Q&A: Amy Poehler and Adam Scott talk ‘Parks and Recreation’, Calzones and Leslie and Ben’s Future
With one of the best casts on TV, fantastic writing and characters that you can’t get enough of, NBC’s Parks and Recreation is easily one of the best shows around.
I talked to both Amy, Adam and Executive Producer Mike Schur in a Q & A about the upcoming nuptials, guest stars, the future of Leslie and Ben and their thoughts on what might happen next season.
Parks and Recreation airs on Thursdays at 8:30 on NBC
Are there any details that you can reveal, like the dress, who’s going to be there, who gives a horrible speech, the first song that they dance to, a theme, anything like that?
Mike Schur: There are a lot of details about the wedding. It’s kind of an interesting – it’s kind of a big episode. But I’ll say that everybody has a job to fill of the main cast. Part of the fun of the episode is that the wedding was originally planned for May and at this black tie gala that happened in last week’s episode they decide to do it that night.
So they basically have two hours to throw it together. So everybody kind of has a role to play and Tom Haverford becomes the officiant and has to get like ordained online in like an hour and Donna plays a role and that we’re for the first time are going to feature beautiful and professionally trained singing voice on the show a couple times…
Amy Poehler: Oh yes that’s a good one.
Mike Schur: Yes which it’s very beautiful. We let her pick which aria she wanted to perform, so that was fun.
And it just what’s really nice about it is basically in the opening moments of the episode in order to pull this thing off in sort of claustrophobic Parks and Rec fashion everyone has to sort of chip in. So there’s a part for everybody to play.
TV has a lot of examples of will they or won’t they couples who then took the plunge in one way or another and often that made it very challenging for the shows going forward in some way, some of the magic was lost.
So, in the case of Leslie and Ben, could you all talk a little bit about what challenges are still ahead for them? How do you maintain the comic tension once they become husband and wife?
Amy Poehler: Well that’s a great question. Just speaking quickly to the fact what I love about Parks is that, you know, if you care about this couple, you’ve got to see over the past couple years so much change happen with them and it’s really satisfying the show hasn’t killed us with low expectation and will they/won’t they — which I love.
And I love that Parks continues to like let characters change and like actually have things happen, like life goes on in the world, like the world, like what happens in the real world.
So that part is satisfying because I know that Mike and the writers always kind of write and then just try to figure what’s going to happen later. And so then I would pass that over to Mike as to what’s next.
Mike Schur: I would say that part of the joy of the two characters and their relationship is that they have three-dimensional lives and they’re both very committed not only to each other but their careers and to their friends and to the just, you know, living a sort of full life.
And it’s, you know, I think that maybe if there’s a trap that you can fall into it’s that you have to just tell the story repeatedly just about the relationship and that can get kind of boring. But we don’t have that problem.
In fact in the second episode — there’s two episodes airing on Thursday. The wedding episode is at 8:30 and at 9:00 it’s just another episode. And that episode — the cold open of that episode — is Leslie and Ben coming back from their honeymoon and just sort of talking about how much fun they had on their honeymoon.
But the episode is just a regular episode of Parks and Rec and Leslie and Ben aren’t in the same story. Ben is starting a new job and it’s his first day at work and it’s like he’s sort of thrown into this new challenge of his new job. And Leslie has an event that she’s planning for — which is sort of like a correspondents’ dinner type of event where the media and politicians roast each other and stuff.
And so I think you’ll see right away that there’s a sort of blueprint going forward where, you know, yes they’re married now but, you know, they also have other aspects of their lives that are very important to them. And so I hope and very much feel like that will be the thing that keeps it from seeming like the — quote — magic is gone — end quote — because it’s not their lives have never been about each other.
That’s a huge part of their lives and they love each other and they have a wonderful relationship and hopefully a great marriage going forward. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on and I think you’ll see that in the 9 o’clock episode.
Adam Scott: Yes also I’ll just say that I recently went back and watched the “The Master Plan” — which is the first episode Rob Lowe and I were on – and kind of looking at Leslie and Ben at our first couple of scenes together it really speaks to the quality of writing of this show that there’s a lot of kind of foreshadowing of their relationship in the sense that these are two kind of three-dimensional characters that really sort of fit together and they see things in each other that no one else really sees and kind of hit these buttons with each other right off the bat.
