When I tell Amy Poehler that her Parks and Recreation co-star Adam Scott is taking me to his storage unit in an isolated industrial complex down by the L.A. River, she is delighted: “Ha! That sounds like the last few hours of your life before he kills you.” She also says that when Scott invites people to see his “storage unit,” he usually takes them around the corner and pulls his pants down.
The actual scene plays out less graphically. We’ve come here with a purpose: to locate what Scott calls “one of my most prized possessions, a thank-you note from fucking Martin Scorsese.” The director gave it to him in 2003 when he cast him as Howard Hughes’s press agent in The Aviator, one of the many small roles Scott played before Ben Wyatt, boyfriend to Poehler’s Leslie Knope on Parks. Scott does make a joke (“What if we get there and it’s just filled with dead bodies?”), but his pants stay on, and I live to tell the tale. The only crime he commits is an illegal U-turn, made during one of several trips back and forth across the river while looking for the unit and getting lost. “This is a fucking disaster. I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his iPhone, trying another off-ramp and cursing his GPS for “not being honest” with him. “This happens every time I come here. They’ve put it in this weird sort of Bermuda Triangle of Glendale where it’s impossible to find your way around.” If he killed me there, at least I’d die knowing he’d never be able to find his way home.
Scott had planned to come look for the note a year ago — but then, unexpectedly, his career blew up. Now, at 39, after seventeen years of character parts, he seems poised to follow Steve Carell and Ed Helms as the next NBC star to make it in movies (while keeping one foot firmly in TV). And he might be the last one for a while. 30 Rock will end in January; The Office, whose ratings plummeted after Carell’s departure last year, returns with three fewer stars this fall; Community has only been renewed for a half season. That leaves Parks as the only thriving member of NBC’s formerly hipster-approved Thursday comedy lineup, with all the launching-pad potential for its cast that entails.
Indeed, it launched Scott and Poehler into the comedy A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce), coming out next year. In it, she plays his stepmother—which would be weirder if Ben’s and Leslie’s relationship on Parks wasn’t so chaste. (Poehler urges anyone who wants to see more Ben-on-Leslie action to write to NBC’s Make Out Department.) Scott spent the rest of his hiatus shooting Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and making an Adult Swim special called The Greatest Event in Television History with his wife of seven years, producer Naomi Scott,* and friend Jon Hamm. (It was Hamm’s partner, director Jennifer Westfeldt, who gave Scott his first romantic comedy lead, in this spring’s Friends With Kids.) But lately he’s been hard at work on Parks’ fifth season, which opens with Leslie floundering in Indiana as Pawnee’s newest City Council member while Ben is in Washington, D.C., working on a congressional reelection campaign. “The perceived importance of what they’re each doing” puts a strain on the relationship, says Scott. “That, and Ben is surrounded by hot brunettes in power suits.”
So what better way for Scott to celebrate his recent successes than by sifting through a mountain of old junk with a journalist? He lifts open the storage unit’s door to reveal a stack of patio furniture, lighting fixtures, and tax documents, with the filing cabinet he’s convinced contains the note buried in the back. As he digs his way through the space, he hands me loose items — including a photo of him and Paul Rudd when they were both struggling actors with mullets — and tells me to help myself to any furniture I can fit on the plane back to New York. He gets particularly nostalgic about a cast picture from Party Down, the dismally rated but cultishly beloved Starz sitcom in which he played a failed actor slumming it as a cater waiter — a role that once hit dangerously close to home (he joined Parks when Starz canceled the show after two seasons in 2010).
We reach the cabinet, which is about as organized as a trash heap. In it are the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby,” which Scott memorized for a scene in 2008’s Step Brothers; his junior high school I.D. card (“I was a chubby kid”); a Santa toy that masturbates when you wind it up; and a thank-you card from Bonnie Hunt for appearing on her short-lived talk show, which is nice but not as exciting as a letter from Scorsese.
“If I lost that Aviator note, that is heartbreaking,” Scott says with a dramatic sigh, finally admitting defeat after 90 minutes. He gathers a few things to show his son Graham, 5, and daughter Frankie, 3, like their ultrasounds, and pictures of himself firing a gun in Torque, a movie he made in 2004 with Ice Cube, which he insists is actually great if you’re stoned. Scott says his kids understand he’s an actor, but the other day Graham told him to quit and become a baseball player. Why? “Maybe he saw Torque,” Scott says.
A week later, he sends me an e-mail: “Happy ending. Look at what I found deep in a random cabinet.” The attachment is a picture of a letter dated July 21, 2003. It reads, “Dear Adam, Welcome to The Aviator. I’m very glad you’re doing the film. Marty Scorsese.” I send him an excited congratulations. He replies, “Right after I sent that last e-mail, I accidentally set the note on fire and flushed it down the toilet. Either that or it’s presently being framed, tastefully.”
This story appeared in the August 27, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Scott’s wife as Naomi Sablan.