Adam Scott looks vaguely familiar. With dark hair and faraway eyes that you could easily place as a guy you might have gone to college with or saw once on a Sunset Boulevard billboard, it seems perfect that he’s slipping into his most recent role in the new Starz sitcom Party Down as a down-and-out actor who must make an inglorious return to the catering company he left when he hit it big. In the latest series by Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, misfits played by Lizzy Caplan ( Mean Girls) and Martin Starr ( Freaks and Geeks) survive on meager tips while waiting for their breaks in Hollywood and attend a few bar mitzvahs in the process. After gaining some acclaim for roles in Step Brothers and HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, the 35-year-old Scott will next play opposite the Amy Adams in the romantic comedy Leap Year, which begins filming in Ireland next week.
“There is something great about it being a smaller, more-specialized target audience. I don't know anyone that watches Two and a Half Men but the huge numbers are out there.”
Scott talked to The Daily Beast about the humiliations of being a young D-lister, why he’s like the “Where’s the beef?” lady, and how meeting Amy Adams makes him really nervous.
What’s your experience working on Party Down?
As with any show, it took us some time to find our sea legs. Starting a show is a nerve-wracking experience. Unlike a movie, you don't know where your character is heading because every week you get a new script. It’s funny, if you go watch the first episodes of any of the great series, you see a certain stiffness to it that eventually gets dropped.
Your character is very preoccupied with his past.
The fact that I left this catering company to be a huge star and it ended up being quite the opposite became a joke. I turned into the Verizon guy, the “Where's the beef?” lady. At the end of a run like that, what the hell are you going to do with your life? His life has been a giant dead end and has no idea what he's going to do.
Have you ever had an embarrassing experience as an actor?
I’ve fortunately been able to make a living, but that doesn't mean that making a living as an actor isn't humiliating—it certainly is. My first big movie job was on Hellraiser IV. I was 20 years old and walked up to my chair, the first one I ever had with my name stitched into it. And it said…“Adam Craig.” It's such a pride-swallowing occupation from time to time. Over the years you learn to humble yourself and just see what happens.
Where did the idea of Party Down come from?
Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, John Enbom, and Paul Rudd all wrote it a few years ago. About two years ago, Paul called me and said he was just going to make it at his house because Veronica Mars just got canceled. They had the whole crew from Veronica Mars and decided to pay to produce it themselves. It was a different version than that first episode, and we had different cast members.
Are you nervous the show is airing on Starz? They’re relatively new to original content, which puts the pressure on Party Down even more.
I think [the network] is kind of irrelevant and that content is what matters now. If you get an audience that looks like it wouldn't even pay for lunch on NBC, at Starz it would be like a triumph. It's more about who we get to watch than how many we get to watch. Then we're home free.
What kind of a shift was this from your much heavier character on Tell Me You Love Me?
On the way to work all I have to think about is how to keep a straight face while I'm doing a scene with Jane Lynch or Ken Marino rather than thinking, “I hope I cry properly when we lose the baby.” Both are silently tortured. There is that Waspy, American male, keeping-it-all-under-wraps sort of thing that corners both characters.
Your character and Lizzy Caplan’s have a pretty combustible beginning while catering an event.
We decided to do instead of "will they or won't they” storyline, to do a "they do and how do they deal with it?" They're both completely noncommittal. Henry's reluctance to do anything full-bore romantically or work-wise ends up biting him in the ass. He ends up falling for her a bit too much too soon. Her character is married so that adds another twist.
The comedy in your show is under-the-radar like in Arrested Development, which suffered in the ratings.
I wish Arrested Development was as hugely popular as Two and a Half Men, but maybe if it was, it would have started sucking. There is something great about it being a smaller, more specialized target audience. I don't know anyone that watches Two and a Half Men but the huge numbers are out there.
Rob Thomas brought in a lot of old cast members from Veronica Mars.
Kristen Bell came on and did the last episode. They got pretty much everybody to come back. Everyone is really talented and happy to be there.
What is it about Rob that makes everyone so dedicated to him?
His incredible physique, probably. He's a very large, attractive man. He has great taste. He is a great writer and very nice guy. I met him years ago at a bar in Austin, where he was a high-school teacher. He's a cool guy and you just trust him because the material that he's interested in is always good.
It was just announced your next project is Leap Year with Amy Adams.
It’s basically about this girl and her boyfriend, who I play, and he hasn’t proposed yet, and so when he travels to Ireland for business she finds out about this tradition where women can propose to men on Leap Day. But in the meantime she spends time with this roguish Irishman, played by Matthew Goode, and she starts to get confused about where her romantic feelings lie.
The whole film takes place in Ireland—that makes for a nice vacation.
Yeah Dublin is even going to stand in for Boston. I’ve never been to Ireland—I’ve been all over Europe, and Scotland as well, and I really like U2 so I’ll probably hang out with them over there. [Laughs]
This is one of your first high-profile roles in a romantic comedy. Are you nervous?
It’s a little daunting, especially with the company I’m going to keep with Amy and Matthew, so hopefully I can get there and not suck. That’s basically the biggest challenge—to get there and not fail. I get nervous, especially around people that are better than me, so I have to pretend not to be an impostor once I get there. That’s all I have to do, is not get fired.
Miriam Datskovsky is assistant editor at The Daily Beast. Her work has also appeared in Condé Nast Portfolio, New York magazine, and nymag.com.