“When you’re in the straight man/audience surrogate, whatever you want to call it, there is a bit of neutrality that you have to figure out.” – Adam Scott
The Starz sitcom Party Down — about a group of Hollywood hopefuls working as Los Angeles caterers (sound familiar?) — originally only lasted two season over a decade ago, but was unexpectedly revived for a third season that began airing in 2023. Star Adam Scott is best known for comedic roles in films like Step Brothers and television series like Parks and Recreation, but in Party Down he serves as the series’ straight man as an actor who quit the business surrounded by ambitious hopefuls.
Speaking to Rolling Stone about his role in the series, Scott shared a memory from filming the first episode that has helped him play audience surrogate characters in many of his projects:
The very first day we shot the very first episode [of the series], we shot the scene with Lizzy [Caplan], where we’re outside smoking and I tell her my name’s Scrotum Phillips. After a couple takes, [director] Fred Savage took me aside and he was like, “Hey, so look, you can let go and just listen to her and don’t worry about it. You’re the person we’re going to take the ride with. The audience is going to look at all these crazy people through your eyes.” I think what I had been doing the first couple takes is what I was used to doing, which is really leaning in and trying to make an impression and play the scene, rather than when you’re in the straight man/audience surrogate, whatever you want to call it, there is a bit of neutrality that you have to figure out.
I think it’s something that you often hear when people dismiss performances saying that someone’s just playing themself. I think that is dismissing something that is incredibly difficult. Not that I’m saying I am playing myself, but I’m saying that just trying to remain a neutral player, and trying to juggle everything that’s going on in front of you, is really hard. Fred gave me this advice, and it ended up being maybe the most valuable advice I’ve ever gotten. It guided me through the rest of Party Down, and then through Parks.