Interview: Adam Scott on leaving ‘Party Down’ and going to ‘Parks and Recreation’

Tomorrow night’s “Party Down” season two finale(*) is a bittersweet moment for Adam Scott. It’s the end of a terrific two-year run for him as the dryly hilarious lead on a great comedy, and he was able to segue from it straight into a new job on the equally funny “Parks and Recreation.” (He appeared in two episodes at the end of this past season and spent the past few months filming new episodes for the third season to accommodate Amy Poehler’s maternity leave. At the moment, though, “Parks and Rec” has no timeslot or premiere date, while NBC focuses on other things.) But going from one great comedy to another meant that he had to leave his beloved “Party Down,” which isn’t a big deal if Starz chooses not to order a third season – the show’s future remains in limbo, which is much of the reason Scott bolted – but would be disappointing if renewal comes, even though Scott negotiated for the right to appear in three episodes of a hypothetical “Party Down” season three.

(*) And I’m aware that the finale has already been made available on the Starz website, On Demand, and even aired at least once on one of Starz’s auxiliary channels, but we’re not going to discuss the contents of it until tomorrow night at 10:30, okay?

Scott and I talked last week about the new gig, the old one, what it’s been like doing second seasons of shows, and a lot more.

What was it like coming into “Parks and Rec” not only well into the run, but so late into the second season?

I didn’t know what to expect. Jumping on a moving train can sometimes be a little daunting. I’ve done my share of guest spots. Sometimes you just feel like the new kid in class, and everyone has their little cliques, and you’re not a part of the group. I’ve certainly had my share of unpleasant guest spot experiences. I wasn’t really sure. I mean, I kind of knew everybody. I knew Nick Offerman really well because (wife) Megan (Mullally)’s on “Party Down,” but the worrying ended up all being for naught. Everybody ended up so welcoming and cool and friendly and collaborative. All the things I loved about “Party Down” was the same, except it’s over at “Parks and Rec.” It’s the same, except they have a bigger craft service table. Same energy and kind of joyful collaborative atmosphere. It was a really very pleasant place to go to work.

I’m curious. Without necessarily naming names, can you tell me about some of the bad experiences you’ve had guest starring on other people’s shows? What did people do to you?

They don’t do anything. It’s just, they’re at their job. Sometimes, if you’re on the sixth year of a TV show, sometimes people just punch it in and try to get through the day. The amount of money some of these people get paid, and then they end up not caring whether it’s good or not, it’s astounding. I guess if I was on my seventh year of a police procedural, I might be a little bored myself. It’s not like anything malicious, but sometimes the star is just there to do their job, and everybody else can’t be bothered. Acting is something where it’s easy to feel foolish if you’re left hanging out to dry. Guest stars, it’s a tough spot to be in. That’s why on “Party Down,” we always kind of went out of our way to make people feel welcome and a part of the process a little bit. Sometimes, we went a little too much out of our ways. Lizzy (Caplan) would give me crap about smothering our guest stars. I think it was a reaction to so many years of doing guest spots and feeling alone out there. If you want the best from people, you need to be friendly to them. And we got the best guest stars and the best performances out of them, for sure.

So you were doing body shots with Steven Weber before the Ricky Sargulesh episode? That kind of thing?

Oh, absolutely. We spent hours in my trailer getting so hammered for those scenes. He was amazing, wasn’t he? It’s a great episode. I love that one.

When you were in the process of coming to “Parks and Rec,” how much did Mike (Schur) and Greg (Daniels) tell you about Ben, the character you were going to play?

Mike told me the child mayor backstory. I was just so excited when he told me about that. I thought it was such a terrific idea for a character.

It’s funny. You and I have talked in the past about how at one point in your career you were typecast as a douchebag, and here you’re playing these back-to-back roles where the guy is trying to overcome the unexpected consequences of early celebrity.

I think they’re vastly different characters and circumstances. But it is funny how sometimes those things kind of work out.

When you and I last spoke (in January), you had wrapped “Party Down” but it was way before the premiere, and your big concern was that (Chris) Albrecht hadn’t picked up a third season yet, and what were you going to do when pilot season rolled around? What was the process like? How did you come to the point where you said, “Look, I have to take this job.”

The article you actually wrote, the day it came out was incredibly accurate. It was really terrific to see it laid out like that. I myself hadn’t put it into a narrative. I’d been so caught up in it for several weeks. It really was an agonizing decision to make. But when you laid it out like that, it made it understandable to anyone who was wondering, but also for me, as well.

