At the beginning of A.C.O.D., the new comedy from director Stu Zicherman, Carter (Adam Scott) has, in his words, “kinda got it figured out.” His parents, who divorced when he was a kid (the title stands for “Adult Child of Divorce”), haven’t spoken in 20 years, and it’s working out fine for everyone; Carter deals with them as he needs to, keeps them far apart, and as a result, they’re in “a period of real calm.” But that all comes to an end when his brother (Clark Duke) gets engaged. Suddenly, the parents (played, uproariously, by Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins) have to interact. That alone upsets Ben’s delicate sense of control; even worse, he discovers that as a child, he was the subject of a bestselling book by an author (Jane Lynch) who wants to revisit the top of children of divorce. The ensuing complications are brought to life with a screwball snap by the film’s crackerjack ensemble cast, which also includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jessica Alba, and Scott’s Parks and Recreation co-star and love interest Amy Poehler — this time playing, somewhat alarmingly for Parks fans, his stepmother. I talked with Scott and Zicherman about that casting decision, Scott’s work as executive producer on the movie, and how their own experiences as A.C.O.D.s informed the film.
Flavorwire: So how did you two get together on this project?
Adam Scott: We met, uh—
Stu Zicherman: On a date?
Scott: Yeah, just dating.
Zicherman: eHarmony. I was a big fan of Adam’s from Party Down, and so when the time came, I actually called up his manager, who I knew, and I said, “Can you just slip this to Adam Scott and see if there’s any interest?” He did, and next thing I knew, we were meeting for coffee in Silver Lake.
Scott: Yeah, I got the script and just immediately said, “Yes, I wanna do this.” Then I met Stu and said, “Absolutely not.” But no, we got along from the get-go and just sort of started working on it.
Adam, you’re credited as executive producer on the movie, which from what I understand can mean any number of things. What was that job for you?
Scott: Fluffer, mostly.
Zicherman: He fought really hard to get his face on the poster.
Scott: Yeah, sure. You gotta put my fucking face on your fucking poster or I’m fucking gone. Well, I came on pretty early. I was the first cast member attached, and it was a full — boy, what was it, eight, nine months before we started shooting. So we just sort of worked on it together, and I mean, if I really helped with anything, it was maybe with some of the cast, but at the same time —
Zicherman: You also gave notes on the script, and when an actor wants to be a producer in a movie, especially if it’s an actor that is in every scene in the movie, you take that as a sign they’re committed to it, and he was. We did notes, we did a reading, he helped organize a reading, and we got really great notes from people, and when it came to casting, he helped make phone calls. Again, it’s just a level of commitment to the movie that we were happy to have.
I’m sure this is the question you’re tired of, but: was it strange for you and Amy to go from playing husband and wife who love each other on Parks to playing stepson and stepmother who hate each other here?
Scott: It was really fun, because we’re so lovey-dovey on the show all the time — which is great and really fun — to absolutely hating each other’s guts and never resolving that. At the end of the movie, we still absolutely hate each other. It was really fun. It was a blast.
Zicherman: They have this funny improv moment where — we were doing the scene where they’re fighting in the restaurant, when she kicks him out of the restaurant. And they came to me after a couple of takes and said, “We have this idea that at the end of the scene,” Adam was like, “maybe I’ll say to her, ‘Maybe we could’ve been friends.’ Maybe he has a moment of kindness for her.” And I was like, this isn’t Parks and Rec! But they ended up like, “No, no, let’s do one with it,” and we ended up using it because it was a really nice moment.
Scott: Yeah, I forgot that was improvised.
The script is elegantly constructed and very sharp and funny, but you’ve also got Adam, you’ve got Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch — you’ve got some of the best improvisational comics in the world. Were you able to take advantage of that?
