For decades Adam Scott has successfully played bad boys, historical figures, jerks and nice guys in both television and film. Days before the premiere of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” at the New York Film Festival, where Scott plays yet another jerk, he sat down with Indiewire to discuss his leading man status in “A.C.O.D,” in which he effortlessly swaps back to the status of nice guy. Scott plays Carter, an “Adult Child of Divorce” who must negotiate a truce between his long divorced parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara) when his brother (Clark Duke) gets engaged.
Throughout your career you’ve acted in a really wide variety of genres. You’ve done drama, you’ve done sci-fi, you’ve done action. Do you feel like comedy is where you want to stay? Is it your niche?
I don’t know. I love it and it’s really fun and I love the whole community around comedy in Los Angeles. It’s a really tight knit, lovely group of people. Yeah, I love it and would be perfectly happy just staying there for the rest of my career. But I also sort of feel like I’m ready for some sort of a left turn and trying something different. I feel like it’s something I’m always going to hopefully come back to and be a part of. But I don’t know, actually, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and trying to figure out what to do next.
Do you know what kind of left turn you want to take?
I don’t. I don’t know. I mean action comedy is my favorite genre. Martin Brest movies, and you know Walter Hill movies from the 80s. I don’t know, I’m not sure. But I think that one of the great things about where entertainment is right now, movies and TV being somewhat interchangeable culturally — they kind of hold the same importance culturally whereas it used to be a lot different– is that you can do all kinds of different things and there’s a lot less pigeonholing than there used to be, I think. Just as a fan and a consumer, I think less of actors as one thing and belonging to one genre or medium. People do all kinds of things. And so I want to take advantage of that and try other stuff.
You have this great ability to play the nicest guy in the world and also the biggest jerk in the world. How do you seesaw so effortlessly between the two?
Aw, thank you. I don’t know I think assholes are really funny. I love watching assholes and I just relish it. I love hearing about bad behavior, it’s just so funny to me. Especially grown ups acting like weird, inconsolable babies over really stupid things to me is really funny. So it kind of started with “Step Brothers.” It was just the prefect part, perfectly written. And it was so fun to be such a horrible, horrible person. I like both of those things. I don’t know why I gravitate towards nice guys and dick heads but I like them both.
Now with this and in “Friends with Kids,” in the indies you seem to have earned this leading man type role. Do you feel like in indies specifically you’re a supporting actor getting his due by getting to play the lead?
I don’t know if I’m getting my due just because I don’t necessarily feel like I’m owed anything or anything like that, but it’s been great to be able to play these leading roles a few times. This one, as opposed to “The Vicious Kind” and “Friends with Kids,” which were the other ones where I kind of played “the guy,” on those movies I got a day off here and there. This one was every single scene and all day every day, which I’m not even coming close to complaining about, but I did get a sense of how that is, and how exhausting that is. What I got a sense of for the first time was how exactly exhausted the crew and director must be, having to be there all day every day. It’s a lot to do. And I freaked out halfway through and then settled down and kept going. But it was a bit of a wake up call to how much work that actually is. And there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with it too. If you’re not good than the movie is not good. So yeah it’s really, really great to be able to do that. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to I’m just happy I have been able to.
I didn’t pry too much into the backgrounds of the cast members, but are you or anyone else an “Adult Child of Divorce” and did that come up on set at all?
Yeah I am. I’m not sure about anyone else. My experience growing up was completely different. My parents did get divorced but it was very healthy and amicable and there were no fights or anything like that. It was a totally happy upbringing for my siblings and I so it was a totally different experience than what Stu and Ben [screenwriters Stuart Zicherman and Ben Karlin] had to fuel their screenplay. So luckily I did not draw on real life experiences for this.
Why do you think that Carter decides to participate in the second round of studies? What do you think is in it for him since it doesn’t seem like he’s ready to go back to that place, but he does it anyway.
I think that the discovery of the book and reading the perception of him as a kid really bugs him. Because he feels like he’s figured everything out and he’s the grown up. And he’s conquered this whole situation and he’s got it all wired. So when he reads this perception of him as this troubled kid, he needs to set the record straight and make sure that everyone knows that he’s fine. And I think consciously he thinks that this is just a way to prove to everyone that that book is wrong, that he is fine, that he’s the one that’s handling everything. But I think subconsciously I think he maybe kind of needs help. I think the book spoke some truths to him and so he wants to sort of dig a little and find out why he is the way he is. But I think on the surface he’s just trying to set the record straight and show everyone that he’s conquered this world that he’s been thrust into.
(Minor Spoiler Alert) The wedding at the end is kind of ambiguous. Whose wedding do you think they’re attending?
I don’t know. I think it was mine. But at the same time, Clark (Duke), Richard (Jenkins) and I all think it was our wedding. We were kind of all assuming it was our wedding. It might be a triple wedding you never know.
Let’s discuss the rest of the cast, a lot of whom you’ve worked with before. Amy Poehler plays your step-mother in this. I imagine that’s quite a different dynamic than what you guys are used to on “Parks and Recreation.”
It was super fun. because we’re always so like lovey-dovey on each other on the show and so, it was really fun to hate each others guts. And it’s fun working with Amy on anything.
Jane Lynch was in “Party Down” with you, also in a different dynamic.
Yes, in “Party Down” she was just kind of a brainless, crazy person. She’s so fun to work with. She’s always finding really weird ways to– like every time she says a line I never would have expected it to come out that way. It was exciting doing scenes with her.
With Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara, their bickering was so great but they were also kind of adorable together.
And those two are just legendary. So what was it like to play their son and play off of them?
It was hard not to laugh. In the scenes with them I was just sort of marveling at them and wishing I was as good as them. Catherine, I had never worked with before but I just love her and everyone just immediately had a crush on Catherine O’Hara. She’s just the greatest, like “SCTV” is so incredible and important and she just kind of sloughs it off. She has no idea how important she is to everyone. And Richard, we worked on “Step Brothers” together and he’s just incredible obviously. Such a sweet guy.
Any funny stories from a time you couldn’t keep yourself from laughing?
You know it was that scene out at the Japanese garden, when they kind of break off from me and start arguing about going to a music festival or a wine festival or something. It was really, really tough to keep it together. They’re such selfish, weirdos. It was really, really, really funny. But they got along great they were immediately so well matched. I would watch a whole movie of just those two.
Another film on the radar is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It’s premiering this weekend at the NYFF. Are you going?
You play a jerk again, it seems.
That’s right! I haven’t seen it yet. I’m seeing it Saturday I can’t wait. I’ve seen little bits and pieces and it’s just incredible.
And you’ve optioned Chuck Klosterman’s novel “Downton Owl.” What are you going to do with that?
We’re not sure yet. We’re just kind of mulling over what to do with it. It’s a great story.
Are you thinking of acting? Directing? Writing?
Something in there. I’m not really sure. It’s a really cool story. I love his writing. I have sort of an email relationship with him now. He’s awesome and I love his stuff. He did an April Fool’s review of “Chinese Democracy” years before it even came out because remember how it took forever? It was one of the best pieces of fictional rock journalism I’ve ever read. He’s just one of my favorites.
“A.C.O.D.” opens today in Los Angeles and expands Oct. 11.