Adam Scott On The Mental Grind Of The Lumon Set For Season 2
Dec 19, 2022
Adam Scott has felt critical and audience love before. He was a member of the celebrated “Parks and Recreation” ensemble which ran on NBC for seven seasons from 2009 to 2015. But, as an actor, he’s never experienced what his performance on “Severance” has afforded him. This past August he earned Emmy nominations as both producer and Lead Actor on the Apple TV+ series. As the year draws to an end, he can also add Spirit Award, Critics Choice Award, and Golden Globe Award nominations to his resume. And potential SAG Award nominations are right around the corner.
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Created by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller, “Severance” finds Scott playing Mark, an employee for Lumon Industries in the MRD (Macrodata Refinement Division, whatever that means). But Mark isn’t an everyday employee. Like his colleagues, when Mark enters Lumon, his “outie” memories are switched off and an “innie” version with no memories of the outside world works diligently in an authoritarian environment. When “innie” Mark and his coworkers realize the inhumane situation they are experiencing, they attempt to escape to the “outie” world.
“Severance” debuted in February over a year after its November 2020 production start. Scott says he loved making the show but had never worked on anything as challenging as the nine-episode-long drama. And he admits spending so much time in the sparse, almost antiseptic “innie” MDR set got to him.
“A 15, 16-hour day under fluorescent lights in the low-ceilinged MDR office, that can kind of grind on your brain in a really specific, unique to MDR and Lumon way,” Scott says. “And so yes, when I got back in October and walked into that room with the green carpet and the fluorescent lights, it truly felt like I had not left and it had not been a year and a half. It all just felt, smelled, and looked exactly the same and just snapped right back into it. And that’s a really good thing for the show and something you just have to put your head down and get right back to it. I’m so glad we didn’t have to start from scratch somewhere else or reconceive something. That this office being what it is did so much of the work for us coming back for season two. It has a really particular feeling.”
COVID was a big reason the first season so was so rough for those involved, but with it now no longer omnipresent, Scott is enjoying watching visitors walk into that MDR office for the first time as they film season two.
“They can’t believe that this is something that’s built on a stage… And those white hallways as well,” Scott says. “There’s endless white hallways on these stages. There’s even more this season. They built more and more of these hallways and to watch people walk through these hallways, it’s like they’re going on a Disneyland ride or something.”
Over the course of our conversation last week, Scott reflects on the long COVID-delayed shooting process of season one, how concerned he was over how the show would be received (his face was on billboards all over Los Angeles), how much he knows of Erickson’s long-term plan for the series and much, much more.
The Playlist: How far are you guys into shooting “Severance” season two?
Adam Scott: We started shooting in the middle of October so we are about six weeks in. About six, seven weeks in I believe.
How long will you guys go? How long did it take the first season to even shoot?
Well, the first season took a really long time and part of that was we were shooting in the sort of wild wet days of Covid.
We started shooting the day after the  presidential election. So Pre-vaccine, it was just really hard to get any momentum shooting because someone was bound to get sick and then everyone that came in contact with them would have to stop working for two weeks. So it ended up taking nine months and then we took a break and came back. I think all in all it was about 10 months of shooting.
Did you, at times, think this was never going to finish?
I mean part of that, yes. And we all felt that way and part of why it had that particular kind of patina was also because we shot the entire season at once. So, in the morning we shoot an “innie” scene from episode two in the morning and then an “outie” scene from episode seven in the afternoon. So we’re jumping all over the place, but also because we’re shooting everything at once, nine months in, we still haven’t finished episode one because we’re piecemealing everything. So, the sense of accomplishment of finishing something and putting it behind you like you usually get with television when you’re several months in you’re like, “O.K, we’re starting episode seven tomorrow. We’re chipping away at this thing.” You didn’t get that sense of satisfaction from it. And we’re working in this low-ceilinged, fluorescent light lit office environment. So the whole thing had this feeling that ended up I think really adding to the kind of tenor of the show.
In that context, did you ever have a moment when you realized how special the show would turn out?
It’s really hard to say because I didn’t watch anything until we finished shooting. I had access to it. I could watch dailies or Ben was cutting stuff together as we were going and he was offering whenever I wanted to watch stuff. I just didn’t want to let that distract me. Usually, I’m fine watching stuff, but this role was such a massive kind of amount of work and a massive amount of pressure that I just didn’t want that tainting anything I was doing. And you never know if something’s going to work or not, whether it’s the greatest script in the world, which I felt that way about “Severance.” I loved this script we were getting, but still, whether it’s the greatest script in the world or the worst script in the world, you never know. And the greatest pedigree of people you’re working with, you just never know if something’s going to work or not. It’s just a huge question mark and then even if it does work, you never know how it’s going to land, how people are going to receive it.
So no, we didn’t know if it was ultimately going to work, but what we did know was it was super weird and it was world-building. It’s a unique tone that we were figuring out as we went as well. We didn’t know going in exactly what the tone was going to feel like and so we kind of all found it together. I think that the one thing I did know was that I trusted Ben creatively 100%. He was sort of my north through the season and I trust him and his taste.