Zicherman: A fair amount — although, when you’re making an indie movie and you only have 24 days to shoot it, you just don’t have time. Our whole thing was, “Let’s get what’s in the script.” We didn’t have time for rehearsal, so you get on set and you’re running through it. But we would, almost every setup, do a take at the end where I would say, “Forget the script. Whatever comes.” Because you can’t not ask these people to, right? And sometimes they would get stuff — the most frustrating thing for me, I sat and watched the movie in LA last week for the first time all the way through in six months maybe, and there’s so many things I took out that were funny as hell, but we had to take them out because people were like, “No, we gotta keep moving, gotta keep it moving” or “It just weighs too far to the absurd.” Just all these things. You know, Amy comes running in to yell about the fire; she did, like, 12 versions of it. Every one different, every one funny, but you can’t use it all.
Scott: Yeah, with a schedule like that, there’s not much time for a lot of improvisation, and with a script like this, you don’t really need to do it. On Parks, we always do — we call it a “fun run,” where we do a take where anything goes, and the joke is the fun runs are always longer and less funny, because the scripts that those guys write are so perfect. And sometimes, great stuff comes out of that, but when you’re working with great material, sometimes you really don’t need it. I think it’s a healthy thing on set for the actors to just keep everybody loose and just have fun and all that.
Zicherman: There were times when I wouldn’t cut right away; I’d let them keep going. But yeah, you have to get the movie, you know? Especially with a movie like this. You want to make sure that you’re getting the undercurrent of it, that you’re not just getting the comedy; you’re doing the drama, so we tried to pay attention to that.
If you’ll indulge me another Parks question: There’s a long history of TV shows where the couple gets married, and then they become kinda boring. What sort of new directions do you see Ben and Leslie going in, this season and beyond?
Scott: I think that relationship is unique in that they were committed to each other from the start, from the very first inklings of romance between Ben and Leslie, and I think the two characters are very different and complement each other really well. So the will-they-or-won’t-they was never really — for a little while, before we had our first kiss, but that was already three seasons ago — so it was never really a huge factor in what made the relationship interesting. If it was, then yeah, we’d be in trouble, but I don’t think it was ever written that way, so the relationship continues to be as fun and romantic and interesting and funny as it always was.
Now, Ben is an A.C.O.D. You’ve played a couples others as well. What is it about these kinds of character that you attach to?
Scott: I really like the fact that the movie starts with Carter being completely in control of his life — not only his life, but the lives of those around him. He kind of keeps everyone close, yet at an arm’s distance. He has a perfect job, a perfect girlfriend — it feels like he has everything wired. He’s the grown-up. And then slowly, over the course of the movie, you see him sort of turn into a kid again and unravel a bit. I thought it was just an interesting construction for a character, for a movie, because usually it’s the other way around. You see someone grow up.
Are your parents —
Scott: Yeah. We [he and Zicherman] are both A.C.O.D.s.
So am I. I have to tell you, it felt very true to the experience. And Ben [Karlin, the co-writer] as well?
Zicherman: Ben’s one as well, yeah.
So a lot of this stuff comes straight out of your own experiences and memories?
Zicherman: Yes, Ben and I have known each other our whole lives. We both went through each other’s parents’ divorce, because our parents were friends growing up, and yeah. It’s not hard — you throw a stick and you hit an A.C.O.D. What’s always been fun for me about this movie is when you start talking to people about — like, we grew up on movies like Kramer vs. Kramer that were very sad and tragic, and my parents’ divorce was that, but also funny and weird and irreverent, and taking the license to laugh at it and getting an audience — like, last night I did a Q&A for 200 people, people were just so happy that they have the opportunity to laugh at the subject. And it just opens them up to talk about it. We found that in writing it. We hear people telling stories all the time, and we’re like, “Oh, we have to use that.”
Last question: Where are you at on the Party Down movie?
Scott: Oh, ah, nowhere.
Scott: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if it ever was anywhere, but I don’t know if it’s a great idea to make movies from television shows, personally.
Why is that?
Scott: Has there ever been a good one?
Scott: MacGruber! I think things that are in a 22-25 minute format work really well in that format for a reason, and when you apply a three-act, 90-minute structure to it, sometimes it kind of takes the air out of the tire a little bit.
Zicherman: I would go see that movie.
I would totally go see that movie.
Scott: So would I!
A.C.O.D. is out today in limited release.