Sundance Interview: Adam Scott of 'A.C.O.D'
On indie film, menswear, family crisis, the Catalina Wine Mixer and other funny stuff.
In Stu Zicherman's Sundance-debuting comedy "A.C.O.D." -- an acronym meaning "Adult Child of Divorce" -- Adam Scott plays a man whose little brother's engagement not only requires negotiations between his long-divorced, bitter parents (Catherine O'Hara and Richard Jenkins) but also reveals that as a youth, he was part of a seminal -- and best-selling -- study of divorce by Jane Lynch's slightly batty researcher 15 years ago. As Scott tries to get his whole family to the altar alive, he also has to come to grips with what his parent's divorce meant -- and means -- to him. Best-known for TV's "Party Down" and "Parks and Rec," "A.C.O.D." sees Scott in yet another ensemble alongside Clark Duke, Jessica Alba and others. Scott's in every scene of the film -- and gives those comedic talents a great chance to shine thanks to his character's set-ups. We spoke with Scott in Los Angeles.
MSN Movies: I mean this is the epitome of an independent film despite the pedigree of the people involved. First of all, I'm curious about how did you find this film? Did Mr. Zicherman find you or was it the reverse?
Adam Scott: Yeah, they found me. I guess my agent or my manager passed the script along to me and just spoke really highly of Stu. And I knew Ben (Karlin, co-writer) ... I didn’t know him personally, but I certainly knew his work and from "Colbert" and "The Daily Show." And so I read the script thinking "This sounds really interesting," and it was just a terrific script, and of course a great role for me. I don’t get to play the lead in a movie all that often, you know ... I just kind of jumped up at the chance, and as long as they were into me doing it I was certainly onboard.
I'm also wondering if it was tonally different from ... I mean a lot of independent scripts people send around are "road trip" or "he's coming back home finally." Was it strange to get essentially a pure comedy like this as an independent production?
Yeah, that's one of the things I liked about it is that it was just kind of an unadulterated -- no pun intended -- comedy. I hate to use the word mainstream, but I think that it's kind of, like you said, an unadorned comedy. And "Flirting With Disaster" is one of my favorite movies ever; I felt like it was sort of in that vein. It has some edge to it and stuff, but it's a family comedy. I mean it's certainly not appropriate for the whole family, but it's a comedy about family. So I felt like a lot of people could relate to it. I certainly did on some levels. And I felt like there's something for everyone in it. And some of my favorite independent movies are not for everyone; they have really stark things about them that make them sort of exclusive in one way or another, and I love a lot of those movies. I felt like this was not one of those with wider appeal, and I really liked that about it. I like when those kinds of movies work, big studio comedies that have "four-quadrant" appeal. When those do work, I love them just as long as they're good, you know?
I'm going to say that, at risk of sounding glib, the thing I thought about "A.C.O.D." was that it worked as a post-Apatow, non-Apatow film in terms of mixing that combination of slightly dirty mouths but warm and open feelings, this really had that blend while not being specifically from Mr. Apatow.
Yeah, I think that something Judd has done really well. It's been a fairly short amount of time since "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and he's kind of brought this James L. Brooks sensibility back into the fold, and I think that the reverberations of that are really positive. I think that because the "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" -- and I guess it kind of started with "Anchorman" as well -- but before these comedy was a lot different in the movie theaters. And the fact that we have these comedies now, like certainly "Knocked Up" and "Funny People" continue the tradition of these sort of open-hearted comedies, which I grew up with watching "Broadcast News" and "Terms of Endearment" and those movies. I think it's great for movies that these kinds of movies are in movie theaters again, and I love it. And I agree that this sort of continues that tradition in a sense.
Right, because it's not like wacky body-swapping or you've got 24 hours to spend 36 million; it's just the observations of life, right?
Right. I enjoy that other side of comedy as well. I love the kind of absurdist side as well.
You are a regular attendee of the Catalina Wine Mixer.
Yeah, and you know that's one of my, while we were making "Step Brothers" every day I was like, "I can't believe I'm in this movie. This is a movie I would probably watch over, you know, 30 times in my lifetime. And I can't believe I'm in it." And that's exactly how I feel about that movie. I'm still so psyched that I'm in that movie. I can't believe it. And I think you know, there's a real sweetness to "Step Brothers," too. Like those two guys are really sweet. There's a real innocence and sweetness to it on the kind of the other side of it being completely absurd as well.
I also have to wonder, I mean, I understand the vagaries of film financing about as well as anyone else, which is to say not especially well until the audit. But I mean, I'm presuming the rest of the cast sort of came onboard after you already agreed to do the lead and therefore were able to garner a certain amount of financing. But as the cast accumulated and was demonstrated as ridiculously strong in every conceivable mention, how happy were you?
I was incredibly happy. I mean I knew a few of the people before, and the fact that they said yes was, first of all it was flattering because they knew I was in the movie and they still said yes, so that makes me feel good that my friends want to work with me again.
Or if they waited to hear Paul Rudd was going to sign up, at least they were quiet about it.
I mean that's a joke, but it has a note of truth to it.
