When Adam Scott joined Parks and Recreation at the end of Season 2, he faced a daunting task: make his straight man Pawnee newcomer, Ben Wyatt, seem funny opposite larger than life characters like Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson. Two episodes in, it was clear that Scott would accomplish that goal; two years later, he’s catapulted his way into leading man territory — a fact that did not go unnoticed by the actor and his team, who this year decided to enter Scott in the Outstanding Lead — not Supporting — Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy race. But will the swap help Scott garner some long overdue Emmy love? He’s much too modest to comment, but he is certain that his move could help even his castmates’ chances of scoring nods — and of that, he wholeheartedly approves. Here, Scott talks to TVLine about the reasons behind his Emmy bump and praises a season of exceptional stories, guest stars and pinch-me moments.
TVLINE | First things first: Why did you decide to jump from Supporting to Lead Actor this year?
Let’s face it, there’s one true lead on the show, and that’s Amy [Poehler]. But just by virtue of the fact that this season my story coincided with hers for a lot, I thought that I could justify the move and spread [the odds] out a bit since there are a lot of actors on our show — and they’re all equally deserving of recognition. I think this is something that I could do on a season-by-season basis, since maybe next year it wouldn’t be appropriate. But this year, after checking with [creator] Mike [Schur] and Amy and [co-star] Nick [Offerman], I felt like I could swap categories.
TVLINE | Ben is obviously one of Parks’ straight-man personalities. Do you see that as a hindrance Emmy-wise, given that outlandish or quirky characters are more often the ones that bring home the trophy?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know… I do think that one of the blessings of Parks is that Mike and all the writers are so sharp, that even the so-called straight-man characters — which I would say probably comes down to Rashida Jones and me — have their moments of going off the rails. Ben gets nervous around cops, which is a really weird thing! [Laughs] He’s just inappropriately nervous around people in authority positions. So, everyone gets their moment to be a freak, without completely taking the grounded element away from the character. That’s really great writing more than anything, I think.
TVLINE | I think it’s safe to say that this season of Parks was arguably the most star-packed series on TV — regulars and big-name guest stars included. Talk a little about working with such a powerhouse cast.
You know, it was amazing. This show has been such a blessing for me, and I was so lucky to get the job in the first place. But sometimes I just look around at the people I get to work with — and not just in the regular cast, which is equally impressive, but the guest stars we got to work with this season… I got to work with Carl Reiner for a couple of days. When I heard that Carl Reiner was going to come in and play a role, I had to hold back tears. [Laughs] I just couldn’t believe it. The Jerk is my favorite comedy of all time. As a kid, I used to watch it and rewind it and watch it again in one sitting. I just couldn’t get enough of it — and still can’t. It’s still a brilliant movie… He’s just one of the most important people in American comedy, ever. So, that was incredible. He was so sweet, and he told me this really great story about The Jerk and he signed my vintage Jerk poster that I brought in; it was great. I was going to wet my pants! [Laughs] There was also Louis C.K.. I got to work with him, and that was incredible.
TVLINE | That’s right! You told me last year that you were hoping he would return to the show. Did the actual experience live up to your expectations?
Oh, for sure. My first scene in that episode was the two of us alone in a bathroom, when he handcuffs me to a urinal… I’ve had a few moments like that in my career when I just can’t believe I’m actually doing this, and Carl Reiner and Louie were certainly a couple of those. And then when Paul [Rudd, Scott’s friend of nearly 20 years] and Kathryn [Hahn, Scott’s friend and Step Brothers co-star] came on, it was great. We all hang out together anyway, so doing a scene with Amy, Paul and Kathryn just felt like we were at dinner or something. It was so comfortable and fun. But it’s not like we took it for granted; we were all standing there using a lot of our time to talk about how lucky we are to work together and to be on this great show. It really was lovely… [Brief pause] I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop, quite frankly. [Laughs]
TVLINE | You’re really too modest. That said, does working with that caliber of talent — in addition to your already strong group of co-stars — impact your performance at all?
Well, I was certainly nervous when Mr. Reiner came in, and [I] was just trying to get through the scene without being distracted by the guy who directed Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains… He was sitting behind a desk, and Amy and I literally sat there as an audience and watched him go — and he came up with great stuff that they put in the episode! I was certainly nervous working with him, but he put us at ease.
TVLINE | This is more of a statement than a question: Mike Schur told me a few months ago that there was a scene with you, Paul, Amy, Rashida and Kathryn, and it floored him. He said: “That is like the cast of a giant feature film that you would kill to make!” As a member of said super-group, is that something that you’re also able to recognize?
It’s funny because, yeah, I have incredibly talented friends and they’re great friends, but I’m also just kind of in awe of their work as well. After so many years of struggling [before] being on this great show with these great people, I still am getting used to the fact that things are OK for me, and I might be able to relax a bit and enjoy it, and not worry about it all going away — at least not right now. I mean, I’ve been at it for 19 years, since I got my first acting job, so having any sort of success is still a relatively new thing for me. And having all of these talented friends and watching them get recognized at the same time is really great. It doesn’t feel as otherworldly as I thought it would; it feels like, yeah, they all deserve it and I’m just happy to be among them, as friends first and then colleagues second.
TVLINE | Do you have any favorite Season 4 moments for Ben?
There are so many great episodes for the show this season, but one that was super-fun for me was “The Treaty,” where Leslie and Ben go to the high school for the mock United Nations… Under the guise of being dueling countries, they got to express all of this pent up sexual frustration. Also, “The Comeback Kid” has some of what I think is the funniest stuff of the year, where Leslie and everybody are all out on the ice going out to that event and Gloria Estefan is playing over and over again.
TVLINE | I completely forgot about that! I actually don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard.
Yeah, me, too. I watched it over and over again. And in that same episode, Rob [Lowe] and I are at Ben’s house when he’s trying to make a claymation film and calzones. I love that because it deepens Ben and Chris’ relationship. You get to see that they have this whole past together and have been friends for years. He’s so great in it — and you also get to see Ben go off the rails a bit and become a delusional weirdo! [Laughs]
TVLINE | It’s probably too soon to know what’s ahead for Leslie and Ben, but it’s got to be nice to know that Ben and Leslie, the quirky little team that they are, are now pretty firmly tied together. That will they/won’t they stuff is a thing of the past.
I do love it. In the finale Ron says, “You two like to hold hands and jump off of cliffs together,” and I thought that was really sweet and really true. It’s a great thing to see on TV: a couple you’re rooting for that is unafraid of challenges. Instead, they want to go head first into them together. They’re both nerds and both a little weird, and it’s nice to have this relationship that is really, really solid, and will hopefully be able to withstand whatever challenges stand in its way.