And so I think that, you know, there’s just more to it. From the very start there was more to it than a simple will they or won’t they or kind of a device like that.
And so I think that them being married now just sort of fits in naturally with that. It’s not like there’s anything to be lost by them joining together permanently, you know.
Adam, when you started, you were brought on as the — quote, unquote — love interest for Leslie. But how much did you know in advance? How far this might progress for either of the guys?
Adam Scott: I mean I didn’t know. You know, we thought it might be, you know, Leslie and Ben might be a couple at some point. But I think it was sort of a wait and see sort of thing. Because, you know, we got together and didn’t quite click as a relationship.
I mean, you know, I guess this is more a question for Mike. But I sort of got the sense that we’re going to – you know, they were going to try that out and just see if it works. And if it didn’t, maybe find something else for me to do. I’m not really sure. But I don’t know. Mike, I guess that’s more a question for you because I don’t really totally know.
Mike Schur: Well certainly the plan was always that this was a love interest and a long-term love interest. And our initial idea for Leslie was that she was going to have a series of relationships with different men — different kinds of men — over the course of the show and that she would sort of learn something different from each of them.
And that’s why there was a sort of she learned a little something from Mark Brendanawicz. She learned something for Louis C.K.’s character. She learned something from Justin Theroux. And we were sort of like oh Adam Scott, that’s good. She’ll date him for a while and she’ll learn something about herself from him.
And it was certainly the plan to have him be a love interest and what happened very quickly was I mean there’s a in the second episode – well the first episode, in that “Master Plan” episode they have a conversation in a bar. And I wrote this thing into where Ben says to her very casually, “Like you want to run for office some day, right?” and she says, “Yes, how did you know?”
And he just sort of blows past it and the idea was like he’s just kind of got her number, like he just kind of gets her, he understands her and who she is and what her goals are.
And in the second episode that we had — which was the finale that year — called “Freddy Spaghetti” there’s they have a conversation and Leslie smiled at him and walks off and there’s a shot of Adam looking after Leslie with a smile on his face. And as soon as I saw that, I kind of realized that not only were they going to get together but they were never going to break up, like it became very clear in that moment that this was it.
And it just it was something sort of not – it’s that sort of indescribable thing you can’t really put your finger on but when you see two actors inhabiting roles and interacting with each other and they just sort of make sense.
I remember like in the discussions before Season 3 going like all right well this season is going to end with Leslie and Ben like dating very seriously and thinking about getting married. So we better figure out how that’s going to go.
So it was certainly the plan early on and then that plan was solidified as soon as Adam showed up and started acting — which by the way for the record I think you’re very good, Adam. I think you’re a very good actor. Don’t you agree, Amy? I think he’s quite good.
Amy Poehler: Yes. Sure.
Adam Scott: Amy, you hesitated just then. I’d like to ask about that.
Amy Poehler: I didn’t. And no it was a problem with the phone.
Adam Scott: Because I know for a fact it’s a brand new phone and you have excellent reception.
Amy Poehler: Well I just wanted to kind of condense and emulsify what Schur just said. I just want say it’s chemistry baby. You can’t fight it.
Adam Scott: Hey good emulsification. That was a great – a really high-quality emulsification on your part. You really emulsified what Mike just said.
As of last week we officially seen all of Amy’s UCB costars — which was so much fun. I loved seeing Matt Walsh on the show. If there is a next season — which we’re optimistic that there is one at least here — are there any plans of maybe having Tina Fey guest star.
Amy Poehler: We never know who’s going to come around and certainly we haven’t even thought about what we’re going to shoot next year. Schur and I are working on the last episode — which I think is due in like five minutes — and (unintelligible).
But I mean it’s really fun to have – I mean it was really fun to have Matt Walsh and Matt Besser and Ian Roberts and everyone we know come by. And, you know, we’re really lucky that people want to.
