Adam Scott and 'Our Idiot Brother'
Science fiction, family friction, and regrettable roles
While perhaps best-known for his television work on "Parks and Recreation" or the beloved cult hit "Party Down," Adam Scott has a film resume as impressive as it is ... odd. He's been snacked on in "Piranha 3D," abandoned by Amy Adams in "Leap Year" and even logged time on the bridge of the Enterprise. (Although, really, 'Defiant Helm Crewman' may not be the most significant credit anyone's gotten out of "Star Trek.") In "Our Idiot Brother," Scott plays Jeremy, an aspiring 'hard' (science-driven) science-fiction writer who's neighbors with -- and best friend to -- Elizabeth Banks' Miranda even as Paul Rudd's Ned ruins Miranda's life. We spoke with Scott in Beverly Hills about "Our Idiot Brother," how "Party Down" has made him a patron saint for a certain group of professionals in Los Angeles and his sadness over some of his unseen -- and seen -- acting roles.
Let's start with the most problematic aspect of the film: No unpublished hard science fiction writer looks like that.
Scott: Really? What do they look like?
I just picture them all as unhappy endomorphs.
Scott: Or they look like the guy who wrote 'Game of Thrones?'
George R.R. Martin -- they all look like him: Vaguely doughy, and septuagenarian. You don't research anything like that, do you? You're there to be the neighbor.
Scott: No, I did not.
You didn't spend three or four weeks immersing yourself in the world of science fiction?
Scott: I did not, although I am a big sci-fi fan. I'm a relative sci-fi fan. I think I know good sci-fi when I see it; I don't read a lot of sci-fi, but I was a big fan of 'Battlestar Galactica,' but that was true sci-fi -- the recent series.
Did you call Martin Starr (who played a 'hard' science-fiction writer alongside Scott on 'Party Down') for tips on playing the sci-fi obsessed?
Scott: The hard sci-fi writer? No, but that's really funny.
As a side note, did 'Party Down' make you the patron saint of a certain socioeconomic strata of Los Angeles, the irrational dreamers with day jobs?
Scott: I think they're all patron saints, as far as I'm concerned. I was in that exact spot for a long, long time, and hats off to everybody that's just starting out and struggling, like all the people on that show were. It is funny, because at parties when there are caterers -- not all the time, because the show's still pretty small -- sometimes caterers do like to talk about 'Party Down.' It's awesome.
And the degree to which it accurately reflected the catering lifestyle?
Scott: Yeah. They're like, 'It's spot-on.' I never catered, but I know that Rudd did and I know that Dan Etheridge did, and I think Jon Enbom did. Those guys knew what they were talking about when they were writing it.
The scene you had with Mr. Rudd where you're in the coffee shop and you are sniping and picking other human beings to bits, is that written down, or do you sit down with that and go?
Scott: Oh no, it was written. I think we maybe adlibbed a couple of things there, but that was all written. It's a terrific script. It was all written down. There wasn't much adlibbing in this movie at all; it wasn't necessary.
You went with what was on the page, because what was on the page was really good?
Scott: Yeah, it's awesome.
Are you somebody who does a lot of line work or prep work? Do you sit with Ms. Banks and go, 'We're going to run through the scene to get the timing of it right,' or is it just showing up and drinking your coffee?
Scott: No, we're friends, so I feel like whatever rapport you have as friends, if you do have a rapport, then bring that to it. Hopefully it won't feel forced or anything when you're watching it later. We were all friends beforehand, so it felt like we didn't even really talk about it at all; we just showed up and did it and hoped for the best. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes you would need to be like, 'Wait a second, we should probably figure this out.' It's nice when you're all close buddies and you can jump in and do it. It's really fun.
When you were at Sundance and the film was without a distributor, was there a victory lap moment when it got bought by the Weinstein Company?
Scott: I wasn't there, but I think they were all very pleased.
As you would like to hope they would be.
