As great as he is as all-around nice guy Ben Wyatt on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” actor Adam Scott truly excels at acting like a jerk. Whether it’s his obnoxious and mean character in the comedy “Step Brothers” or his stunning performance as the cynical and sarcastic Caleb Sinclaire in the criminally underseen and brilliant 2009 film “The Vicious Kind,” Scott’s dry wit gives him the ability to shine as an unlikeable character.
In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Scott taps into those types of characters again to play Ted Hendricks, a dickbag executive who mocks Walter (Ben Stiller) when his imagination gets the best of him. In a recent interview, Scott spoke with me about his magnetism to these unkind characters as well as his propensity for childhood daydreaming and explained what is up with his dominating beard in his new film.
In this film, Walter is obviously a big daydreamer and there are themes of people not doing the things they want to in life. It seems like people might daydream about being an athlete or famous actor. What does an actor like you daydream about?
I have kids now so I daydream a lot about my kids. Like any parent does, you’re constantly afraid of something bad happening to them. I have daydreams where I’m rescuing them from peril for whatever reason. But I grew up constantly daydreaming. My family’s nickname for me was “space cadet” because I was always just sort of staring off into space. I think it’s a good, healthy thing to space out. One thing that worries me about us all having these devices in our pockets at all times, and I’m certainly one of them, is that it’s cutting down on our space out time, which I think is healthy for the imagination and for your brain to stare out the window for a few minutes. The sections of time where we used to is now being filled with your device and your email or Twitter or whatever, which I certainly do and I kind of miss that time to reflect on the day or whatever. I think that’s something that resonates with me with this movie.
You’ve worked on “Friends With Kids” with Jennifer Westfeldt where you had someone who you were both acting with and who was the director of the film. How was it different working with Ben Stiller in both of those roles, especially considering the grander scale and a bigger budget?
When you’re directing and starring in a movie like Ben is with this, like he’s in every scene of the movie, it’s an enormous epic that we’re making…it’s a gargantuan task but you wouldn’t really know it watching him. He’s so focused and calm through the entire process of making the movie. The amount of hats he was wearing was mind-boggling. He was completely calm and relaxed the whole time and I think in order to complete something this big, you have to be. It was really inspiring to watch.
With your roles in movies like “Step Brothers” and “The Vicious Kind” and now “Walter Mitty,” is it getting easier for you to play these really unlikeable characters? To tap into that persona do you have to be in a certain mindset?
I don’t know what it is, I just really like, for a lack of a better word, “a-holes.” I like them in real life. I like watching them. I think they’re really funny. Just petty, petulant brats. Egocentric, ultra-confident a-holes. I think they’re really funny and I love playing them for whatever reason. But I also love playing nice people as well. It was a relief when “Mitty” was done and I went back to “Parks and Recreation” and I could play a nice person again. It felt better, but it was a lot of fun playing the bastard as well.
This film features a pretty big fight sequence between yours and Ben Stiller’s character. How was it working on this sequence compared to say, riding a jet-ski in “Piranha?”
(Laughs) I love doing action stuff. I don’t get the opportunity to do it that much but it’s so fun to do and it was really fun on “Mitty” because it’s this quick one or two minute sequence in the movie but it took us weeks to shoot it. It’s incredibly complicated. We were up on wires barreling down 5th Avenue at like 45 miles per hour fighting each other over a Stretch Armstrong doll and it took a long time. We had “The Bourne Identity” stunt team helping us out and they were incredible. Just being a part of an enormous set piece like that was amazing. And same with “Piranha,” like riding a jet-ski and carrying a shotgun. These are the things that, like it or not, when I was a little kid and I wanted to be an actor, those are the things I really wanted to do. You know watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” that’s why I wanted to do this in the first place. So getting to do stuff like that in “Mitty” was literally a dream come true.
I have to ask you about the beard in the movie. It seems like it’s almost an intimidation beard you have going on and there’s purposely a lot of attention drawn to it. What was the inspiration behind the beard and was that something you brought or something that Ben brought?
You know it was in Steve Conrad’s script. He wrote that Ted had a “business beard” and Ben said he wanted it to be kind of like a Grecian beard. Like in the 80’s they had those commercials for Grecian formulas to dye your beard. So the beard is an intimidation beard. Ted Hendricks is the ultimate alpha male and the beard is kind of a sign of his masculinity. “I’m going to have the best beard in the world and I’m going to fire you while you’re looking at my beard.” It’s almost like a distraction when he walks in the room. You’re kind of marveled. It’s a hypnotizing beard, is what it is. So you’re distracted while he’s firing you from your job.