Before his career-making turns in the cultishly adored Party Down, NBC’s Thursday comedy staple Parks And Recreation, and movies like Step Brothers, Adam Scott spent more than a decade making the Hollywood rounds in shows that couldn’t be any further from the comedic staples that he’s known for lately (Tell Me You Love Me, Party Of Five, Murder One). But the one-two punch of Parks And Rec and Party Down has led to a career high for Scott: In addition to his TV work, he’s appeared recently in movies such as Our Idiot Brother and the soon-to-be-released Friends With Kids. After spending a week in New York shooting yet another movie, tentatively titled Bachelorette and starring Kirsten Dunst, Scott sat down with The A.V. Club to talk about the prospects of the much-talked-about Party Down movie, why he wishes he went to college, and how being an actor is a humiliating way to make a living.
The A.V. Club: You’ve been doing a lot of movie roles lately. Do you think they’ve come from Party Down, Parks And Rec, or a combination of the two?
Adam Scott: I guess it’s been cumulative in the past couple of years. It kind of started with Step Brothers, and then I think just the accumulation in the past three years of Step Brothers, Party Down, Parks And Rec, and Eastbound & Down, they’ve all kind of helped as one. Certainly Parks And Rec has been the most widely seen, but I think that all of them together have kind of helped in a way. I really don’t know. I just know that I’m happy that it’s this stuff that’s finally been a motor for there being some traction in my career after all these years, rather than things that weren’t as good. I’m really proud of all these things, and these are the things that I would be watching if I wasn’t in them. I think one thing that they all have in common is that I’m kind of ensconced in these ensembles where I can hide behind more talented people. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
AVC: So you don’t think the Party Of Five era was the ideal time for your career to take off?
AS: I mean, at the time, I would’ve been thrilled, but I don’t trust my 25-year-old self with what I would’ve done with any sort of career boost. I would be horrified to watch whatever I was doing on Party Of Five. I’m sure I’m bad on it. But no, I’m happy that it’s now, and I’m happy that it’s when I’m a little older and not… I mean, I’m still a pretty stupid person, but I’m not as stupid as I was.
AVC: Stupid in what way?
AS: I don’t know. You know, I didn’t go to college proper, because I went straight from high school into this acting school, and so I’ve always felt like not only did I miss the social college experience of being in a dorm and shotgunning beers with my roommate—does it sound like I have an imaginary roommate?—but also, it’s one of my few regrets that I didn’t have good grades in high school because I was focusing on directing plays and stuff like that. So I wasn’t really keeping my grades up. If I had, then I could’ve gone to a good school. So I always have this thing where I feel just a little less interesting than everyone else, in the sense that I kind of sacrificed that by just coming down here [Los Angeles] when I was 18 and trying to be an actor. And I’m not sure that it was time well spent. Because I spent so many years just kind of toiling that I feel like that time probably could have been better spent getting a proper education, you know?
AVC: Is it because you missed the college experiences, or is it the education? One would think being on Boy Meets World would be a more interesting story than shotgunning beer with your imaginary roommate.
AS: I mean, the acting school I went to, we did have a social experience, but you know, when it’s a bunch of actors, it’s everyone self-consciously having a social experience rather than just having a social experience. Like you’re trying to push your portrayal of yourself you want out there. I look back on it and it was a lovely experience, but at the same time, it wasn’t as authentic a college experience as I would imagine I would’ve had if I was [in school]. On Parks, I get to hang out with a lot of writers who went to Harvard and Emerson and places like this. I would imagine that that was a much more interesting experience.
AVC: What would you have majored in, had you gone?
AS: Probably I would have been in the theater department. I would have had the exact same experience I ended up having. But at the same time, I always wanted to be a rock journalist, because I grew up reading David Fricke and Anthony de Curtis and Kurt Loder and people like that. So I kind of wanted to do that. But I don’t know if I would have been good at it. Journalism classes would have been interesting to me. But you know, it’s never too late. I can always go to the Learning Annex and go to night school.
AVC: You mentioned that Parks And Rec is this big ensemble. Did you have any reservations coming into the show when it was already a well-oiled ensemble?
