“Holy shit, did you hear Hope Hicks just resigned?”
Adam Scott is standing inside a modest trailer on the north Hollywood set of the Fox comedy Ghosted, looking particularly Adam Scott-ish in a muted ensemble of T-shirt, jeans, and New Balance sneakers, his spiky hair jutting out in at least three directions. “It’s just so crazy,” he says of the latest round of Trump news. “You can’t make this stuff up. You could try, but you’d fail.”
Scott sips espresso as he settles into a cushioned seat inside the tiny workspace, where he pulls double duty as co-lead actor, alongside Craig Robinson, and producer on Ghosted — a charming but beleaguered freshman comedy that was recently given a second-chance block of six new episodes, set to air this summer. This month, Scott returns to film opposite breakout actress Zoey Deutch in Max Winkler’s drama Flower, playing a teacher who may or may not be a sexual predator, and he’s prepping for his return to HBO’s juggernaut Big Little Lies, which begins shooting its second (and now Meryl Streep–anointed) season this spring. Scott’s workload also includes TV projects in development at HBO and NBC with his wife and producing partner, Naomi Scott, and he devotes much of his spare time to gun-safety advocacy work.
It all could be overwhelming if the 44-year-old Santa Cruz native didn’t have his priorities straight, as evidenced by the wall of his trailer devoted to a collage of photos of his wife and kids. In the interview below, Scott reveals why he refuses to be quiet about gun control, how struggling for years in Hollywood “warped” his sense of self, and why he’s okay being typecast as a “befuddled beta male.”
You’ve been increasingly vocal about gun safety since the massacre in Parkland, even chiding the NRA for posting a Parks and Recreation GIF on Twitter. What does this cause mean to you personally?
Naomi and I have worked with Everytown for Gun Safety since Sandy Hook. The fact that nothing has changed since then is absurd. Marco Rubio is a great example of why — he’s so profoundly full of shit. He’s received $3.3 million from the NRA. People like him say, “Regulation is not going to do anything. If someone wants to get a gun, they can get a gun.” The gun manufacturers came up with that argument, handed it to our lawmakers, and that is unbelievable. Okay, so why wear seat belts? Why regulate alcohol?
Do you think celebrities have a responsibility to speak out? Do you worry about alienating fans who don’t agree with you?
I don’t think there’s a responsibility to do anything. Personally, I can’t not say something. By the way, [Parkland student activist] Emma González tweeted a video of Ronald Reagan stating what used to be the standard Republican position on guns, and now it sounds radically left. That’s how far they’ve slid for profit. So I don’t know if my saying anything makes any difference. I understand that people just want actors to shut up, but if it changes one person’s perspective, it’s worth it. The fact that Ronald Reagan, of all people, would agree with what we’re fighting for …
He was a Hollywood person.
Yes, a Hollywood person, and also the guy that Republicans say that they all espouse to be. It’s ridiculous. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so heartbreaking, awful, and scary.
Did the NRA ever take down that Leslie Knope GIF?
I don’t know. It’s funny, [Parks co-star] Nick Offerman and [Parks co-creator] Mike Schur and I had all tweeted them about it, but we didn’t coordinate that at all. I woke up that morning and it had become a little story. So, yeah, fuck the NRA.
The NRA loves to say that “Hollywood people” and video-game companies are to blame for gun violence. How do you respond?
I think good parenting is a big part of that discussion. Don’t let your kids play first-person shooter video games. But violent movies and games are popular all over the world, yet in countries that have strict gun laws, there are far fewer or no mass shootings. That is the data. Violent movies and games will never go away as long as we have a free society, nor should they. By the way, people once thought The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy were irresponsible, too. Art reflects the culture. I wouldn’t let my kids watch Reservoir Dogs right now, but when they’re of age, I’ll show it to them. We need to start with the actual guns and the actual gun laws. That argument coming from the right, they can go fuck themselves.
Since we’re already deep into dark stuff, let’s talk about Flower. What appealed to you about playing a disgraced high-school teacher, who may or may not have sexually abused his students?
First, I love Max Winkler and had been looking for an excuse to work with him. He was nice enough to ask me to do it, so that was an easy decision. I also thought the script was really interesting, and this was a couple of years ago before the #MeToo movement. At first you think, Here’s a girl who’s being taking advantage of, then you realize she’s the one in control. The movie asks a lot of interesting questions. In a movement like this, do there have to be casualties along the way in order for a real cultural shift to take place?
