Adam Scott will tell you: He’s not the funniest guy in the room. But really, who is when they’re acting opposite hilarious comedians like Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, and Aziz Ansari?
Scott, who has a dry sarcastic wit, is recognized for playing the straight—or less overtly insane—man on shows like Eastbound & Down, where he recurs as Kenny Powers' dickhead, drug addicted sports agent, and the tragically canceled Starz comedy Party Down, where he starred as a washed up and disillusioned actor working for a catering company.
Currently, the 38-year-old actor puts his perfectly understated humor to work on NBC's Parks and Recreation, as Ben Wyatt, a formerly ambitious dreamer who bankrupted his hometown as its 18-year-old mayor and became a cynical, stone-faced state auditor. With Scott shining in the role, Complex caught up with him for the “Mantras” feature in the April/May issue. Be sure to pick that up for his life lessons. Here is our extended Adam Scott interview.
Complex: You’ve said that you were pretentious about film growing up. How far into your acting career did you shelf that?
Adam Scott: I learned early on not to take it any of it particularly seriously. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline was my first movie role, in 1996. It was a huge deal to me. You have to understand, coming from Santa Cruz, which is a small [California] town, getting a job doing anything that was gonna be on television or in a real movie, no matter how stupid, was a huge deal. I thought Hellraiser IV was going to be this giant, this huge thing that was going to make me famous. I was 20, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
How do you pick your roles?
Adam Scott: Usually I pick a role because I think I could be good at it, I really like the people, or they’re my friends. Party Down, they were my friends, so it was like, “Of course I’ll do this, it’ll be super-fun,” not knowing if it’d be any good or if anyone would see it. It turned out to be good, and eventually people saw it, but all of that was kind of secondary to having a good time. That ended up being a good lesson: Do it because it’s fun. I think you do your best work when you enjoy it.
Has anything just absurdly ridiculous come across your desk since you've become more established?
Adam Scott: Well, Piranha 3D, but I did it.
And it was awesome.
Adam Scott: Awesome! I love that movie. I thought it was hilarious.
So is there any chance that your character, seismologist Novak Radzinsky, survived the movie's closing piranha attack and might return for Piranha 3DD?
Adam Scott: There is a 100 percent certainty that Novak did not survive the giant piranha attack—unless someone wants to pay Novak 10 million dollars.
Were you at all nervous joining Parks and Rec's ensemble cast after the second season?
Adam Scott: You know, I was a little nervous about it at first, being the new kid in school, but I kind of knew some of the people in the cast. They were super cool and welcoming, very sweet from day one. Coming from a tiny show like Party Down, I didn’t know what to expect from a fancy network show like Parks and Rec—would it be strict? It ended up being exactly the same, with better craft service.
Have Party Down fans expressed any bitterness that you moved on to do Parks and Recreation?
Adam Scott: Well, I didn’t really leave. We had finished season two. The Parks and Rec situation came up and it was one of my favorite shows. I really wanted to do it, but I also wanted to do Party Down, so I told Starz. There was a changing of the guard at Starz. They hadn't canceled the show but they certainly weren’t trying to keep me; the writing was sort of on the wall that they weren’t gonna to keep the show. We had a game plan to continue the show without me, which would have been totally fine. It would have been a terrific show regardless, just as good if not better without me. I wish they had kept it but Starz has done a great job since coming up with programming without Party Down.
Speaking of which, did you not give thought to joining the cast of Spartacus: Blood and Sand?
Adam Scott: I don’t know if you know this but I did several episodes of Spartacus.
No matter how white Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are, I’m like 900 percent whiter.
Adam Scott: Yeah, I was a tiger.
You have a good dry sense of humor. When you work with comedic actors like Will Ferrell, Jane Lynch, Danny McBride, and Aziz Ansari, do you ever compete for laughs?
Adam Scott: I would not compete for laughs with them because I would lose. I’m just watching, just flattered to be there always.
So you never tried rapping with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly on the set of Step Brothers?
Adam Scott: No, those guys are actually good. “Boats and Hoes”? They’re pretty good rappers. I think that no matter how white Will and John are, I’m like 900 percent whiter, so I don’t think that would work out.
Do you have a particular approach to playing a straight man?
Adam Scott: Whether I’m the straight man in a comedy or not, you can’t laugh, and when you try to shoot with hilarious guys like Will Ferrell, John Reilly, and Ken Marino, it’s really hard not to laugh. Focusing on their foreheads instead of their eyes works sometimes, but then sometimes their foreheads look ridiculous, so you start laughing at that. So, you look right next to their face. Focus on the wall behind them. Literally, I’ve done that. But still I fail.
As someone who's played a lot of wonderful dick-headed characters, when do you think it’s OK to be a dick?
Adam Scott: When you’re on the phone with the phone company, or any company where you have automated responses and you go through a labyrinth of 20 minutes before you speak to a person, I think then it’s OK to be a dick. It’s kind of a cliché gripe at this point, but it still pisses me off. So, yeah, when you get to the bottom of that abyss and you’re talking to a human and they have no interest helping, you know what? Be an ass. It’s all right.