We just had – well I don’t know if I should say. Maybe not. But we’ve had some people come by recently and so there’s more exciting faces to come. So yes always watch hoping that you’ll see exciting people coming by. You never know.
Adam Scott: Matt Walsh was so great.
Mike Schur: He was great yes. And the way that we like to do this and we’re lucky now because I think we’re established enough and enough like amazing, funny people have guested on the show that we’re in the position where we can write a part — a juicy part — like that and go all right who should play this. Oh Walsh. Walsh is perfect. And then we just someone calls him and says hey come do the show. And if people are free and they want to do it, they just kind of come by. It’s a very streamlined process.
And I think we can say. I believe – I think the news has broken, Amy, about the thing that you were alluding to. But if not, what the hell, right?
Amy Poehler: Oh great. Okay.
Mike Schur: But yes we wrote a part recently for an episode we just finished shooting and we were sort of like well who should do this. Oh Patton Oswalt. The answer is Patton Oswalt. And we literally just one of our writers, Joe Mande, has opened for him a lot doing stand-up and he literally just e-mailed him and Patton was like yes definitely I’m in. And that’s as hard as it was to convince him — which was great because he’s a fan of the show. And he just came and did the part and he was so, so, so, so funny.
So I think that it’s a crazy embarrassment of riches when you have a cast as good as our cast and then you can because the show really exists in the town Pawnee you get to meet all these fun new people. And when have those big, fun parts, you know, between and among the writers and the cast members we know so many great talented actors. We can get them to Jamie Denbo did an episode. The second one that airs on Thursday Jamie Denbo guest stars in and we’re huge fans of hers and she’s hilarious. And it’s just nice to have funny people come by and hang out with us.
Amy Poehler: And Charlize Theron plays my stand-in and I feel like not enough people (write about) that.
Is this also going to be really the last that we see of Ben and his calzones? I would hate for that union to be broken after all of that.
Adam Scott: Well I feel like Ben was betrayed by calzones. But as you know when you’re betrayed there’s – let me just say that there’s a period of shame and then there’s always forgiveness. I’m not going – I don’t want to predict anything or spoil anything. But I know that forgiveness is something that’s always possibility.
Amy Poehler: And I’d like to just point out that Ben is so codependent about his calzones that he often puts his calzones before his work and his friends and his family. And it’s like a lot of people are worried. Yes it’s like enough’s enough. Like how many times does a calzone have to disappoint you before you let it go? Like stop worrying about the calzone’s feelings and like just live your life, man.
Mike Schur: I would only add and emulsify to Amy has said by saying that I don’t – I think that Leslie and Ben’s bond is so strong and they’re so right for each other that I don’t think any other man or woman could ever cause any irreparable harm in their marriage. But I do think that what could is the calzone issue. I think that it’s possible down the line that that could be a wedge that comes – that drives them apart. I don’t know.
I mean this is all speculation. But it’s the two things that Ben cares about most in the world and feels the most intensely about are Leslie and pizza wrapped in pastry dough.
Adam Scott: If I could just further emulsify what Mike just said…
Mike Schur: Please.
Adam Scott: …I would just say that speaking from the point of view as the actor that plays Ben sometimes you just got to go into the zone.
Mike Schur: That was the opposite of emulsifying something. That was you unemulsified what I said.
Adam Scott: Oh I’m sorry. Did I say I would – I meant de-emulsify.
Mike Schur: You had de-emulsify. I knew. I could sense that yes.
Amy, you and Adam have been working together for a long time now. Do you two feel like an old married couple in real life?
Amy Poehler: Well no. I think we like – I mean I think we – how do I answer this? I think because an old married couple to me connotates like people that are kind of have been together a long time and are kind of – I think what’s so cool about getting to work with Adam and getting to act with him is that I always get surprised and I’m always challenged and it’s always really interesting. It feels very alive and very young.
So it doesn’t feel like we’ve been, you know, we’ve been working together for a long time but it certainly doesn’t – nothing about it feels old.
But I do feel like we know each other really (unintelligible) and I feel like we – you know, we acted on another project together recently — a film that Adam did and produced and is the star of called ACOD. And when we were working on that, it was really, really nice because we would just get on set and we would just really – it was really nice to be together on set because we were so used to working together all the time.
