Women dominate Big Little Lies, both on the screen and in the behind-the-scenes power of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who are executive producers as well as stars of the HBO series.
But how does Adam Scott, who plays husband Ed to Witherspoon’s Madeline, feel about flipping the gender dynamic with a male version of the supportive wife or girlfriend role to which actresses have long been relegated? Scott’s answer is immediate, and minus any hint of annoyance.
“First of all, I think it’s great that it (Big Little Lies) exists, and that more and more projects are being made where women are the protagonists, the true protagonists, and not everything that they say and do is linked to a man, how they feel about a man, how the man is perceiving them,” he said.
“Their lives are very full, and the characters are real people who have many other concerns,” Scott said. To be part of the Emmy-winning hit drama, which returns 9 p.m. EDT Sunday with new addition Meryl Streep, is great, he said, “and I couldn’t be happier.”
Such selflessness could be suspect in an industry where the dictionary could, arguably, start at “e” for ego. But factor in Scott’s earlier, admiring remarks about his mother, retired teacher Anne Scott-Chambers, and cynicism seems shabby.
“She would bring me to any movie I wanted to see,” said Scott, 46, including some three or four viewings of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” There was also a revival house in his hometown of Santa Cruz, California, where his mom introduced him to the films of Monty Python, Woody Allen and others and shared her thoughtful perspective on pop culture.
Scott-Chambers also backed his pursuit of the acting career he had dreamed of since he saw Harrison Ford swashbuckling his way through 1984’s Temple of Doom.
Living in a coastal town, even one as close to Los Angeles as Santa Cruz is, Scott said his aspirations seemed impossible. He finally voiced them as he watched the 1989 Oscar telecast that included young nominee River Phoenix (for Running on Empty), and his mom’s reply was, “You can do that. You’ll be great.”
Scott drolly recalls the inevitable early bumps, starting with his arrival on the set of 1996’s Hellraiser: Bloodline, his debut movie role.
“This was it. This was the first day of my enormous career,” he said. “This was, ‘I’m so sorry, everyone I’ve known before, I may or may not be able to return your calls. I’m going to be incredibly busy and you’re going to be nervous around me anyway.'”
Then he was guided to a chair marked with a strip of tape bearing his name, or close to it: Adam Craig. In retrospect, he says, his early optimism was critical.
“I’m so thankful for that delusion and that naiveté,” he said. “Because if I could grasp the reality of my situation, then I don’t know if I would have continued if I knew it would be another 15 years before I actually had a career to look at.”
It’s a solid and busy one, including dramas ranging from Murder One and Party of Five on TV to The Aviator on the big screen. When Scott landed in Step Brothers, it kicked off a comedy run highlighted by his turn as socially awkward bureaucrat Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation and, more recently, his role as troublesome demon Trevor in The Good Place.
He and his wife, Naomi, parents of two children, have a production company, with recent projects including Fun Mom Dinner with Toni Collette and Molly Shannon. Scott also makes time to co-host a podcast that reflects his devotion to rock group R.E.M.
Big Little Lies represents a return to drama for him, one Scott avidly pursued. It’s based on the novel of the same name by best-selling author Liane Moriarty, who worked with series creator and writer David E. Kelley on the story.
“I was known for comedy, so didn’t know if I could do this,” said Scott, who auditioned for the part of Ed McKenzie, a devoted if thus far passive husband who was cuckolded last season by Madeline’s extramarital fling. “I had to go in and sell them on it and, luckily, I got it.”
Lucky for the series as well, according to Per Saari, a series executive producer. Big Little Lies challenges its uniformly top-notch cast, including Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley, with the bleakest of narratives, including murder, rape and abuse, along with a salting of dark humor.
“In terms of navigating tone, finding that blend of comedy and drama so unique to Big Little Lies, Adam is a virtual acrobat, and the perfect sparring partner for Reese,” Saari said.
While carefully avoiding spoilers in the seven new episodes, Scott signals a change ahead for his character.
“We’re seeing Ed looking to define himself and his identity around things other than his marriage and his relationship with his wife,” Scott said. “He’s dressing a little differently, he’s got a haircut. He’s thinking about himself a bit more.”
But it’s still the women who count. “It’s about time for men to keep playing these roles in female-driven shows. And I’m more than happy to be doing that,” he said.
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