Interview: Adam Scott on His Buzzing, Dark Performance in The Vicious Kind, Party Down Season 2, Shaming Kenny Powers, and Memories of His First Kiss
Posted on Saturday, January 16th, 2010 by Hunter Stephenson
In recent times, Adam Scott has sparkled in pop-culture for two masterful performances as manicured, modern cornholios in the Will Ferrell-endorsed comedies Step Brothers and Eastbound & Down. In the former, his character coached an obnoxious wife and kids in a caravan acapella of “Sweet Child of Mine,” while faithfully rocking a Bluetooth headset. In the latter, Scott was a delusional assistant to an assistant of a Major League Baseball team who brags to Kenny Powers that his black AmEx can purchase fellatio from the Jonas Brothers. Ironically, Scott’s character proceeds to offer sex—even with “the kids”—to recruit Powers, a karma-deal that snorts the iconic wind from Powers’s mulleted sails.
On Party Down, one of the strongest and most left-field cable series to debut last year, Scott has managed to be just as funny and biting as the lead amongst a stellar ensemble cast. His character, Henry Pollard, is an out-of-work actor riding out his prime and the recession as an L.A. caterer, a role fleshed out with drama, depression and romance. But I was still surprised to see Scott’s performance in the upcoming indie, The Vicious Kind, which recently earned him an Independent Spirit Awards nom for Best Male Lead. He’s in serious company with Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth for playing a construction worked named Caleb Sinclaire. A self-righteous, aimless man with an estranged father (J.K. Simmons) and a misogynistic albeit amusingly bleak worldview, Caleb sinks to new lows in making a hate-play on his innocent brother’s weary girlfriend (Brittany Snow).
The Vicious Kind is one more reason why most of the staff at /Film and the /Filmcast is in agreement that Scott should just go ahead and be in any damn movie and TV show ever; with the exception of super hero movies. Scott refreshingly didn’t seem too keen to on the genre after our interview was completed. (But for the record: He likes Batman Begins more than The Dark Knight.)
Hunter Stephenson: Is this the first blue collar character you have played? I guess the character you play on Party Down is gradually becoming one…
Adam Scott: Yeah. I mean, I guess it is. Because usually I am these WASPy snobs [laughs] or I have been in the last few years, so it is more blue collar. But I think there’s something interesting about the character…
[Adam says to someone, "I'm going to be in here, okay? I'm going to be on the couch and then when I'm finished with this, you can have a quesadilla."]
Adam Scott: Sorry about that, there’s a lot going on here. So, my character in The Vicious Kind is blue collar, but he acts almost like he’s in an aristocracy, with this high-minded superiority over everyone else. That’s one of the funny things about him; and we had him dress in button-up shirts and slacks throughout the entire film even though he works construction. So, I guess he’s a snob as well.
And the character also seems to belong to the rise of the anti-hero that has occurred in film over the last decade, with these troubled alpha-male characters, ranging from Daniel Plainview to Kenny Powers. What was it about the last decade that lead to this trend? And what are the redemptive qualities of your character, Caleb, that make him worthy of exploration in a film?
Adam Scott: Well, I think the interesting thing about this character is that everything he says or does is immediately contradicted by something else he says or does. So, as an audience, hopefully, we can see a guy who is flawed and continually realizing his mistakes and screw-ups, and immediately recycling them into something else. I mean, he’s completely crazy but I think it becomes apparent after a little while that the misogyny isn’t real. It’s just a cover for his being a really wounded bird of sorts.
I think the idea of the anti-hero that was so prevalent in the ’70s, I do think that it’s coming back. Characters like Kenny Powers, like you said; I think people like seeing someone who is flawed. And as far as movies go, I think Pulp Fiction really kicked it off, with the villains being the heroes. So that movie, and Goodfellas at the beginning of the ’90s, were incredibly influential. But then culturally, I think there’s a lot of influence with the Bush Administration as well, because that made everyone much more cynical.
With a character like Kenny Powers, he’s made front-and-center for us to laugh at his stupidity. And for us to acknowledge it. And Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby, all of those characters that Will [Ferrell] and those guys came up with, they all stem from this ignorant moron that we had running the country for a while. And Will’s one-man show [as George W. Bush] was amazing. So, I think that having this joke of a president, as we did in the ’80s with Ronald Reagan, invades the culture until you don’t even notice it anymore.
One performance and character I was reminded of when watching The Vicious Kind is Jack Nicholson’s in Five Easy Pieces. Was that movie or performance brought up, or did you see room for comparison thematically when you read the script? Might it be a conscious inspiration?
Adam Scott: We didn’t, but that comparison has been brought up a few times. I think it’s very flattering that it’s being made. But I don’t think I’m anywhere as good. At all. Even close. [laughs] But that’s a wonderful film, and I feel like this movie is like some of those movies that were coming out in the ’70s. And surely there is some influence. I know that it’s an important movie, for both [writer/director] Lee [Toland Krieger] and I, so I’m sure it’s there somewhere.
(Note: Lee Toland Krieger also received a Spirit Awards nomination for The Vicious Kind for Best Screenplay.)
How did your involvement in the film come about and what drew you to the project?
Adam Scott: Well, I had read the script a while ago and I called Lee to tell him that I thought it was really funny. And he was surprised because he had never heard that from another person. He had just heard that his script was “sick” and “dark,” so we thought right then and there that it might work. We were like-minded. And it confirmed to me that this guy is not a brooding, pretentious filmmaker, he’s a young kid who doesn’t take himself or what he’s doing too seriously. My agent just sent me the script, so we had a meeting. I really loved working with Lee, and I’m really glad we made the film.
