Over the past several years, Adam Scott has noticed a change in the film and television roles he gets. Namely, he's playing fewer overgrown kids and more adults with kids.
"I remember the first time I played a parent was, I did a guest spot on Veronica Mars and they were like, 'OK, and this is your daughter,' and there's this little girl standing there. And I remember thinking, OK, this is weird... I guess I'm old enough to have a daughter," Scott, who now has two kids with wife Naomi Scott, told BuzzFeed News. "Ever since then, I've been a parent. I'm trying to think of when I have played someone who isn't a parent lately. It seems like they all are."
His latest film, The Overnight, is no exception. The indie sex comedy made a big splash at Sundance for its progressive sexual politics and (fake) full-frontal male nudity. But despite The Overnight's raunchy content, Scott's character Alex's identity is very much tied to being a parent.
And while he's now known mostly for comedy, Scott has done his share of drama and dabbled in action and horror since he began his career in the mid-'90s. He's drawn to smaller indies but hasn't shied away from mainstream productions. And his television work ranges from the largely forgotten (Tell Me You Love Me) to the cult followed (Party Down) and critically adored (Parks and Recreation).
At this point in his career, Scott can afford to be a little more selective about the projects he takes on — but that doesn't mean his work has slowed down. The Overnight is perhaps the best encapsulation of the kind of roles he's looking for now: It's hilarious and edgy, but also subtle and restrained.
"For me, the comedies that truly work are the ones that are grounded in some way. If it's all heightened, it's really hard, it's a little slippery. It's hard to get purchase on the side of the wall," he said. "[The Overnight writer-director] Patrick [Brice] did such a good job of grounding everything before things get crazy. These are all believable people in relatable situations. That's the most effective way to get your comedy in there."
Of course, that's the ideal — but there was a time in Scott's career when his main concern was just getting a job, not the quality of the project. In a candid discussion about past hits and misses at Joan's on Third in Studio City, California, Scott offered insight into the realities of being a working actor: the good, the bad, and the Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Boy Meets World (1995)
Scott first appeared on Boy Meets World as an unnamed band member in 1994, but it wasn't until the following year that he made his debut as bully Griff Hawkins. Although he was past high school age at 21, Scott was thrilled about getting his first recurring role.
"At that point, I would play anything. I did extra work. ... I mean, I was not picky. I remember getting out of acting school and friends of mine talking about, like, 'You know, I don't think I'm gonna do TV.' Like people putting on these airs of being picky. And I was never a snob about it. I knew, I'm starting from nowhere and I would do absolutely anything. Getting a job on a television show was miraculous. I came from kind of a small town and being on television was something that you just don't even think you do. I was embarrassed to even admit growing up that this is what I wanted to do because it sounded so outlandish. So getting a job where you end up on TV, even if it was just for a scene or something, was totally amazing.
"It wasn't until 10 years later when those kids who watched the show were in their twenties that I started getting asked about it or recognized from it. But also, I was only on it a couple times. It's not like I was part of the show or that recognizable. But I was really happy to have the job. I needed work for sure. And now they play it all the time on the Disney Channel, so it's weird. I never would have dreamed that I would be asked about Boy Meets World 20 years later. And they asked me to do Girl Meets World as the same character, which was really nice, but I didn't have time."
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Donning a very unfortunate wig, Scott took on the role of Jacques in Hellraiser: Bloodline, the fourth installment of the gory horror franchise. The film was all over the place, to say the least: It shifted from outer space in 2127 to 18th-century France to modern Manhattan. New to movies, Scott was just along for the ride.
"For me, it was a huge deal. It was the first real movie I got a role in, so I took it very seriously. I remember my first day on set, I was super excited. And I get there and they're like, 'Here's your chair, Adam,' and I walk over and instead of 'Adam Scott,' the chair said 'Adam Craig' for some reason. I don't know. But it was a nice welcome to Hollywood.
"From when it was shot to when it came out, I think it was like three or four years of doing more reshoots. By the time it came out, the director was Alan Smithee, which is the pretend name [used on projects that directors remove their names from]. So, needless to say, it wasn't a great movie, but I remember just being excited because it was a real movie and I didn't care if it was shitty. And it did end up being very, very shitty, but I was just happy to have a job.
"You know what's funny is, a few years later, I went on an audition for the next Hellraiser movie. I needed a job so badly that I went and auditioned, hoping they wouldn't realize that I was in the last one. And no one said anything at the audition, but maybe somewhere along the line they realized that I had been in the fucking fourth one."