So we kind of know each other’s rhythms and stuff and we’re comfortable with each other — which is half the battle sometimes when you’re working — especially in comedy.
So I feel like we do know each other’s rhythms and everything but I feel like we’re not quite at the point yet where we’re old and married.
Adam Scott: Yes I mean I just realized the other day that Rob and I came on this show three – well not quite but almost three years ago — three calendar years — which is crazy because it’s gone by really fast. But I do know that I mean, you know, working on the show is always just such a job and genuinely just a privilege. It’s just such a great, great job.
But, you know, whenever Amy and I have scenes together I’m palpably excited that I get to do that. You know, it’s really just so much fun. So I think old married couple it’s not quite the right thing because it’s just such a terrific thing to get to do, you know.
Over the past three seasons, what has been your guy’s favorite moment or scene of Leslie and Ben’s relationship?
Amy Poehler: I like the proposal. I thought the proposal was so beautifully written. And because I remember us walking into Joe Biden’s office and Schur talking about how he was going back to his hotel room to write the proposal. So I remember knowing when he was writing it and then getting it and nobody changed a word.
And I remember that day feeling very special because it was the three of us on set and Dean Holland, our director, and it just felt like a long time coming — which was really nice. I think everybody was really happy for the characters and it was a great example of Mike’s writing — which is always a combination of really sweet and heartfelt and it felt very earned but also just very funny.
And there’s a lot of that in the wedding episode. There’s a moment in the wedding episode that’s so to me the perfect example of in a really beautiful and sweet moment just hard laughs and those sharp turns are so hard to do I think and I think Mike does them so well. So I would say that scene.
Adam Scott: Yes I would probably say the wedding just because it’s really something and being there for it. You know, it really felt like we were at a real wedding. I mean I think all of us, the whole cast was there. We were all there and it just felt it’s really it was a very special evening, you know. It was at night and we were all there in this wedding and it’s make-believe but it was all we were all very moved and it was really something.
I would also go back to the episode called “Road Trip” where Leslie and Ben kind of – it’s kind of where everything culminates and they have their first kiss at the end of the episode. And I thought that the episode was really well written and directed and the tension kind of leading up to their first sort of scandalous kiss in private I thought was a really, really fun to do episode and it’s one of my favorite episodes to watch as well, really funny.
And like Amy was saying, the kiss that happens at the end of the episode is so earned and I just love that one as well. I think that’s one of my favorites. And the proposal is lovely and really funny as well.
Mike Schur: Yes I would I think those are the three I would pick. I mean after the wedding airs I’ll probably – I would probably say the wedding. But I like the proposal the most of the things that have actually aired I think because I’m of the belief that the most powerful weapon that we have in TV these days after 60 years of sitcoms is surprise.
And that has been our goal with every relationship really and with every even nonromantic story we’ve told on the show is we just try to always be surprising to the audience. And that was the idea was we’re not going to have the proposal come in a season premiere or in, you know, November sweeps or, you know, Christmas or whatever. We’re going to do it at a time where it just feels natural and right and it kind of takes people by surprise.
So that was the plan with the proposal and I think it worked. And it also has led to this very nice thing about Leslie and Ben’s relationship — which is that they are constantly sort of surprising each other — which is a very romantic idea I think. And that was actually talked about in the wedding episode in the vows that they exchange. There is that they talk about that notion. Leslie talks about that notion of being of how romantic it is and how nice it is to constantly be surprised by someone.
Amy, when you look back on when you first signed on to do Parks and Recreation, in what ways has the show evolved and what surprised you the most about the way the show’s evolved?
Amy Poehler: Well when you say that, when you pose that question and the first image that comes to mind (unintelligible) is me in my kitchen in New York talking to Mike Schur on the phone and him saying you’re going to love how we shoot the show and you’re going to never want to shoot anything differently after.