AS: No, I jumped at the chance. Because I was really into the show, I loved the show, and I had auditioned for the show back when it was a pilot a couple years prior, before they even had characters or anything. I don’t even know what we were reading scenes from. But you know, Nick Offerman and I auditioned on the same day for the pilot of Parks And Rec before there were any roles. They were just having people read random things. So having a second shot, it was a huge. But no, as far as stepping into a show that was already going, to me it was an advantage, because I knew the show worked. When you do a pilot, it’s like you’re at the bottom of a giant fountain. It’s like, “Okay, we’re going to do this pilot. If it works, it’ll get picked up. If it gets picked up, maybe it’ll survive. If it survives, how long?” This is a show that’s already been on the air for a season and a half, and I knew it was great. So all of those questions were answered. It was just a matter of if I could get on there and be any good, or if I would screw up the opportunity.
AVC: If you were getting this role and Party Down was being picked up at the same time, what would you have picked?
AS: Well, that’s so hypothetical. I think all I can say is that there was someone at Starz who off the record said, “Maybe you should go ahead and…” It made the decision a lot easier. [Party Down] was being cancelled. We all knew it. They just weren’t saying it on the record. So that question never even had to really come up. But luckily I get to see the Party Down folks all the time and we’re hopefully going to get the movie going. We’re all friends and we hang out. I’ve been on these two great shows. I’m really lucky, and thankfully, I never had to make that choice.
AVC: Ken Marino mentioned that if by some miracle they picked up a season three, you were going to try to make your way onto the show, at least somewhere.
AS: Yeah. We had worked it out that I could do three of them, of a 10-episode season. That’s what we had worked out. But the chances of them continuing with the show were so miniscule at that point. They hadn’t really shown any interest in doing that. But also, we were a low-rated show at the time. Right now, Party Down is fairly well known. It’s still a small following, but it’s somewhat well-known, at least within the comedy community. But at the time, our series finale only got 15,000 viewers. [The finale garnered a total of 74,000 viewers over all its airings, according to Deadline.com. —ed.] For a television network, looking at the numbers, they were like, “Why would we pick this up?” And this is the series finale with Jane Lynch in it, you know? But at the same time, they were just starting with original programming, so they didn’t really have the apparatus to get the word out there. They had some offices in Colorado where they were trying to figure out how to market this thing. It wasn’t all figured out yet. I think the Starz of today would know how to reach the people that actually want to see this show. But at the time, Spartacus hadn’t aired yet, and that was a big show for them. All of that being said, they’ve been really cool about helping try and get the movie made. So overall, they’ve been pretty cool.
AVC: That shows you that TV critics can put the word out about shows like Party Down, but maybe we don’t have the influence we think we have.
AS: Well, I think you do, I just think that especially [The A.V. Club] and [Alan] Sepinwall and all these people, I just think that the audience for Party Down maybe weren't the people paying ten dollars a month for Starz. I think Party Down found its audience primarily on Netflix and stuff like that, and primarily after it had been cancelled. I think in the year and a half since it was cancelled, that it's certainly become more well-known. I also think that the fact that people found it themselves online, I think that people finding it themselves and passing it along to each other is intrinsic to what makes it special, and part of why the audience is so fond of it is that it's their own thing that they discovered themselves, and it wasn't shoved down their throat with a billboard every 10 minutes telling them that it's great. They got to find it themselves, and find little things about it that they felt were great, without someone telling them. I think that's part of what is special about it for some people, is that it's theirs. They feel like it's theirs, and it is theirs. And I love that about it as well.
AVC: You’ve said in interviews that the movie is 90 percent there. Do you want to put odds on which movie’s going to get made first? Party Down or Arrested Development?
AS: Uh, well it sounds like theirs is well on its way.
AVC: But you saw what happened for the last five years. The first words out of anybody’s mouth to anybody in the cast was, “How about that movie?” Do you guys worry about falling into that trap, where you talk about the movie now, and then the usual Hollywood stumbling blocks happen and you guys keep being asked about it five years from now? Or are you confident that it’ll get made relatively quickly?
AS: I’m confident that it’ll be made. I don’t think that’s a trap necessarily. I think that getting a movie made takes a long time, especially with a large cast of busy people, and getting it written and getting it financed. So I think that if you really look at the timeline of Arrested Development, it’s a pretty normal timeline for getting a movie up and going, and made, and announcing it, etc. It’s just that people are anticipating it, and a lot of journalists are asking them questions many, many times. So it seems like it’s been dragging on forever, but it’s only been what, like four or five years or something? To really get a movie made with like Will Arnett, Michael Cera, David Cross, Jason Bateman, all these people stuffed into it, it takes a while. So hopefully it’s not going to take five years [to make the Party Down movie]. But I think that an Arrested Development movie in two years or five years from now is great either way.