Would you say the film confirms that women and girls are inexplicably attracted to scumbags?
Adam Scott: Yeah. I think that’s totally true. And I think that, you know, it’s like a moth to a flame. I wish I had known that when I was single. I would have just been a prick and it all would have worked out.
You mentioned misogyny in the film, and there’s a scene in a supermarket where your character really goes off on Brittany Snow’s character. Caleb goes psycho. It’s really the point in the film where, to me, it left behind doubts that it would be an overtly “quirky” indie movie. But what did you think when you read that scene in the script?
Adam Scott: I thought that the scene was certainly the one—it was the one that I was most afraid of because it could have become ridiculous. It could have gone really wrong. [laughs] And whenever I read a script, you look for the two or three scenes that scare you. And you really just dread those days on the set. There were actually a few of those scenes in this one. And I credit Lee for those scenes working and for reining in his actors on those days. And that [supermarket] scene is the apex of those two characters colliding. It’s where everything goes wrong but when it starts to go right.
The relationship that Caleb has with his dad is odd because they hate each other—which is normal enough I guess—but they share a silent agreement that the world operates on a few fucked-up truths. Did you and J.K. Simmons talk about the complexity of this relationship on set?
Adam Scott: We actually didn’t talk about [the roles] at all. I think we both just got it. We just understood it and did it. I love working with J.K. because there’s no b.s. There might be a question or two, but that’s it. And I had previously asked him to appear on Party Down a couple of times and he graciously agreed. And he actually appears in season two as well…
Yeah, he’s a pretty profane motherfucker on that show…
Adam Scott: Yeah. He is. He’s hilarious.
Along with Eastbound & Down, Party Down was easily my favorite comedy series last year and one of my favorites in general. I interviewed Martin [Starr] and Ryan [Hansen] last year for the site about this, but how would you describe the show’s level of popularity and exposure at this point? It’s really a jewel in the rough.
Adam Scott: Cool. Thanks man. Yeah, I get recognized for the show sometimes and it has its diehard fans. I mean, it is a small network [Starz] and it’s a small show, but hopefully when it hits DVD more people will start watching it. But for the amount of people that watch it, it is very popular. I think the people who sample it, they really respond and keep watching; which is great because I love doing it. It’s my favorite thing to do work-wise, and I just never want to stop doing it. It is cool. Everyone on the show, it’s our favorite thing to do.
What can you tell us about season two? Tonally it’s the same?
Adam Scott: Well, tonally it will be the same, but my character is the team leader, and Ron’s off doing his Soup-r-Crackers franchise [laughs] [laughs] and Lizzy [Caplan's] character is just getting back from her gig on the cruise ship. So, everyone has gone their separate ways but comes back together. And in the second episode, J.K.’s in it, and we’re catering a pre-school auction and his daughter goes to the pre-school. So he is there with his wife, Joey Lauren Adams, and he’s bidding on something, like a pretty ridiculous item. [laughs]
When you appeared on Eastbound & Down, did you realize that you were the guy who would ruin Kenny Powers’s life once again?
Adam Scott: [laughs] It’s pretty awesome. I knew at the time that it was the final episode of the season. And I had read the script and knew what it was. But I guess when I watched the first season, I was so into it that I didn’t grasp the enormity of what I had done. I wish I was on that show [regularly] because it was so fun. I had never met those guys before; well, I met Jody [Hill] once but it was a drunken night out. Danny [McBride], I had never met before I went Wilmington to film it. He’s just one of the funniest guys on the planet. It’s hard to remember, because it’s [Adam] McKay and all of those guys, it’s a tight knit group. I was only there for one day.
Yeah, it was a quick shoot. And I’m guessing you have strange people come up to you who mention the Jonas Brothers? [laughs]
Adam Scott: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I do. [laughs] And I actually have a cousin-in-law who works at Disney and works with the Jonas Brothers sometimes, so I had some explaining to do. But that was Jody’s line, not one that I made up, so…[laughs]
So, you know a lot of girls seem to think you’re their ideal guy…
Adam Scott: Wait. What?
They think you’re their ideal guy…
Adam Scott: [pause] That’s crazy. Alright.
And with this Leap Year movie that’s you’re in, it’s kind of in the kissy-kissy genre. So, could you enlighten on your first kiss for the ladies?
Adam Scott: My first kiss? Oh jesus. Damn. What was it? [laughs] Goddamn. I think it was in the eighth grade, which for a lot of kids at my school, that actually made me a late bloomer. I went through a real chubby phase, so I was not getting girls for a long time. So, the first girl I did get, we made out. It was at a locker. And I think, if I remember, she’s now a lesbian. So, there you go. That’s how great I am. She’s a lesbian and now we’re Facebook friends. We are. Really. She’s terrific. She was totally hot. But I think she kind of just ceremoniously dumped me one day. We were girlfriend and boyfriend and then one day she was like…”You’re a…lame-ass.” And got rid of me. But I am glad to have been a part of her life.
How will Piranha 3D be better than Avatar?
Adam Scott: How will it be better… I haven’t seen [Piranha 3D] yet, so I couldn’t tell you. It certainly looks cool, based on the trailer. It was a really tough shoot. It was 115 degrees everyday, and the entire movie takes place outside. I remember all of the blood they [pumped up from the bottom of the lake]. I had never seen anything like it. It’s supposed to be, no joke, the bloodiest movie ever made.
The Vicious Kind is tentatively scheduled for release this March. For more info, here. Season two of Party Down is scheduled to air in April on Starz. Piranha 3D opens in April nationwide.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and on Twitter.