.

Most people know Liam James for his role as Mireille Enos’ son on AMC’s “The Killing,” but Sundance auds will see an entirely different side of the young actor in “The Way, Way Back,” a coming-of-age tale that marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar-winning scribes of “The Descendants.”

“I auditioned for it twice by tape from Vancouver before they called me down to L.A.,” said James, who describes the unique indie pic as a comedy with some dramatic moments. “The movie is about a teen on vacation with his mom and her boyfriend and his daughter. He kind of keeps to himself because he doesn’t want to be there in the first place, but he doesn’t have a choice. He meets a guy at a water park who helps him gain some confidence. It’s about the importance of having friends.”

Pic’s cast includes Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell, but James is the real star. The 16 year-old thesp hasn’t seen “Way, Way Back” yet but said he had a blast working with first-time directors and fellow actors Faxon (“Ben & Kate”) and Rash (“Community”). “They were really professional and funny. I felt totally comfortable around both of them all the time.”

For James, there wasn’t much difference between playing a series regular on a TV show and starring in a feature film aside from being on set for “a lot more days in a row. Not that I missed being away from home, but I did miss my friends.” Speaking of friends, James had fun getting off of work at 8pm and finding himself with fellow cast and crew at a water park, where many would stay until 10 p.m. riding the waterslides.

This year will be the James’ first at Sundance and he’s not quite sure what to expect. “I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun, casual and not very formal, and that there’s some really great films there. My mom is handling my schedule but I’d love to see The Eagles documentary.” A skier since he was three years old, James also plans to hit the slopes. “I’ve never skied anywhere else besides Canada so I’m excited to see what it’s like.”

James started his career doing extra work when he was 10 years old. “I’m having a hard time remembering why, but I think I just had the personality for it. I started doing some body doubling and was always excited about it, so I started auditioning,” explained James, who looks forward to doing more movies in the future. “I’d be open to anything as long as I felt capable I could do it and do it well.”

James is repped by the Gersh Agency, Vancouver-based Kirk Talent and by his mother, “the best manager I could ask for.”

“The Way, Way Back” screens as part of the Premieres lineup on Tuesday (8:30 a.m. at the MARC), Thursday (6:30 p.m. at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden) and Saturday (5:30 p.m. at the Library).

One in a series of profiles on filmmakers and talent from the Sundance Film Festival 2013.

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