AVC: You’ve said that the movie will just pick up where the show left off with what happened after Henry went on that audition.
AS: I think that is an option of what could happen. I know that it’s not going to be a prequel or anything like that. It’ll take place after the final episode.
AVC: Looking at your career trajectory, it kind of feels similar to Henry’s in a way. When you saw the part, did it kind of have any familiar ring to you at all?
AS: Yeah, totally. I immediately understood the general air of humiliation that comes with trying to do something as ridiculous as be an actor in Hollywood. It’s just kind of an embarrassing endeavor. I never had that thing where I had this success where people were stopping me and saying embarrassing things to me at the time—I mean, now I have people telling me [Henry’s catchphrase] “Are we having fun yet?”—but at the time, I didn’t have anything like that. But I certainly understood the humiliation and pain of having to stand there and feel like a piece of garbage while you list your credits for somebody who wants to know what they may have seen you in, and then it turns out they haven’t seen you in anything, they had just met you before or something. You just feel like an idiot at all times. I think all of us in the cast related to that. Being an actor is just kind of embarrassing. So I think we all certainly saw a lot of truth in it.
AVC: Is it embarrassing because you put yourself out there and you get rejected a lot?
AS: Yeah! You really do get rejected a lot. I’m not trying to elicit sympathy, because it’s not real work. There’s certainly harder things in the world and the country to do than being an actor, but it’s a particularly emotionally humiliating thing to do, that you don’t really anticipate when you choose to do it. You don’t really think that it’s going to be quite so soul-crushing at times.
AVC: Is the state of mind different because you’ve reached this level of success almost 20 years into your career?
AS: Well, I think that 10 years ago I moved on from putting all of my eggs in a particular basket. I focused my life on things that are a little more dependable, like my family, and things that actually make me happy, rather than momentary flashes of success or anything like that. So by the time this all happened, I feel like I’d already moved on to more meaningful things in my life that make me feel like a person, and feel happy. So all of this is terrific, but at the end of the day, they haven’t made my life as satisfying as my kids and stuff. I know how clichéd that sounds, but it is true, and it’s kind of where I’ve ended up. It’s my job, and then at home, I have my real responsibilities and the things that actually make me feel full as a person. My work is a part of that, but I don’t solely depend on that for my happiness or validation. I’m glad I learned the lesson. I’m glad that I didn’t get a part in Scream 2 and become a star in 1995. Because I don’t know if I ever would have found this, what I have now.
AVC: On Parks And Rec, you and Rob Lowe came in as a team, though you guys don’t have as much screen time together now as you did when you came in last year. Were you surprised that Rob Lowe could pull off that comedic load?
AS: I wasn’t surprised, just because I’d seen him in comedies and stuff like Tommy Boy, and Wayne’s World, and Invention Of Lying. But also I thought he was really funny in The West Wing. I feel like [executive producer] Mike Schur and the writers were sort of tweaking Sam Seaborn from West Wing a bit and just making Sam Seaborn on PCP. So no, I wasn’t surprised that he was so great, because I just know that he is. We have more stuff coming up in the season together, and you start to get a sense of their friendship and how far back it goes, and it’s really cool. Our first scene together this season, we sat down at a table to do our scene in the first episode, and Rob looked at me and he’s like, “All right, Butch and Sundance! Back together!” It was really sweet. He’s a terrific guy.
AVC: Despite their differences, they seem to be loyal to each other.
AS: Yeah, I think they really are. They’ve been on the road together for years. I think they’ve been friends 10 years or something like that. So I think, like a married couple, they roll their eyes at each other and everything, but I think they’re good buddies that go back a long time. And you really get to see that coming up in season four.
AVC: What did you think when you read the changes that were set in motion in the season three finale?
AS: I think Mike is clearly a big fan of television, and clearly a big fan of quality television. He’s kind of a student of The Wire, and Cheers, and all of these shows that treated their seasons like they’re chapters in a larger story, like chapters in a book or novel. So I feel like if the show doesn’t evolve and shift over time, then there’s a real danger of it just sitting in one place and growing moss. I think the way Mike and the writers think is that with each chapter, we need to shift the dynamic a bit. So it’s exciting. It’s exciting to read a season finale like that and know that things are going to shift a bit. For a 22-minute comedy, it’s incredibly ambitious, and rewarding as a viewer, but also for us, for being able to go in and do it, it’s really exciting. I think the results and seeing what they’ve come up with this season, it’s really great. I feel like I’m on the most hilarious version of The Wire ever.