Saying Goodbye to Pawnee: Adam Scott on His Next Move

Parks and Rec star dabbles in ads, films, podcasts and more

Adam Scott made a career guest starring in series like Boy Meets World, Party of Five and Eastbound & Down, but he really became a TV star playing Ben Wyatt on NBC's Parks and Recreation. Now that the comedy is winding down its seventh and final season, the actor has branched out, starring in Smirnoff ads, appearing in films like the indie darling The Overnight and upcoming crime drama Black Mass, and doing his own U2-themed podcast. Here, Scott talks about what's next. 

Adweek: How are you and the cast dealing with Parks and Rec ending?

Scott: We finished shooting the show about a month and a half ago, so we've all accepted it at this point. We're all really proud of it, and the fact that we got to finish it while it's still at its peak. It was always a happy place to work. I think because we were always kind of on the bubble with that show, none of us ever slipped into taking it for granted.

What was your favorite memory from filming Parks and Rec?

The wedding. It was one of those where we weren't sure if we were going to last much longer, and it was a beautifully written episode. Everyone gets in tuxedos, someone has a couple of ring boxes, there's music playing, and someone's being walked down the aisle. Your body gets tricked into thinking it's a real wedding, and everyone starts getting weepy. (Laughs)

I have this theory that shows rumored to be canceled tend to be better because the cast and crew seem to try harder to keep it on the air. [Starz's] Party Down was the same thing. We never had any idea what our future was.

Besides Parks and Rec, you've been keeping busy. Congrats on selling your first film, The Overnight, at Sundance.

We had started Gettin' Rad Productions a couple of years ago, made primarily stuff for TV and wanted to do our first feature. Going from 12 people in a living room watching it to 1,200 people at the Eccles Theatre was pretty nerve-wracking. But the response was great and the reviews have been great, and we sold it so that's icing on the cake.

You sold to The Orchard, which is a newcomer in film distribution.

They're a really exciting new company, and we were just kind of bowled over by their enthusiasm. We felt strongly that we wanted to give this movie a strong chance to play traditionally in movie theaters, and of course, digital and down the road. I think back to my experiences growing up, watching movies in a crowded theater, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the experience would not be the same without the theater full of people—not that I'm comparing our movie to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

What appealed to you about distributing on digital and VOD?

I'm a big consumer of media and content online. I watched the second season of [Netflix's] Orange Is the New Black in three days. It's largely a solitary experience unless you're streaming it on TV, of course, which we also do a lot with our family. But I love being able to curl up in bed with an iPad and watch The Godfather. I'm re-experiencing the movie in an even more intimate way than I ever did before. I think any company starting out these days has to take that into consideration. 

Adam Scott in Park City, Utah | Photo: Randall Slavin; Grooming: Thea Istenes/Exclusive Artists Management using Oribe Hair Care; Shot on location at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah

And you don't have to explain The Godfather to your kids.

Right, exactly. (Laughs)

Speaking of business, I have to ask you about that full-frontal scene in The Overnight.

Without giving too much away about the movie, it's an important plot point about the difference between two guys and their bodies, and so we needed to be really specific and design prosthetics for both Jason Schwartzman and me. We hired a company to make them, and they did a great job. Totally realistic.

You're also taking off the comedic hat in the upcoming Whitey Bulger drama Black Mass.

Black Mass was a really great experience. They couldn't find Bulger for years, and then how they found him was really fascinating. It was interesting shooting the movie in Boston, just talking to people and saying, "We're working on the Whitey Bulger movie." Everybody in that city has a personal connection to that story.

You've also done some ad work, like the recent Smirnoff campaign with Alison Brie.

It was a great opportunity to work with the Russo brothers [directors Anthony and Joseph V. Russo]. I'd wanted to work with them for a long time, and also Alison Brie was doing it. She's terrific. The stuff they had written was good, and it was quick and easy. And Smirnoff was lovely to work with. They trusted the creative, and I think we made some good spots that we made in two days. It felt like making a little show rather than a commercial shoot.

We're seeing a trend of top directors and actors go into making commercials, which are turning into premium entertainment. What do you make of that?

It's a smart move for advertisers. You can watch five or six 30-second spots, but at the same time go on YouTube and watch the entire story unfold as a five-minute short, which is what they did with the Smirnoff thing. I think it's smart to get people who are used to making fun content and just apply it to a brand. You kill two birds with one stone.

Did you draw on experience from your failed-spokesman character Henry Pollard in Party Down when you began working in advertising?

That's right! "Are we having fun yet?" [Pollard's tagline]. I didn't even think about that, and then when it aired, I got a bunch of "Are we having fun yet?" tweets. I didn't put two and two together. 

Adam Scott on Sundance, those Smirnoff ads and life after Parks and Recreation | Photo: Randall Slavin in Park City, Utah, during the Sundance Film Festival

You also have the podcast U Talkin' U2 to Me?

Scott Aukerman and I discovered that we're both massive U2 fans, and neither of our wives could really withstand our forensic analysis of U2. They usually go through three-album cycles before they change their aesthetic and their musical style, so we thought we would end up with like six episodes and then our final episode would be us analyzing the new album. But we ended up doing about an episode per album, and then we would do episodes just about their live show. You know, it just (laughs) grew into this big nonsensical thing. Then the new album finally came out—it was delayed about eight months or something—and that gave us more material. I figured three people might listen to it, but people really enjoy it. We're going to SF Sketchfest. We have some live show that we're trying to plan. 

Do you think podcasts are back?

I don't know if they're coming back as much as they're just being discovered. I think people are discovering how easy it is to listen. Podcasts are extremely specific, like the subject U2 analysis as comedy. There's a show there for people who want to listen to something like that. Then something like Serial, it's a bit broader. It goes back to salacious murder mystery stories. I think podcasting is here to stay.

As they wind down their final season, a look at what's next for the rest of the Parks and Recreation cast.  

With all these projects, are you done with TV?

Not at all. As we all know, it's at its peak right now, we're seeing some incredible stuff on TV, so I'm excited to find something else to do.

Finally, what's going on with the Party Down movie?

I have no idea if that'll ever happen or if maybe we'll make some more episodes. It's not really up to me, and now everyone that was on it has big careers. I know that everybody involved would love to do it; it's just a matter of working out schedules and coming up with an idea that works.