Yeah. So yeah, I mean the fact that Amy and Jane and Richard. And I mean Catherine O'Hara is one of the best actresses around, and she's just wonderful. I can't believe I got to work with her, you know?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clark is so awesome in the movie. Yeah, I mean it's a really bulletproof cast. And you know, they all make me seem way better than I am.
But it's also weird in that you're kind of for a lot of the more overtly comedic stuff, you're kind of Ginger Rogers to the Fred Astaire in that you have to do it backwards and in high heels and keep a straight face so that Mr. Jenkins or Mr. Duke or someone else can get the laugh. That's some tricky business, is it not?
Not when you're with them. I mean they're so funny that you just stay out of their way, you know? I mean you have all of these people sign up for a movie, and you know that they're going to do something really interesting and unexpected with it, you know, and hilarious. I mean every single person in the cast, they're all really inventive in the way they caught the ball and ran with it with each one of these roles. And that's why we were so lucky to get them.
On a lighter note...
I think they really make the movie, you know?
I mean it's very much an ensemble film with your great work as one of the keystones. But I mean it just sounded very interesting in that I think a lesser actor would look at the character and go, "Well I don’t have any big laughs." What the character is doing is doing all of the set up so the crazier people around him can get those laughs, which I think is like in a weird way extraordinarily generous.
Oh, well that's nice of you to say, but I think that again like they all are so amazing. I mean even if I was, you know, a sound guy on the movie just to like spend that amount of time with each one of those people I would love to do it just 'cause they're all really special, lovely people.
I grew up in Canada so I have fond memories of Miss O'Hara from SCTV.
Oh my god. I mean SCTV is just a perfect television show.
On a lighter note, can we talk briefly about your amazing menswear in the film because it's great looking stuff? You look like a well-dressed stop animation badger in terms of like having this really complete, elegant, simple look. Was that a big part of the character?
(Laughs) You mean like...
No, but a stop-motion animation badger from "The Fantastic Mr. Fox?"
Well not with the tie, but in terms of really well done earth tones and stuff with like an elegance and simplicity to it, if that makes any sense.
Yea,h you know, I feel like the character was a meticulous person and wanted the world to know even before he knows that there's going to be a disruption, and he gets a little defensive about it. He's someone that wants the world to know that he's got it all together, that he's got it all going, and he's in complete control. So I thought like the hair and the clothes and all should be very in place.
"My button-down shirt will always be buttoned-down."
Yeah, for sure. And nothing is out of place, and I'm aware and in charge of everything. At least that was what I was going for. And we had a great costume designer and hair person, makeup person. You know the crew was wonderful, and so they were all very, very helpful. And it was a really good experience.
When I was watching the film I was thinking about those great lines form the British poet Philip Larkin who said, "They f**k you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They give you all the faults they had and add some extras, just for you."
I mean is essentially this film about somebody trying to work their way through that when they realize they have to stop working around it?
Yeah. I mean again for this character it's about control. And he thinks that he has it all together, and he's holding it together with you know. Then through the course of the film he realizes he's been holding it together with Scotch tape rather than cement. And this can of worms opens and he realizes that he hasn't been, he feels like he's been keeping this whole situation at an emotional arm's length. And then when it kind of stops being at arm's length he realizes there is a lot of pieces he needs to pick up in his own life and sort of do some housekeeping himself.
It's very kind of about the difference between damage control and damage repair.
Yeah, for sure. I think that's the shift in the movie, and I think the end is hopeful, you know? I think that he figures it out a bit.
One final thing, is it true that there is in fact a "Party Down" film in pre-production?
I mean not that I know of, and I feel like we would all know about it.
You would like to hope that you would, yes.
Yeah. I mean I think that there's always that possibility, but I think at one time it was a little stronger of a possibility. But you know, I also think that if it doesn’t happen that's okay. I think that this sort of urge to turn television shows into movies isn't always a great instinct. I think that the form, the sitcom, the 22-minute form, or in our case like 27-minute form was the perfect form for "Party Down." And I feel like when you stretch that into 90 minutes it maybe would be great, but I think you're taking a risk of sort of maybe -- that's really challenging. It's a lot more difficult than what you just think like, a "Party Down" movie, great. But then you start applying it to the structure of...
...an hour and half, two hour movie and it's a whole different thing, so I don’t know. I mean I think, you know there are 20 episodes there that we're all really proud of, and maybe that's enough. I mean what "Arrested Development" did I think is great by going and just making more episodes. We know that that's a great form for the show. We don’t know about it being a movie. So then going back and making more episodes I think is a perfect way to do it.
I always think of the whole square-cube law where you double something's size but triple its mass. When you make a 22-minute long TV show into an hour and a half long movie, what stuff are you tripling or expanding even more ...
... in terms of a challenge of making it well?
Yeah. I certainly never wrote anything on the show, but I would imagine that's a huge challenge. And I'm sure they could do it. I mean those guys are brilliant writers, but I think it's, I wouldn’t want to do anything to kind of tarnish "Party Down" and the way people feel about it. I think I'm so proud of it, and we all love it, and we're so protective of it that it would be a real shame to do anything to sort of shake that up.
You would not be having fun yet.
(Laughs). That's right. The fun would not happen yet.