Adam Scott and Quinta Brunson on ‘Severance,’ ‘Abbott Elementary’

Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” and Adam Scott, of Apple TV+’s mind-bending drama “Severance,” have a connection we can’t quite put our finger on. After they speak about their shows — and the fact that both of their mothers were public school teachers — it turns out that their familiar dynamic comes from an established collegial relationship: As Scott accidentally spills, on variety‘s “Actors on Actors” is presented by Apple TV+, Brunson will be guest starring on the upcoming Starz revival of Scott’s brilliant-but-canceled “Party Down.” Thanks for letting us know!

ADAM SCOTT: “Abbott Elementary” is your show. My family and I—we go through phases of watching a show together. And we can’t watch it unless all four of us are there. “Abbott” is our latest. And greatest.

QUINTA BRUNSON: Yay! That’s my favorite thing to hear about it, by the way: family appointment viewing.

Scott: And they’re teenagers, now, too, so, it’s hard to find something that we all want to watch. But it’s also, like, cool enough for them.

BRUNSON: They can’t all gather and watch “Severance”?

Scott: No. We can, but it makes me far too nervous. We chatted a couple of months ago, and something you mentioned that I thought was really interesting was how much a fan you are of the network sitcom — and the idea of ​​creating something that can be broadly sent out to all households. You’re being credited with reviving the network sitcom.

BRUNSON: That’s too big. I’ve seen that headline, and it’s too much.

Scott: Yeah.

BRUNSON: I do think that while “Abbott” has been successful, which I’m super grateful for, people have been doing great work in the network space for a really long time. “Young Sheldon” has been pulling in massive numbers — even their reruns do. There are the shows this season, like “Ghosts” on CBS, which is just a joyful, delightful show to watch, and “American Auto” and “Grand Crew” on NBC. It was a combined effort, and I think that “Abbott” just feels like a great show for everyone to connect that narrative to. “Parks and Rec” was that for me. I enjoyed having this thing that I could watch with friends and family that was easy. “Parks and Rec” felt like a risk, where you almost couldn’t believe you were seeing this on network. “Parks,” it was so beautifully written.

Scott: And the jokes were so terrific. I didn’t want to screw any of them up; I wanted them to work. I mean, I remember going and doing something dramatic for the first time after doing “Parks” for a while, and it was like, “Oh yeah. Right, this is different.” And having to shift a little bit.

Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

BRUNSON: That’s exciting, I think, as an actor. After doing Janine for months straight on “Abbott,” I remember getting so excited to come do another thing in a way that almost felt juvenile. I felt like a little kid, like I get to go be someone else today.

Scott: But that was announced, right? We can say it — you’re guest starring on “Party Down.”

BRUNSON: I don’t think that was announced.

Scott: It wasn’t?

BRUNSON: I didn’t see it.

Scott: I totally thought it was. You’re in “Party Down.”

BRUNSON: I am, and I was so excited to be there.

Scott: There’s something about “Abbott” that’s a great mixture of these razorsharp jokes and a little subversion. It’s so deeply funny, but also the kindness in the show — my mom was a public school teacher, and there’s something that kind of hits me squarely in the heart every week. Because it’s so clear that you have an affection, and such a respect, for teachers. Where does that come from?

BRUNSON: First, I didn’t know your mom was a public school teacher. You talked to me a lot about “Star Trek.”

Scott: I did.

BRUNSON: That affection, the one you’re talking about, is one I’m sure you share. To be a child of a teacher is a unique experience. My experience was also really unique, because I went to the school where my mother taught. I was in her kindergarten class, and then I was at the school she taught at for the next five years. School would get out at 3, but we’d go home at about 5 or 6. She’d work even more, yet somehow still put food on the table. And so, naturally, I have an insight that most people don’t have. I also have such a respect for the profession, and a love that was formed through the love for my mother, but through her loving her colleagues. There’s an article in The Wall Street Journal, and it was talking about “Severance” and “Abbott” and exploration of the workplace. And, I was like, “Why are these two together?” I thought that comparison was so interesting. A question I had for you: What was it like from day to day?

Scott: It was challenging. I getting remember there in October of 2020, a month before we started shooting, and I went straight to the set from the airport. Because I’d seen photos of what [director] Ben Stiller was putting together with his team and I just wanted to see it. I’d been looking at photos on my phone for a long time, and so I went there and saw all the sets.

BRUNSON: Yeah, where was that?

Scott: It was on a stage in Queens.

BRUNSON: What!

Scott: Yeah. And they built that main office with the green carpet with low ceilings and stuff. Once I actually stepped onto the set and saw the enormity of it, I started getting a little freaked out. Because we had all nine episodes. Amy Poehler used to call starting a new show: You’re at the bottom of show mountain. You’re, like, at base camp, and there is a sheer face in front of you. And you just have to chip away. When it’s a brand-new show, all of show mountain is right in front of you. I just have one quick question: When the praise started pouring in, were you still shooting, or was it all shot?

BRUNSON: Thank God, it was all shot. Because that just got to bounce off of me and be, like, “Cool, whether it’s loved or hated, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Like, with “Severance,” that was made before it started airing.

Scott: That’s right.

BRUNSON: Did that feel good?

Scott: Yeah. Because also we shot the whole thing at once. We just shot all nine at the same time — we’d be shooting, like, something from Episode 1, and then after lunch, we would shoot Episode 8. We did that, and it took, like, 10 months.

BRUNSON: I was talking to a friend who is also a writer about a show having a soul. To me, that’s what makes it stand the test of time. I feel like “Severance” has a soul.

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Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

Scott: “Severance” was unique because we were shooting during pre-vaccine COVID. We started shooting the day after the presidential election in November of 2020, and in New York, so everything was really locked down. It started this pattern that felt very isolated, and sort of parallel to the show. When we were on set together, the actors, that was our time during the day to be around people and be able to connect with people. And I think the characters, too, are yearning for attention. If you were going to find the soul of the show, it might be somewhere in there.

BRUNSON: I have rapid-fire questions.

Scott: Safe.

BRUNSON: Where was the outside? Was that computer-generated, or was that outside of Lumon real?

Scott: That’s a real building in New Jersey. It used to be Bell Labs back in the day.

BRUNSON: We still don’t know what Lumon does, unless I missed something.

Scott: Well, Lumon is generally one of those companies that’s been around for a long, long time, where you’re eating your cereal, and you’re like, “Wait, they make this? And they also make my light bulbs.” I think it’s hinted at in some conversation early in the show.

BRUNSON: Is Zach Cherry really that funny?

Scott: Yeah. He’s the best. Do you not know Zach?

BRUNSON: I don’t know him. But yesterday, I said, I’m gonna look up this guy. And he follows me on Twitter, and I never —

Scott: You want me to tell him to stop following you on Twitter?

BRUNSON: No! This is what I did in my brain last night. I was like, “It’s gonna be so weird to follow him back now that I saw him on a show. So I’m not gonna follow him back.” But I’ll follow him. He’ll see this and be like, “Why not just follow me at this point?”

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