And I remember that and like the way we shoot the show is so fun. And what I mean by that is that the oxygen that show gets by the way – the writing combined with the way we shoot it I just can’t explain having now directed an episode or two there’s just a freedom that it’s just hard to capture when you’re not shooting in that kind of, you know, documentary style.
And but I’m not – I have to say I’ve always had such faith in Schur and his talent and his writing that there’s not much that surprised me. I know we’ve gone through a lot of changes. We had the really interesting past where we’ve just been this show that every year kind of held on.
And, you know, right now feels like this really nice moment where people have watched all of our episodes and are kind of caught up to the episodes that are actually on TV. Like I feel like people are finally where everyone – the timing of it is really nice.
But as far as character and story and talent and cast and all that, like I don’t know as soon as we started I felt like oh this is going to be great. I just – I just thought oh this is just going to be great and it’s just continued to be great and it’s just because of the foundation of it — the bones of all of it from the beginning. I think we’re a good match.
It’s surpassed my wildest expectation of how good it could be really honestly. It every minute it just keeps getting better and a more richer experience certainly for me as an actor to do.
And then the people – I mean you spend a lot of time when you’re doing a TV show — single camera TV show — you spend a lot of time with the people that you’re working with. It’s like your second family. And I can’t imagine working on a show where you didn’t love the people you worked with that you’ve spent so much time with.
And I mean I honestly this show is in many ways I mean saved my life, enriched my life in all these different ways. It’s truly like a job that I’ll never have again I feel. So I’m very grateful for it every minute. The fact that I get to be on something with the best cast in television and film – fuck it. Best cast (unintelligible). The best comedic and dramatic cast, television or film, that’s what I get to work with every day.
One of the things about your show is that while we clearly have our main characters and we know who they are, we have been able to somehow get to know all these other people.
So that when I think about the wedding coming up, as much as, you know, the main characters are the focus I want to know how Tom reacts and I want to know how Jerry reacts and I want to know how all these people do it. Was that by design at the beginning? Did you know it was going to be essentially an ensemble piece or as you discovered the strength of therapist people that you got, did it become more of an ensemble piece as you went along?
Mike Schur: We always imagined it as an ensemble with Amy at the center. That was always the idea. Obviously Greasing Daniels and I were coming off of working on The Office and it was incredibly fun in those first couple years to look around that bullpen and go like all right who’s Oscar, who’s Phyllis, who’s Stanley, who’s Toby like and finding those characters was so fun. And every time we figured one out it just gave us other little spice that you could add to the meal.
And when we conceived of this show, the feeling was the core cast, it’s an ensemble cast and Amy’s at the center but there was also this sense of like that it’s such a cliché to say this and I deeply apologize for saying this but that the town was also a sort of character in the show. We were inventing an entire town with its libraries and its parks and its restaurants and its sanitation workers.
And when I first came out here to interview, I was working at SNL and I first came out there to work – to interview for jobs and I was in the at Fox. And I saw one of those Simpson’s posters that they make periodically where it’s like every character who’s every been on the Simpson’s.
You know, it’s like 350 little adorable animated drawings. And I remember just staring at it for hours and just trying to just parsing it out and going oh I remember that guy and I remember her. Oh my god the character is so funny every time the bumblebee shows up I’m so happy.
And that kind of just stuck with me and that is such a wonderful thing. I mean we literally have invented an entire town from scratch. And if you’ve been with the show from the beginning, you know the media figures, the people who write for the newspaper, the people who have – you know, Perd Hapley and Joan Callamezzo and all of these just people who populate the world.
And I love thinking of this as – I mean one of the central characteristics of Leslie Knope I that she loves her town more than anything in the world, that she truly at some level she’s no dummy but she just loves it. She doesn’t think it’s better than Paris or London or Rome. But she just loves it and she has a tremendous amount of pride and she works really hard to make it better.
And so that’s – it was always it was by design. It was like we’re going to – if this show sticks around long enough, we’re going to know – we’re going to have a map in our heads of everything that happens in this town.
And, you know, episodes like this one tonight we don’t – it’s really focused more on the main cast. But you do get a sense of like what she means to the town and what the town means to her — which is really nice.
