For Adam Scott, it takes a village (read, ensemble) to make a great series
“Severance” star Adam Scott doesn’t mind that fans ask about the first-season cliffhanger finale, because it means they’re hooked. The Apple TV+ series, a near-present-day science-fiction drama, offers plenty of other mysteries to grapple with, such as “‘What’s the deal with the baby goats?’ which is a legit question,” says Scott, speaking from New York where he’s shooting Season 2. Naturally, he offers no answers, but he’s happy to talk about his role and how he found himself surrounded by the ensemble of his dreams.
Scott plays Mark S., a widower so overwhelmed with grief he undergoes a process to sever his work mind from the rest of his life. His worlds thus partitioned, he can function at his job at Lumon Industries as Mark S., or “innie” Mark, with no conscious knowledge of outside (“outie”) Mark’s pain, and conversely takes home no awareness of his workday.
The near-dual role calls for Scott to make subtle shifts in perception and attitude, rather than marked differences, to present the fractured sides of his character. “It’s almost like a math problem of addition and subtraction,” he says.
The director and his star learned much about perseverance and trusting each other while making the dystopian series.
Trained as a dramatic actor, Scott has worked steadily on such ensemble comedies as “Party Down” and “Parks and Recreation.” “Severance” marks his first series dramatic lead, and it garnered him a Screen Actors Guild nomination. “If I can point to one thing I can legitimately say I’ve been smart with, it’s choosing to be a part of these incredible ensembles that make me look way better than I am,” he says. “I wish I could say it was strategic; I’ve been super lucky.” The “Severance” ensemble has received a SAG nod as well. And what an ensemble they make.
When Scott first learned that Patricia Arquette, John Turturro and Christopher Walken had signed on, he remembers thinking, “’Oh, my God, I really need to know what I’m doing here.’” That said, “You never feel like you know what you’re doing if you’re acting with Patricia Arquette. She’s a class above everybody.”
Arquette plays innie Mark’s tyrannical boss, Harmony Cobel, and poses as outie Mark’s apparently kind neighbor, Mrs. Selvig, as well. “And neither of those characters are anything like her,” Scott says. “When you’re working with Patricia, you are watching someone who is totally fearless. She’s unbelievably well prepared, but she’s also good enough to know that once you’re there and the camera’s rolling, it’s time to throw all that out and just experiment. Every time I had a scene with Patricia, I got up and ran a little faster to work that day.”
Tramell Tillman plays Cobel’s sidekick, Seth Milchick. “What Tramell does is so microscopically specific, and so strange. He’s doing and saying things that coming out of anyone else’s mouth would feel almost homicidal in their strangeness, but he makes everything sound perfectly logical and almost inviting,” says Scott. “There is no world I can imagine Milchick being played by anyone else.”
Scott played it cool with Turturro for several weeks before confessing his utter fandom. “Once we got to know each other, I felt comfortable telling him I saw ‘Mac,’ his directorial debut, opening night with all my buddies in acting school, and I used to do his scenes from ‘Do the Right Thing’ in high school.” Turturro plays Mark’s hidebound colleague Irving B., who is surprised by new love. “For me, he’s up there with great American actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando.”
As is Turturro’s love interest, Burt, played by Christopher Walken. “He’s wholly unique,” says Scott. “When you watch him work you see just how important this is to him; he does it with great care and is putting himself into his work, and it’s just a beautiful thing to witness.” Scott admits to envying Turturro for all the scenes he had with Walken.
“This episode needed to break the rules because they’re experiencing something they’ve never experienced before,” the director says of Innies’ great escape.
Zach Cherry, known primarily for comedic roles, plays office mate Dylan G., with his eyes on the sometimes odd prizes Lumon doles out for good production results. “A lot is asked of him dramatically, and it’s a bull’s-eye every time for Zach, he is just so good,” says Scott, who adds that the two share an additional bond. “We can sit and talk about ‘Survivor’ for hours on set. People are like, ‘Are you guys still talking about “Survivor”?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, we are. Jealous? Because that’s what we’re doing.’”
As Helly R., the newbie who rebels against the ominous work environment she finds herself severed into, “Britt Lower brings such a genuine and authentic feeling to the world, where you don’t doubt her or her character for a second,” Scott notes. “It’s like a full person dropped into this bizarre world, and it’s so important that we have a character who’s an outsider to all of this who can look at the insanity of it with the audience, and she did that in a new way that I hadn’t seen before.”
They, along with his other co-workers Dichen Lachman, Jen Tullock, Michael Chernus and Yul Vazquez, “make me seem far more astute and talented than I actually am, and I’m not being falsely modest. When you’re embedded in an ensemble like this one, you’re pretty much bulletproof.”
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