Six Feet Under (2002)
Scott eventually appeared on Six Feet Under as a love interest for David (Michael C. Hall) named Ben Cooper, but he had originally auditioned for the part of David. It was a stressful experience he still remembers vividly.
"I had auditioned for Michael C. Hall's role on the show, tested for it with — I think it was me, him, and Jeremy Sisto who had all tested for that role. I don't know if they still do this, but testing used to be this long process where all three of you are sitting in a room together, you sign your contract for seven years before you go in.
"You're all in a room together, like three guys for that role, three guys for the Peter Krause role, three guys for some other role, and then they just bring you in and mix and match all the different combinations. And you sign your contract, and you're there with your competition and it's really intense. This role could change your life, obviously. It was a bummer not getting it, but I know for a fact that I wouldn't have been as good as he was. He was so good in that role.
"It was a great show. ... I think I auditioned again to play his boyfriend. But it was great to do it. It was really fun. ... And being on that show at the time was a big deal. Everyone watched it."
Veronica Mars (2005)
On Veronica Mars, Scott played a Chuck Rooks, a teacher accused of sleeping with and impregnating a student. During Veronica's (Kristen Bell) investigation, she discovers — spoiler alert — that her charming instructor is a creep after all. That divide between the image Chuck is trying to present and his true colors gave Scott an interesting contrast to work with.
"I don't think people who are bad people think they're bad people. So you just try and play it as if nothing's wrong with what you're doing. And then when you're watching it, you're like, Oh my god, that guy's a sleazeball. But that's just because of the circumstances. When I watch bad guys who are really leaning into their bad guy-ness, it's a little boring. Like Alan Rickman in Die Hard is the perfect bad guy performance because he's fanning the flames a little bit, but he's basically just like, 'Look, this is what I'm doing.' And he's incredibly charming. I don't know. I've certainly done both. I've played bad guys where you lean in too much, but I think that you should just play it as you would behave if you were doing the right thing, and then let the circumstances of the story place you in the right or wrong."
Tell Me You Love Me (2007)
Between the sexual frankness of Sex and the City and the gritty realism of Girls, HBO aired Tell Me You Love Me, which ran one season and was notable primarily for its graphic content. In one scene, viewers saw Scott's character Palek receive a hand job to completion. He used a prosthetic (that ejaculated hair conditioner), but still, Scott acknowledged the awkwardness.
"It's not comfortable, for sure. I don't love doing it. But I thought that overall, the show was gonna be something new. And it was HBO, so you trust that they're looking to do something interesting. And the script, just the script for the pilot was really, really moving. I mean, the whole idea of the show being stark realism. Never once in that entire series is there a sensational moment. It's all life as lived. It's vérité, I guess. It's just a fly on the wall. It's very interesting.
"I really think that was a good show. It was kind of unlike anything at the time on TV. I think now, not so much the graphic nature of it, but the tone of it and the style of it has been — now if you watch Tell Me You Love Me, it doesn't seem quite as stark and shocking as it was in 2007 when it aired, but at the time it really stood out. I think it was also maybe a bit too dark. It just didn't quite stick with people. But it's a good show."
Step Brothers (2008)
Scott was relatively new to comedy when he joined the cast of Step Brothers after another actor dropped out of the role of Derek. It was his first time working with writer and star Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay, and it gave him a new perspective on the genre.
"I was, as of yet, totally inexperienced in comedy or improv, anything. So it was kind of jumping in the deep end. If I was smart I would have immediately started classes at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade], but I'm not smart. I just went to set and was like, 'Let's see how this goes.' And it was really tough. I liken it to learning how to do the high jump at the Olympics. Like, the stadium's filled with people, cameras are flashing, and everyone's expecting you to make the jump and you have never done it. It's like a dream. But [Ferrell and McKay] are super sweet, really nice and supportive and patient. It was great. They're just the loveliest, funniest guys.
"Just being there, by the end, I was like, oh, maybe I've got the hang of this. And also, when that was over, I kind of wanted to continue with this comedy thing. I've been bitten by something. I think I was just determined to get good at it."
The Vicious Kind (2009)
Just two months later, Scott followed up Step Brothers, a big-budget studio comedy, with The Vicious Kind, an indie drama that premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in which he played Caleb Sinclaire. The difference between the two projects was obvious, but that only made Scott appreciate both more.
