How Adam Scott Split Himself in Two for ‘Severance’

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In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and senior editor Vinnie Mancuso for this guide to living the creative life from those who are doing it every day. 

For the Apple TV+ sci-fi series “Severance,” Adam Scott—best known for being the funniest part of any sitcom you’ve ever seen him in—had to divide his personality in half. Scott plays Mark Scout, an employee of the enigmatic Lumon Industries who has undergone a procedure to “sever” his work life from his home life; as a result, his “innie” and “outie” selves effectively become two different people. “What was important was that [the performance] feel like one guy, like the same person,” Scott says. “Because it is.” 

On this episode of In the Envelope, Scott walks us through the highs and lows of his career leading up to “Severance,” from early roles in movies like “Hellraiser: Bloodline” to his comedic breakout on shows like “Party Down” and “Parks and Recreation,” as well as films like “Step Brothers.”

In his early Hollywood days, Scott took any opportunity he got. 

“I came to Hollywood in the fall of ’93—so it’s [been] 29 years—and I didn’t know anyone. I just wanted to start acting. So I just started doing background work and getting Backstage and doing student films—whatever I could. I didn’t turn my nose up at anything. I had friends in school who I graduated with who, from the very start, said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to do this or that.’ I was always of the mind of: I’m going to do anything and everything. I just want to get in front of the camera or get onstage and do anything. And I did, for a long time.”

To figure out his two-part “Severance” performance, the actor began with a simple concept. 

“There is a part of any actor with an opportunity like that to think like, Oh, maybe one of them has a mustache and a limp. Just trying to throw as many handles on it as possible, or show as vast a difference between the two [as possible]. What we settled on, and what was important to Dan Erickson, the creator, and [director] Ben Stiller and I, was that it feel like…different halves of the same guy. We all do have different ways of behaving, depending on who you’re with or what you’re doing. 

This was a more extreme version of that, sure. But it was important that it feel like the same guy, but one of them being this person who has lived 40-odd years of life and sorrow and happiness and pain. The ‘innie’ version of Mark is, for all intents and purposes, 2.5 years old and doesn’t have all of that experience or all of those feelings. While they physiologically share the insides and a lot of feelings that do cross over unconsciously, there’s a lot they don’t share. So it was a matter of addition and subtraction, going from one to the other. 

Adam Scott in SeveranceAdam Scott on "Severance," via Apple TV+ 

One of the things I started with at the very beginning was…there was a certain confidence with the ‘innie’ Mark—a certain innocence, but not pure innocence. It’s more of an innocence of purpose and a belief in what he’s doing. [I’m playing] the naivety of that, but the strength of that, also. Trying to think of where that comes from, then trying to think of ‘outie’ Mark and all of the stuff that’s happened to him, and how that would affect a person. So a very basic, skeletal beginning for me was: Maybe ‘innie’ is everything I like about myself, and ‘outie’ is everything I hate about myself. It was a really interesting place to start. It’s not necessarily where I ended up, but it was an interesting way to start splitting up or bifurcating yourself into two different parts.”

The scenes in “Severance” that see Scott switching between personas felt like a “math problem” to him. 

“We ended up doing [those transitions] a lot, and I really liked doing them. I could do them all day. I’m one of those [actors] that wants 100 takes, if possible…. For me, it was often just a matter of addition and subtraction. It also depended on where ‘outie’ Mark was in the story and where ‘innie’ Mark was in the story; we had to go from one to the other. But as for the specific contents of the person, it was trying to do an internal math problem and just sort of let some stuff go or let some stuff in, depending on which direction we were going. 

As we got further and further down the road, the elevator transitions got easier and easier once going back and forth became more habitual. As I got to know each of them better and better, I was able to know exactly what those contents were that I was either getting rid of or putting back in to have that internal shift that would need to happen.”

The most important lesson he’s learned: Do it for your team, but also for yourself. 

“I used to go on five auditions a day just trying to get a line on something. Over a period of years, that creates a mindset and affects your confidence. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been on shows like ‘Parks and Rec’ and ‘Party Down’ where you really see people clicking and all wanting to do a great thing for each other and for themselves. The lesson on ‘Party Down’ was: We weren’t worried what people outside the show thought at all, because no one was watching. So we just made it for each other and for ourselves. That includes the writers and producers; we were all a team. This is a direct ‘Parks and Rec’ quote, but I think finding that team is half the battle. 

Whatever it is that the director or writer wants is what I’m trying to get to and achieve, but not just for them. I’m also trying to do it for me. I think us coming together in the middle of that is where we’re going to end up. That’s where the ‘magic’ might come in, is that intersection of what we’re all going for. It’s not just me trying to please someone else—it’s that middle area where we’re all coming together. That’s where a lot of great stuff happens.”

Listen and subscribe to In the Envelope to hear our full conversation with Scott.

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