The day before we are scheduled to speak, Adam Scott had appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It started off as a routine interview between Scott and Kristen Bell (who had been filling in for host Jimmy Kimmel), with Scott sharing a humorous anecdote about how when he was two, he wrote to Star Wars star Mark Hammill, inviting him to his birthday party. A few moments later, Hammill himself appeared onstage, causing Scott to eject an ear-to-ear grin.
It was a touching moment, with Scott clearly ecstatic that his childhood idol was onstage, in the flesh, sending him well wishes. But it was much more endearing in a way that Scott, a critically-acclaimed actor who may win an Emmy for his role on HBO’s Big Little Lies, is beyond the cynicism and vapidity that defines Hollywood. That no matter how famous one may become, they still are in awe of their heroes.
“There was nothing sort of casual about that, that was a pretty stunning moment, it’s hard to be cynical about something like that,” Scott said. “The thing that I kept going back to was just how sweet of him it was, it was very nice. And it truly meant a lot, probably more than I would have anticipated…I still can’t believe that happened, it was crazy.”
Prior to engaging in impromptu, late night lightsaber greetings with notable Jedi, Scott appeared in a slew of minor roles, getting some early traction in TV shows like Boy Meets World and Party of Five, and having small but memorable parts in movies like Step Brothers and The Aviator. The turning point came when Scott starred in the Starz series Party Down about a group of Hollywood wannabes working less-than-glamorous catering gigs before they hit it big, the show was underappreciated during its original run but later found a cult following years after it went off the air.
“One of the things that made it so special was when we made that show--it was already 8 years ago I guess? Crazy. For all of us, for Ken [Marino] and Lizzy [Caplan], Martin [Starr], Ryan [Hansen] and Jane [Lynch], we very much felt the plight of these characters, we had all been working actors for a while, but there was something elusive for all of us about show business at that point,” Scott said.
“I think there are revealing things about all of us in those episodes, and that’s part of what made it such a special show and part of what made it such a special memory now for all of us, that we kind of bound our superpowers together, we were completely in a vacuum not thinking anyone would ever even see it. We were just doing it for ourselves, for each other. Then eventually people found and watched it after it was long gone. For whatever reason, that makes it even more special.”
The series only lasted for two seasons but served as a natural segue to Scott's iconic role on Parks and Recreation, a show both beloved in its own time and in the years since its seventh season concluded. Not only does Parks have a rabid fan base, it has served as an inspiration for many young people to get into comedy, to sign up for improv and sketch comedy classes and test their comedic fortitude at open mic nights.
“It’s a very sweet show, it’s a very lovable show--all the characters are really good people who want the world to be better. They want to be good friends to each other, they want to be good husbands and fathers, wives and girlfriends and mothers, everyone’s kind of striving to be better and they look out for each other, they watch each other’s backs. They’re on a team together,” Scott said.
“But in addition to that, it had the best joke writers in comedy working," he continued. "That writers room, it was a murderer’s row of writers so we had the funniest material hands down. It was this great combination of Mike Schur [Parks showrunner] and this writer’s room, all lovely people and this group of actors who are all lovely people. Maybe if you watch that show, if it inspires you to get into comedy, maybe it’s because it looks fun when you watch the show and I can say without hesitation that was so fun, I think we all miss it everyday. There was nothing more fun than getting to go to work and make that show for the years that we did, it was the best.”
Scott has very much been a prominent part of Hollywood’s comedy community, appearing in fan favorite shows like Children’s Hospital, Eastbound and Down, Burning Love and most recently The Good Place, also created by Mike Schur. Which makes his latest notable endeavor Big Little Lies an interesting pick. Scott gives a powerful performance in the critically-acclaimed show, but it’s a clear, dramatic distinction from the comedic work that has defined much of his career.
“I was looking to try something different, specifically finding something pushing a little away from the comedy realm and then this show popped up,” Scott explained. “I actually reached out to [Reese Witherspoon] after I saw Wild, because I found that movie so moving and so beautifully shot and edited and her performance was astounding. So it was kind of a wish list group of people and luckily I got the gig, so if that’s all that came from this, that’s more than enough, just the experience of doing it. I’m really happy that people liked it.”
One of the main subplots of Big Little Lies is Scott’s character Ed, trying to prove his masculinity and hold his own against his wife’s ex-husband. Which is a bit of an interesting position for Scott, since he has played the bullying, douche bro character very convincingly in movies like Step Brothers and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He can play the abuser just as well as the abused, and watching him onscreen might conjure some unpleasant memories of your own high school bully from years passed.
“When I was in high school I was on the water polo team and also in junior high school I really wanted to be on the basketball team, having these daydreams of shooting the winning basket or whatever, but then showing up at basketball tryouts it became abundantly clear that there were people there genetically built for this sort of thing and I was not one of them,” Scott said. “There was a lot of great guys on the water polo team and basketball team and all that but there were also guys whose confidence I found fascinating, I mean I envied it more than anything. I wanted to be that confident, but I just didn’t understand how they could be so that unfettered in their regard for themselves and I found that fascinating."
“So I think that there’s a direct line from that to William Atherton in Ghostbusters or Bill Paxton in Weird Science, these really funny assholes in movies…it’s not who I related to in movies but it’s who I was kind of fascinated with, because I always wondered how those guys tick. Even if I looked like that I could never be that confident, I don’t know where that comes from. Someone like Donald Trump, who’s clearly deficient mentally, maybe there’s a direct line from part of your brain being missing and then having all the confidence. I know it doesn’t always line up but it’s fascinating.”
Scott has already gotten a head start on taking on other projects, doubling as both an actor and Executive Producer for the upcoming comedy Fun Mom Dinner, premiering August 4th on Netflix. In the film, Scott plays the husband of Katie Aselton's character, an overworked matriarch who embarks on a night of debauchery and mayhem with three other moms from her kids' preschool. Adam's wife Naomi Scott is also serving as a producer on the film. Much like Big Little Lies, it's a project populated by a stellar cast, including Toni Colette, Molly Shannon, Adam Levine and Paul Rudd.
One of the most common narratives about Scott is that he’s an actor who found success later in life. Party Down didn’t happen until the 44 year-old actor was in his mid-thirties. For some actors, not achieving immediate success in their early career can easily lead to the giving up on the dream altogether. For Scott, he seems genuinely appreciative of the length of his career journey.
“It took me a while to really find my place and I was grateful for that, I know that if things happened quickly for me back when I started out, when I was in my early twenties, I would have squandered it. I wouldn’t have squandered it on limos and cocaine, it would have been squandered on inexperience and the fact that I wasn’t ready yet, I wasn’t particularly good yet or not good enough,” Scott admitted. “So it took a while for me to find what I’m good at and where to kind of plot myself when I’m most relaxed, comfortable and ready to do my best. So yeah there were many years of smaller parts, I’m proud of all that. For me, I’m happy that it ended up taking so long.”
Photography by Jonny Marlow
Styling by Ilaria Urbinati
Grooming by Kim Verbeck
for The Wall Group
Written by Justin Sedgwick
Lighting Tech by Alex Fenyves