This isn’t the first critically acclaimed sort of seminal show that you’ve been on. “Parks and Recreation” and “Party Down” are beloved by many. When did you realize “Severance” might be on that level?
I guess it was soon after they put out the first two episodes. And I was a wreck leading up to the show premiering because in January the billboards went up around town and the billboards were my head. And so the show premiering and coming out was this great train headed towards me that I could do nothing to stop. And I really had no idea how this was going to sit with people and how it was going to be received. And I’ve been on a lot of stuff, but I hadn’t been in something that was this significant where I was the guy on the billboard and if I was terrible, the show wouldn’t work, right?
If you’re in a couple scenes of an episode, if you’re not particularly good, it’s fine. The show can keep going. And I had seen all the episodes by then and I really loved the show, but you just have no clue perspective wise how something’s going to land. And so I think I’m still sort of in relief mode. I’m still just sort of exhaling from the show being received and, most importantly, audiences loving it. But I think that it was pretty quick from when it went up on Apple TV+ that the reaction was really swift, that people were really connecting with it and really finding it and finding it quick. You just start hearing from anyone and everyone sort of in your life and beyond if something is connecting and it was really swift and really a huge relief but also just gratifying. Just a lovely feeling.
I know you guys are busy making the second season, but we are in the timeframe of top 10 lists dropping, and “Severance is on almost everybody’s top 10 list. In fact, it’s many critics’ top show of the year. Does that fuel you guys? Did the Emmys give you all confidence going into season two?
It all is really terrific and means a lot to all of us. I mean, of course, it affects how we feel and it’s really great. I’ll say that. The attention from the Emmy’s really meant so much to all of us and I’ve been on shows that you make and you love them. When we were making “Party Down,” we all loved the show more than anything. We couldn’t wait. We were all running to work every day, but we couldn’t even get reviewed, let alone get attention from the press. We were virtually ignored. And part of the reason for that is it was just an unknown show. The audiences didn’t know about it so that’s the way it goes. But we loved making it with each other. But if people were connecting with the show and critics were paying attention to it, it would’ve of course made a big difference. So I’ve been there when the opposite is happening and this is really just lovely. It’s so nice to know that people are connecting with it.
Knowing how difficult it was shooting the first season and going into season two, what about Mark do you enjoy? What makes you excited to keep playing this role?
The thing that’s really exciting about season two is that both the innie version of Mark and the outie version of Mark at the end of the season, particularly innie Mark, who has received a huge piece of information. As you can see at the very last moments of the final episode of the season, [it] greatly affects him and his feelings. And I mean I think that at that moment, Mark, over the course of season one, innie Mark came to view Lumon quite differently through the kind of confluence of Helly [Britt Lower] coming in and Petey [Yul Vazquez] leaving his life, he started to take a different view of this company he was working for. And by the end, had enough of a negative view of the company to start this little mini insurrection and go out into the outside world. But I think when he finds that photograph, the depth that he now sees the company is capable of, he never would’ve dreamed that anyone would ever do something like this. So, I think it’s a really exciting place to start for season two with innie Mark. And outie Mark as well now has a party that he’s waking up in where a lot of stuff went down and has to kind of go from there.
You are also a producer on the show. In that context, has Dan told you where all of this is heading? Has he given you a roadmap? Or were you surprised when you even got the scripts for season two?
Oh yeah, Dan is a brilliant guy and has a macro view of everything that’s coming. And yes, he has shared with me where sort of everything, the direction everything is going and will eventually go. And so season two I knew generally where we were headed, but it’s still really fun to get the scripts and move through the story, through the characters, and really see how these larger moves that I generally know about how we’re going to attack them and how they affect the characters. It’s all really, really fun and I’m always surprised by how we end up getting there.
And the last question before I let you go, did you get PTSD going back into the fluorescent office space?
It’s so funny. I love making the show. I mean I’ve never worked on something that’s as challenging as “Severance,” but that is good and I love that challenge and can’t wait to get to work every day. It’s just so much fun. But a 15, 16-hour day under fluorescent lights in the low-ceilinged MDR office, that can kind of grind on your brain in a really specific, unique to MDR and Lumon way.
And so yes, when I got back in October and walked into that room with the green carpet and the fluorescent lights, truly felt like I had not left and it had not been a year and a half. It all just felt, smelled, and looked exactly the same and just snapped right back into it. And that’s a really good thing for the show and something you just have to put your head down and get right back to it.
I’m so glad we didn’t have to start from scratch somewhere else or reconceive something. That this office being what it is did so much of the work for us coming back for season two. It has a really particular feeling. And now this year, now that Covid isn’t as omnipresent, we can have people come and visit the set, and watching people walk into that MDR office is really fun. They can’t believe that this is something that’s built on a stage because it just looks so… And those white hallways as well. There’s endless white hallways on these stages. There’s, even more, this season. They built more and more of these hallways and to watch people walk through these hallways, it’s like they’re going on a Disneyland ride or something.
“Severance” season one is available on Apple TV+ worldwide.
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