The process was pretty simple. This opportunity on “Parks and Rec” came up, and it’s one of my favorite shows. And it was, of course, something I wanted to do, but there was still this lingering question of whether “Party Down” was going to continue. It was a matter of me asking Starz if it was going to continue, and them saying they weren’t ready to make that decision. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity on “Parks and Rec” for a show that could possibly not exist anymore. And they weren’t willing to give any hint of a decision either way. It was agonizing, just because we all work really hard on “Party Down,” and we all love it, but at the same time, we all knew this day was going to come, given the types of deals they had with the actors. And if they had decided to pick it up, I don’t even know what I would have done, because the “Parks” opportunity was one I was really excited about. But the fact that Starz took a pass like that made the decision easier. Though it was still agonizing. It was saying goodbye to this show that’s really just in my heart. It was tough.

And where Jane Lynch could only come back for one episode this year (tomorrow’s finale), you made a deal where you could do three.

In a 10-episode season, three episodes is 30 percent of the season. I’d be anxious to go back. And I think that the show is structured in a way that makes something like that really plausible, characters coming and going. And the way the character of Henry has gone, and the way we leave the character at the end of season two, maybe passing the baton a little bit may be a great way for the character to go, anyway.

Getting back to “Parks and Rec,” in the six season three episodes you just filmed, what are we going to learn about Ben that maybe wasn’t apparent in the two that aired?

It turns out that Ben is horrible on television. And I’ll just leave it at that. He may have a lot of work to do in the public relations aspect if he wants to run for office some day. And it’s really fun. One of the great things about being on a show with such terrific writers, they’ve kind of framed the character as someone who jumped in on a moving train, as did I. And the longer I’m there, the character is becoming integrated at the same rate I am. They’re riding that out as it’s happening to me. It’s really great. It’s just a terrific group of people to get to know. Ben and Tom Haverford hang out a bit. There’s a bit of an unlikely friendship there. It’s terrific.

In real life, has Nick Offerman offered to carve you anything yet?

I think he did carve me something. He asked me for my address, because he had something to drop off. I hope it’s a bong. Nick’s such a gentleman. I knew some of the people over there vaguely, but I knew him well. He would just drop by my trailer and see how I was doing. I felt very welcome. It was like, “Nick, it’s okay, I’m a big boy,” but I could tell he was checking in with me.

In terms of this second season of “Party Down,” how did you feel the experience of shooting these 10 different from the first season’s 10?

I had never done a second season of anything. The one show I had been a regular on, “Tell Me You Love Me,” was canceled after one season. So when we were shooting the premiere of season two, I said, ‘It feels like we’re making a sequel.’ Especially the way the episode was structured with everyone coming back. It had that sequel feeling. I love that because I love sequels, especially ones that are super-shitty. The first few, it felt like we were making “Police Academy 2,” but a good version of “Police Academy 2.” It was fun. The first season, the first four episodes, none of us knew what the hell this was. We didn’t know if it was going to be good. We jumped in because we didn’t have anything else going on. It was right after the (writers) strike. We were all friends. We didn’t really know Lizzy, but we all became fast friends. So we were blindly taking a stab at it. The stakes were pretty low. It was going to be on Starz, so if it was terrible, it wasn’t going to be that widely seen. Second season coming in, we knew what it was, and we knew we liked it, and we were there knowing kind of the bar we had set and wanting to even make it better than that. And we were all close friends by that point, as well. From the beginning, this time, we knew to savor those 10 episodes because it was going to be over really fast. And it was. By the time episode nine came along, we were all flabbergasted and depressed.

Henry spends the first half of the season striving towards management, and then he gives up and goes back to Casey. Which was more fun to play?

It was really fun to play that first half, because it was so different. But at the same time, it was a bit of a relief to get back to the old school Henry/Casey dynamic. I really loved being able to do that for the first half. John (Enbom) and Dan (Etheridge) and Rob (Thomas) had written something that was very different, but they never explicitly wrote about it. We just did it. I think that’s good writing, when you’re showing the characters expressing themselves and making their way through the story through action rather than talking about it. If this was the CW, we would talk constantly about how everything had changed, and how my new responsibilities were weighing down on me and I’d have monologues. We were just showing. There were times when I said, “Shouldn’t we have some dialogue about how different this is?” And John was looking at me like, “Shut the fuck up.” And he was right. We just did it. He’s a great writer, and that’s what it is. That’s how it should be done. That’s why it’s special.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at