Enough about Aubrey Plaza’s masturbation scene in The To Do List! Actually, not enough about it, because it’s pretty great. But let’s turn our attention to the object of her character Brandy’s affection for a moment, Rusty Waters. He’s the guitar-playing dude she wants to lose her virginity to once she’s done getting some experience, literally, under her belt. (Or skort: The movie is set in 1993 and does indeed address the difficulties of going to third in a skirt-short combo.) We spoke to Friday Night Lights’ Scott Porter — on his 34th birthday! — about playing the movie’s very hot, very shirtless stud, singing songs to his wife, and his nineties crush, Tiffani Amber Thiessen.
Oh, thank you. [Sings.] Happy birthday to me.
Maggie Carey [the writer-director] said she’s a huge FNL fan. Did she take a moment to fan out on you when you first met?
Yeah. You know what? The table read [which happened at the Austin Film Festival in 2010, before the movie was officially cast] was a giant room of people just nerding out on each other. Donald Glover sat to my right — and I’m a Dan Harmon fan, I’m a Community fan, and I’m a Donald Glover fan, not only because of the show but because of Childish Gambino — and so afterwards I was like, to Donald Glover, Dude, that was one of the coolest things of my life. And I walked up to Maggie at the end and I said, “Thank you so much for having me be involved in the table read. This was a lot of fun.” She was like, “Holy shit. Jason Street just did my table read. Get used to being around us a little more, because if you can do the movie, I want you to do the movie.”
You’re jacked in it. Did Maggie demand that of you? Did you talk about having your character be so muscular and shirtless?
I knew what I was getting into. Maggie was very descriptive in the script, and in five words I knew who he was: Rusty Waters, grunge-rock lifeguard. And in the following sentence, I knew what he looked like: the hair of Kurt Cobain, and the body of Marky Mark. So I knew immediately what I had to do to get myself prepared, physically, for the role. I didn’t know how much I would have my shirt off. In scenes that I might actually get to keep my shirt on, Maggie was like, “Who gave him a shirt?” I kept trying to sneak a wife beater on, and she’d be like, “What are you doing?” And I was like, “Well, you know, all those grunge-rock guys, they had wife beaters on under their flannels.” She was like, “Take that shirt away from him right now!”
There’s a party scene where Brandy makes out with Rusty, and she’s drunk, and she goes for the nipple and then is embarrassed about it. Was that in the script?
That was in the script. I think this is very loosely based on Maggie’s life. [Laughs.] I don’t know if Maggie ever went for a nipple, but it just kind of showed the panic in the moment when you’re that young and you’re trying to figure out where everything goes and what feels good for other people and what feels right for you, and it just kind of magnified what you do in those moments of panic. And I think every single person that watches the film is going to be able to go, “Oh, shit, I had my ‘went-for-the-nipple’ moment.” Where you go, “I don’t know why I did that.” Whether it’s yelling something in the middle of sex or spanking something [laughs]. Why did I do that? Obviously not a good idea.
Also in the party scene, you sing an acoustic version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and you’re playing the guitar. Was that song already in your repertoire?
No, no, no. Just like everything else in the movie, it all came about so quickly, and I had to learn to play it on the guitar, but then I also had to come up with a vocal arrangement that was suitable for a small party. Because I told Maggie, “I don’t know that any guy would come and just do a full rock version of it.” She was so wide open to that.
What songs are in your repertoire? What do you just sit around and play at home for your wife?
[Laughs.] Oh man. There’s not a lot of sitting around at the house, like, playing tunes for my wife.
We go out and do karaoke. At our wedding, she was like, “I don’t want you to sing for me, because I don’t want you to have to worry about the pressure of that moment.” I’m a little emotional, so I thought I might cry if I sang her a song. And then, like, three weeks before the wedding she goes, “Wait, you’re singing at the wedding, right?” I was like, What? Why are you changing your mind right now?! We’d just gone to a friend’s wedding and they wrote songs for each other. I was like, Oh, God, I am so screwed now. So I sang a song from one of my favorite musicals of all time called The Last Five Years, and it’s this beautiful song called “The Next Ten Minutes.” You know, I sing little songs like that a cappella for her sometimes at the house.
That’s cute! Who were the nineties girls you had crushes on?
Tiffani Amber Thiessen, 90210 years.
Oh, I’m so glad you said 90210 years. Why not Kelly Kapowski years?
Well, because I think Saved by the Bell for me, I was a little bit younger — my Saturday morning cartoon part of me didn’t see a girl and go, “Oh, God, she’s hot.” When I got to be 14, 15, I started being more attracted to the female form and she had grown up a little bit, too, by the time she hit 90210, if I do say so myself. And my mom — and this is going to be a weird answer — but I never got to watch Growing Pains or, like, prime-time TV growing up, because my mom would always video-tape her soaps while she was at work, and then she would make us watch them with her. So she would watch General Hospital when the rest of the country was watching The Wonder Years or whatever shows were on at that time. And so I had this thing for Vanessa Marcil. She was on General Hospital for a while.
You realize that Vanessa Marcil was also on 90210. She played the new Valerie character.
I do. She might have been the first girl where I was like, Okay.
Was As the World Turns your career highlight for your mom, given that she’s such a soaps buff?
We’ll watch any movie, right? Any movie at all. And my mom will boil it down to who in the movie had done soaps before. Say you watch Legally Blonde with my mom: Oh, Reese Witherspoon started as a young girl on this particular soap opera. She’ll connect any movie to a soap. I think Jessica Chastain did a soap once, and my mom watched Zero Dark Thirty and went, Oh, do you remember that Jessica Chastain was on Bold and the Beautiful? So, yeah, when I did As the World Turns, my mom was like, “Honey, you’re gonna have a huge career. All these people started in soaps. Julianne Moore! Just wait for it.” I was like, “Thanks, Mom.”