In an interview years ago, Adam Scott compared himself to Sonic Youth—and then immediately took it back—but he did have a point: Like the late-blooming band, the 41-year-old actor had been in the business for a long time before he entered into the collective consciousness of American pop culture with 2009’s tragically short-lived Starz comedy Party Down. In the series, Scott portrayed Henry Pollard, a one-hit-wonder actor who moonlights as a caterer. Like his on-screen character, Scott’s own career saw its fair share of small roles before he eventually landed the parts of Ben Wyatt, the goofy city planner on Parks and Recreation, and Derek, the over-the- top foil to Will Ferrell’s man-child character in Step Brothers.
This winter sees the actor further cementing his comedic status. The Overnight, out now, co-stars another beloved deadpan humor icon, Jason Schwartzman, and February 20 marks the release of one of the season’s most anticipated sequels: Hot Tub Time Machine 2.
But all of that feels like the furthest thing from Scott’s mind on this bright December morning in Los Angeles. Clad in a collarless leather jacket and a pair of olive green pants, the actor sets off a wave of excitement upon entering a white-tiled suburban café. After dutifully conversing with most of the women present, he grins and says, “Being an actor is weird.”
Born to teacher parents in Santa Cruz, California, Scott spent much of his childhood at the Del Mar theater downtown. “E.T. was the first movie I went to by myself,” he recalls. “I had already seen it with every member of my family, so my mom let me ride my bike to the theater and just see it by myself. Temple of Doom was next.”
It was around this time that he made the decision to become an actor. “It was all tied into Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and E.T.,” he explains. “If going and seeing a movie is the greatest thing in the world, what could be better than going and making a movie?” But a social stigma against the drama kids at his high school kept the dream at bay until enrolling at L.A.’s prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
After acting school came mostly one-off parts throughout the mid-’90s and early 2000s, including a two-episode run in Alan Ball’s proto-True Blood HBO drama, Six Feet Under: “I tested for the part of David Fisher with Michael C. Hall, and not getting that was one of those really tough experiences that cut deep,” he reveals. A year later, he was cast for the bit role. “Michael’s really smart and good—as it turns out, I wouldn’t have been as good in that part as he was.”
The actor’s transition to comedy came by way of cult-fave Party Down. “That eventually led to Parks and Rec,” he says. The Mike Schur-produced show, which wraps up its seventh and final season this Tuesday, played a major part in solidifying Scott’s long-delayed fame. With the show’s end, he’ll have more time for big-screen projects like The Overnight and any future Hot Tub misadventures. The actor also runs Gettin’ Rad Productions with his writer-producer wife, Naomi, and works “very slowly” on his own scripts when he’s not busy passing along a love of cinema to the couple’s two children. If his overarching philosophy of life, child-rearing included, is any indication, Scott will see even more success as time goes on: “As long as you’re always doing your best, the fuck-ups are fine.”
Additional Reporting by Natasha Vargas-Cooper.