Scott: Yes, I think they were.
You were gratified knowing, 'This movie that I'm in is not going into a drawer?'
Scott: Absolutely, because I've made a lot of movies that are in a lot of drawers. It's nice when you know something's actually going to see the light of day. I never really had any doubt about this one. It always seemed like something that was going to do just fine.
Which movie of yours that's currently drawered would you most like to see escape?
Scott: There's a movie I did a few years ago called 'Passenger Side' that I really love. It's on DVD and stuff, but it got theatrical everywhere else except the U.S. through some snafu with whoever bought the DVD rights way ahead of time. I don't remember what it was, but I think it really deserved theatrical in the U.S. Especially a couple years ago, things were even tougher for the independent market than it is now. It's a really terrific movie I'm really proud of.
Which of your films that got released would you like to see back in the drawer?
Scott: Maybe 'Hellraiser: Bloodline.' It does show on TV every once in a while, and I'm like, 'Wow.' I was 20 and it was my first movie job. But there's no excuse for that acting.
Have the residual checks dried up from 'Hellraiser: Bloodline?'
Scott: They haven't dried up, but I think they've been reduced down to 43 cents. I do get them.
Every time you buy an orange, that's some 'Hellraiser' money working.
You're making a film with a lot of effort, but you're also in New York in the summer for six weeks with a lot of your friends, doing things like moving furniture. Is there a bit of grown-up summer camp going on?
Scott: Yeah. It was super fun. It was so fun. New York in the summer is a blast, and we all are friends. We're older now, and we all have families and kids and stuff, but yeah, it was super fun. Jesse is a lovely guy and such a good director. 'The Chateau' is still one of my favorites from the '90s. It's such a great movie. It was a very relaxed, pleasant way to spend the summer.
Have you ever lived in New York? There's so many urban touches this goes through, like moving furniture and helping your neighbor with the pilot light. You've done that?
Scott: No, I've never lived there, but I've certainly spent a lot of time there. Never lived there. I always planned to, and then it never happened. I started a family here, and we're never going to move to New York. We go there a lot. I'm going to go there again next spring, and we were just there this past winter -- my whole family. We'll be going there for years and years, I'm sure. It's so fun. Do you live there?
No, I'm here. The whole thing about moving furniture, that seemed like a very --
Scott: New York thing?
Exactly. Best part of it all for you?
Scott: It was just fun working with friends. I'm really happy I got to work with Jesse; I always wanted to. I've known him for years. I think he's a great filmmaker. I'm just glad he's back making movies, because he's so good.
I always wonder, when you're making comedy, where's the line between 'We have to keep this from being as broad and comedic as possible, but also being at least slightly rooted in character?' For me, the lynchpin scene of this film is the one where Paul Rudd loses it playing charades, where you see the optimism crack and you see there's actually a real person under all that. Where's the balance?
Scott: I think a lot of it lies in the script. I think the script really does a lot of that work for us in the sense that we certainly get all the laughs. It's essentially a story about a family. There's nothing you could do to sway that tone unless you wildly screw up. They did such a great job that I think we were in good shape from the moment we all read that script.
In your own family, are you the idiot brother? I'm the idiot brother in my family, definitively. Are you the straw that stirs the drink?
Scott: I think I would have been if my career had never gotten any traction. I probably would have been the idiot brother, crashing on my brother and my sister's couch right now. Luckily, that didn't happen. Here I am getting interviewed in a hotel room, and I don't have to crash on anyone's couch.
Is couch surfing the epitome of man-childhood?
Scott: I still have friends that are couch surfing, and they're in their 40s.
Did you feel an incredible sigh of relief that you were dying at the end of 'Piranha 3D?'
Scott: A relief when I found out the character was going to die? I guess. I knew that before I did the movie, so going in I knew I was going to eat it at the end -- or get eaten at the end. I loved getting killed; that was super fun.
("Our Idiot Brother" opens Friday.)