"I was not offered lead roles very often, so a) It was a chance to be the lead in something, and b) It was a great script that Lee [Toland Krieger] had written, and it was just so fun. Every day of that movie, Lee and I were having so much fun together. The crew was terrific. The other actors were awesome: J.K. Simmons was my dad, Brittany Snow, this guy Alex Frost, who's great. I mean, it was a tiny shoot, it was freezing, we had no accouterment. While we were doing it, I felt like, This feels like it's all clicking and this is gonna be good, but there's no way it'll be good simply because I feel that way. But then it ended up being a pretty good movie and I've always been really proud of it. I just think Lee is a really talented guy."
Party Down (2009–2010)
Although it was lauded by critics, Party Down had a hard time finding and maintaining an audience, lasting two seasons on Starz. Since then, it has developed something of a cult following, but Scott, who played Henry Pollard, and the rest of the cast knew how precious the series was long before anyone else caught on.
"I remember I didn't get Parks and Rec the pilot. When I auditioned for it, there weren't roles yet. They were finding people they liked. Party Down was like, OK, I'll do this thing with my friends and then find something else. 'Cause it was on Starz and at the time, it's pre–Mad Men really blowing up, obscure cable stations, I just thought, I don't know if anyone will see this. At best, it'll be Psych one day. It was just like, Let's do this. I'll do it with [creator] Rob [Thomas] and these guys and it'll be fun. But I didn't know how special it would be. I don't think any of us did. It was shooting the third episode that first season when we all kind of looked at each other and thought, This is special. This is really fun. And we were all hoping it would end up as good as it was feeling, and it did.
"But ... our series finale had 15,000 viewers. No one was watching until it was canceled and gone. But that was part of the beauty of it, too. We were working in a bubble. There was a real gang mentality. We felt like it was us against the world. It was really, really fun. We felt like we were doing this secret thing: No one knew who we were or what we were doing, but we thought we were better than everyone else. You know, that whole sort of gang mentality that you get when no one's paying attention to you. There's a freedom in that where you feel like you can do anything 'cause no one's gonna care, anyway. So we may as well amuse ourselves."
Parks and Recreation (2010–2015)
As with Six Feet Under, Scott auditioned for the pilot of Parks and Recreation, didn't get it, and was brought on later on in the series. He joined as Ben Wyatt, a guest star, in Season 2 and was upped to regular status at the start of the third season. As Ben embarked on a relationship with Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), he became one of the show's most beloved characters.
"It immediately felt right being there. It was fun from the very start with Amy. Again, I was a little nervous going in, but she was very generous and also very helpful. She's an improv ninja and I was kind of like, What do we do here? They do one take where you can just improvise whatever you want. So I was a little trepidatious, like, How are we doing this? She can really elevate whatever you're doing. I'm not trying to make it sound like more than it is — it's just, when you work with someone like that, it feels easier than it usually does, and you feel like what you're doing is a little better. I just felt like, Oh good, if this lasts a long time, I think I'm in good hands.
"Creatively the writing was terrific, but also, everybody on set, all the actors were super mellow and super ready to just play around. It was really good. You know when you get somewhere and you can tell everybody has manners and everybody has really good taste? Not that anyone's afraid of making a dick joke, but it's just, you can relax. These are good people and you're not gonna end up having to do something you don't want to do."
The Greatest Event in Television History (2012–2014)
Along with his wife Naomi, Scott created this aptly named series of television specials. For The Greatest Event in Television History, Scott gathered his actor friends to produce shot-for-shot remakes of '80s TV openings. These were coupled with mockumentaries, written by Scott and Paul Scheer, about the making of the title sequences. It was as odd and enjoyable as it sounds.
"It was so fun. And Adult Swim is great. They just kind of give you money, and you go and make whatever you want. It's a small amount of money, but they don't care. They just say, 'As long as it's weird, go ahead.' And that's great. My wife produced them, and she's really good with budgets. So we were able to do exactly what we wanted. They were created to be smaller, but we were really ambitious. It was fun. It was really fun. I would never want to do another one, because they ended up being really stressful and hard. But really, really just the best time.
"It's just an insane idea I had. More stupid than insane. I think it's a pretty good display of my sensibility. It's by far the most satisfying thing I've worked on. It was just so fun and so difficult. I've never been as fulfilled as I was when I was working on those."
Adam Scott's wife's name is Naomi Scott. An earlier version of this story referred to her by her former name, Naomi Sablan.