Some feel that Senator Al Franken fell into that category.
He was a great senator. He got Jeff Sessions to perjure himself! But at the same time it’s like, Eh, I don’t know. It’s really tricky. This is fresh territory for our culture. I think if this movement causes males to overcorrect starting at an early age, then good. There’s nothing wrong with overcorrection right now.
I know a lot of people in Hollywood have wondered over the last few months: Is this the price of creating and working in loose, artistic environments? Does the free-flowing nature of this business breed that kind of behavior?
That’s interesting. I know whenever I’ve had to do sex scenes or anything in that realm, I always feel like I’m dipped in diarrhea. I’m so sorry, it will be over soon. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!
Your friend and former co-star Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct a few months ago. Have you talked to him about this?
I don’t know what to say on the record about Aziz. I don’t want to say anything that would be misconstrued. [Pauses.] I’ll say this: Aziz is doing great. He’s a great, lovely guy. How’s that?
You’ve been acting for nearly 25 years. How do you see yourself now? Are you able to enjoy your success?
I started going to therapy a few years ago and have found it to be incredibly useful. Naomi’s life is also much better since I started. [Laughs.] I’ve learned that I can be self-aware to a point that it’s often crippling, which isn’t good for an actor. If you’re overly apologetic just for being you, that’s a problem. I struggled for so many years, and that’s still how I define myself — the person who snuck into the party. The mind-fuck of becoming even a little well-known is an especially odd thing if you have low self-regard. It’s like that joke, “I wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have me as a member.” As far how I see myself, it’s always through a slightly warped lens.
What was the first acting job that made you feel fulfilled?
Party Down was the first time I was, “Okay, this is what I should be doing.” Then again with The Vicious Kind, an indie I did around the same time. Finally I was a square peg in a square hole.
You’ve done more dramatic work than people realize — I loved the short-lived HBO series you did, Tell Me You Love Me — but you’re known for playing dry-witted comedic straight men. Do you ever feel typecast?
Yeah, the befuddled beta male. And that’s fine. I’m confident enough to know that’s not all I can do. I feel like if I’ve learned anything from producing with Naomi …
That was my next question.
Yeah. She’s really the best, most exciting producer I’ve ever worked with. The Overnight and Other People are movies she single-handedly got off the ground. She had great partners, but it was her grit and determination. The business has splintered into so many different directions, but if you are determined, you can self-generate anything.
Can anyone only be an actor now? Is it just common-sense job security to also know how to write, produce, and direct?
I think that’s part of it. But I also really love the other stuff. I love being here on set. I love dipping into the writers room, going to the stage. I love all of it. All these people are here working to make this one thing and none of us know if it’s even going to be good? It’s fucked up, isn’t it?
I read that Ghosted is undergoing a major tonal revamp to become more of a “workplace comedy.” Is this a nice way of saying the show didn’t work?
I’ll say this: I think it’s possible for a bunch of well-meaning people to enjoy working with each other and realize at some point they were each working on different shows. That’s what happened with us. Part of it was me thinking we were making a mix of Midnight Run and The Twilight Zone, without considering that everybody might not like Midnight Run or even know what I meant when I said that.
Were you Charles Grodin in that scenario?
[Laughs.] Right, exactly. It just wasn’t the show that any of us set out to make. It’s hard when you only have 21-and-a-half minutes to introduce a villain, monster, or any sort of “case” week after week. There’s a reason those types of shows are 42 minutes. You need time to let something marinate. We didn’t have time to let it get scary.
It’s incredibly rare that Fox gave you a second chance. Most broadcast comedies that don’t work are canceled in the first month.
Yes, and we convinced Paul Lieberstein to come on as showrunner. He hired bunch of amazing writers and we re-pitched it and got six more episodes.
Paul, of course, played Toby the beleaguered HR manager on The Office and also served as showrunner later in the series’ run. What are the biggest changes he’s made?
It’s more character-driven now and the central mystery is spread out over six episodes so you have time to feel the weirdness of it. The paranormal aspect is more of a question: Do paranormal things exist? The biggest danger before, to me, was it becoming Scooby-Doo. I’m really excited about it now. It feels nice to want to run to work in the morning instead of crying in my dressing room.
It was that bad?