Amy Poehler: And basically when the show is over, the cast and all the writers we’re going to go to a town and we’re going to live there and we’re going to pretend it’s Pawnee until the Department of Tobacco and Firearms tells us we have to leave.
Mike Schur: Yes it’ll be like the Truman Show. We’ll just put – we’ll put cameras everywhere and we’ll just keep making episodes just by going about our daily lives. NBC has already agreed. NBC has already agreed to purchase a town for us.
Amy, Aubrey Plaza was saying somewhere that you’re the scariest – one of the scariest people she’s ever worked with. You never let her eat food. You’re always telling her to lose weight. Would you like to take this time to respond to that now if you haven’t already?
Amy Poehler: Well let’s just say that Aubrey has been a very bad girl and she needs to watch (unintelligible). Now she’ll be punished. And that’s all I have to say is that she’s going to – I think she does this – always when she says these things it makes me angry and I think she does these things to make me angry and so she’s going to have to get punished. That’s all I have to say. She knows what that means.
Mike Schur: Sometimes when I’m writing, Amy will just stand over my shoulder and look at the screen and just make small disapproving noises, just like (unintelligible) or like…
Amy Poehler: Eek.
Mike Schur: …oh – she’ll just go like oh really and then I’ll like look behind her and she’s just staring blankly straight ahead. It’s very intimidating.
Adam Scott: She does this thing with me where when we arrive for a scene just like camera blocking or when we’re just reading through a scene she’ll introduce herself to me as if we’ve never – like as if she forgot who I was. And then through the whole day makes small talk, like get to know you chitchat and everyone knows we know each other, but it just keeps us on our toes as a cast. I guess it’s a really good thing.
Mike Schur: She’s got a lot of power — a lot of like alpha dog power moves that she pulls.
Amy Poehler: Who’s talking right now? Wait, who was that talking?
Adam Scott: It’s Adam Scott. You know who it is.
Amy Poehler: Hey, Adam. (Unintelligible). Hi. I’m excited to get to finally work with you. It’s nice to meet you.
Adam Scott: Oh god, Amy. All right whatever. Nice to meet you yes.
Mike Schur: Just play along. It’s easier and just grease the wheels. You know, let’s play along with it.
Adam Scott: I know. Hi, Ms. Poehler, nice to meet you.
With Leslie and Ben getting married it seems like a lot of developments on the show are coming to a sort of natural conclusion. So with that said, and I know you guys said you don’t exactly have concrete plans for this, but what would you guys personally like to see in a possible Season 6, if you guys get renewed?
Amy Poehler: Oh well there’s so much stuff. I mean Schur and I were just talking about it yesterday about there’s so much rich stuff that we’d like to do and see and because, you know, Leslie’s finishing her first term as city councilor and they’re just newly married, her and Ben, and Ann is trying to have a baby and April and Andy are at that point in their lives as a young couple and two young people like well who do we want to be and what do we want to do.
And the Parks Department is constantly being faced with the threat of being cut or being exterminated or being mismanaged. And Ron has a new person in his life and Tom has a new business, so like there’s a lot of really good stuff that the writers did an amazing job of laying out that I know we have thoughts and dreams for for Season 6. And even saying Season 6 is so exciting.
Mike Schur: Yes it’s always at some level about like giving people a satisfying conclusion to certain stories that are ongoing and simultaneously throwing balls up in the air that will throw us forward to next year. And, you were, we’re – Amy and I are writing the finale together right now and that is very much a part of the outline is to sort of, you know, tell the story of the end of this year — her first year as city councilor — and wrap it up in a certain way and then also kind of suggest a lot of interesting and fun things that would happen next year in a sort enticing way.
And that’s, you know, we’ve already – it’s sort of like running like football team or something, like you’re developing the guys who you are on your team, you’re drafting people for the future, you know, it’s sort it’s about both the now and the future at all times — especially on the show when there’s so many storylines and so many characters who, you know, warrant getting served with good stories.
So it’s like a big, complicated, messy calculus that we are constantly engaging in but it’s really fun. It’s just there’s nothing more fun than coming up with ideas for these characters. It’s like I would do it forever if I could.