Adam Scott used to take himself way too seriously. He fretted. He stressed. He approached every acting job even the ones that didn't require any acting with an overwrought intensity that would have Stanislavski tiptoeing quietly out of the room.
''When I first came to Hollywood in the early 1990s I worked as an extra in music videos,'' recalls the 38-year-old as he chomps into dinner at a trendy Hollywood burger joint. ''I did this Tia Carrere video set in a coffeehouse. I was in the background, having coffee with a model, while Tia Carrere was singing on some stairs. That's all I had to do drink coffee. But I made up a whole backstory for my character who I was and what I was doing at that coffee shop. I even tried to improvise with the model. She thought I was an idiot.''
Fortunately, Scott has lightened up since then, and it's done wonders for his career. Thanks to his charismatically laconic characters on TV sitcoms such as Party Down and Parks and Recreation, as well as less charming but still hilarious supporting turns in big-screen comedies like Step Brothers, Scott will never have to work in music videos again. In fact, he's about to take his greatest leap yet, carrying his own romantic comedy, the R-rated Friends With Kids. Granted, it's a low-budget, art-housey rom-com written and directed by Kissing Jessica Stein scribe Jennifer Westfeldt, who also costars but Scott has a big, juicy leading-man role just the same. The first of his career.
Scott plays a commitment-phobic Manhattanite whose platonic best friend (Westfeldt) lives downstairs in the same apartment building. When all their pals (Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Kristen Wiig, and Westfeldt's real-life boyfriend, Jon Hamm) start having babies and disappearing into parenthood, they hatch a plan to have a baby of their own, without the fuss of love and marriage. It sounds like the plot of a Kate Hudson movie, except that Westfeldt's script, which never sugarcoats how rough reproduction can be on relationships, is far smarter than that. So, for that matter, is the acting.
''Adam is so funny and dry and sardonic, with that disaffected humor that he does so well,'' says Westfeldt. ''But at the end of this movie he also has to shift into being really emotional and heartbroken. Adam had to deliver on both counts. My whole movie depended on it.''