Okay, crying is a bit of an exaggeration. [Laughs.] It was tough, especially doing press and saying over and over, “Usually with a sci-fi show you have an hour to explain a case, and we’re trying to do all of that, plus effects and stunts in five days, 21 minutes!” I’d find myself on Kimmel thinking, Please do not talk about this anymore. It’s uninteresting. The stress was coming out of my pores.
You and Craig Robinson appeared together in a number of projects before Ghosted, from Knocked Up to Eastbound and Down. What’s the best part of working with him?
The best thing about working with Craig is he has the best weed. [Laughs.] He also has a huge heart, a huge beating heart, and he’s a really an astute, supple actor. Wait, that sounded disgusting.
Which of the characters you’ve played felt the closest to who you are in real life?
Boy, that’s an interesting question. Probably Henry in Party Down, because at that point in my life, I felt the same way he felt [as a struggling actor]. I’d finally gotten a few parts in big movies — Step Brothers, and a few years earlier, this Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman movie High Crimes — and thought I was going to be a giant star when they came out. I wasn’t.
Who lied to you and said you were going to be a big star? Morgan Freeman?
I did. I lied to me! Morgan didn’t really tell me anything. [Laughs.] Step Brothers had just come out when I got Party Down, and I was the fifth lead so no one cared. I felt like, I don’t know if any of this is ever going to stick. I figured Party Down was something to have fun with until I got another job that mattered.
You told me a few years ago that you’re most often recognized by fans of that show. Have you had any particularly weird interactions?
I’d say now people know me most from Parks or Step Brothers. If someone’s being weird, usually they’re just nervous and totally harmless. I remember being nervous and weird to famous people, and I’m sure I came off odd.
Speaking of fanning out, the clip of Mark Hamill surprising you on Kimmel is one of the sweetest late-night moments ever. How did that feel?
That was so nice and so embarrassing. Kristen Bell was the guest host that night and there was that surreal moment — kind of like when you walk into a surprise party for yourself — like two to three seconds of weightlessness, where I was like, What the fuck is going on?
Do you and Mark stay in touch?
We do. We text about stuff. It’s crazy. It’s so nice.
You told me last summer at Comic-Con that you don’t drink. Has that always been the case?
It slowly happened after we had kids and hangovers stopped being an option. [Laughs.] You have to get up early no matter what. You also wake up in the middle of the night and stay up for 45 minutes getting them back to sleep. Over time, I wasn’t finishing that glass of wine with dinner. I was like, Why don’t I just stop doing this for a while and see? Who knows, maybe I’ll start missing it and drink again.
What is an impression that people have about you that isn’t accurate?
I’ve found that sometimes people think I’m either unhappy with something or someone. I’ll be watching something and Naomi sometimes is like, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” And I’m like “What? I’m just watching The Profit with Marcus Lemonis!”
What other shows do you like?
I’m very excited Survivor has started again. Watch it tonight. You’ll be hooked!
I’m sure Fox loves it when their talent promotes CBS programming.
[Laughs.] “Adam Scott Urges You to Watch Survivor.” I also love The Crown. It’s so elegant. Crashing, Last Man on Earth is great as always, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. My kids love The Goldbergs. It’s so good. I feel like Adam Goldberg and I were the same kid in the 1980s. Oh, and I love Homeland.
HBO recently announced that you’re returning for the second season of Big Little Lies. You even got your very own press release. How does it feel knowing that people anxiously awaited the news?
[Laughs.] I don’t know if anyone was waiting for that information. There are a few other people on that show who are a little more interesting.
Is your beard also coming back for season two? I heard you talked director Jean-Marc Vallée into letting your character have one.
I don’t know if we’re gonna have time to make that happen. That was a pretty big beard. [Laughs.] Yeah, he was like [in a French accent], “A beard? What are you talking about?” I was like, “I grew up around here [in Northern California], I know this type of guy.” Once I had it grown out, he was like, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it!”
Big Little Lies is the biggest phenomenon of your career. Did it feel that way when you were filming?
I’ve never been a part of something that took off like that. When we were filming, it was certainly like, This is gonna be a big deal. I mean, it’s Reese, Nicole, Shailene, Zoë. But then it became this cultural thing. I’ve been a part of a lot of things that have liftoff later on, but this was happening in real time.
What surprised you, if anything, about working with Reese?
There were moments I truly forgot we were acting. To watch her in these incredibly intimate, tough scenes — scenes that easily could become melodramatic — it seemed effortless. I would come home each night and marvel about what we did. It felt special.