Seann William Scott Promotes Himself in a New Light
by Paul Fischer
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Best known for his unsavory touch in the American Pie franchise, Seann William Scott has gone out of his way to prove himself as a diverse actor willing to take risks, even if they don’t always come off. Passionate about his work, unflinchingly honest and a nice guy to boot, Scott may have never intended to be a comedic actor but he has carved a niche as a comic actor who will try different things. In his latest film, The Promotion, Scott delivers a finly nuanced performance as a disillusioned assistant supermarket manager who rediscovers his own passion when competing for a major promotion with a brash but none-too-bright Canadian competitor. He talked to Paul Fischer about his highs, lows and expectations.
Paul Fischer: Why do you think The Promotion is a step in the right direction for you? I mean, did you feel that studio movies had kind of burned you, and you wanted to go in a bit of a different direction?
Seann William Scott: Well, you know, I love movies, man, and I don’t really necessarily watch a lot of the movies that I’ve done, although I’m very appreciative of the opportunities. I never anticipated doing comedy, but it just kind of happened that way. I love the challenge. I don’t think I’m funny at all, so it scares the shit out of me to do a comedy, but I think of that fear as a nice thing.
PF: Why don’t you think you’re funny?
SWS: Because I wasn’t in high school and American Pie just kind of happened, and I just realized—like, I have to create a character that’s going to be memorable, to get me another job. I always hoped it was going to get me a drama and then comedy just continued to happen. I was like, “This is some kind of joke.” But it was a great joke, because I was doing movies, and I was happy that I was able to maybe effect some people’s days. Hopefully not in a bad day! You know, not doing some bad movie, and somebody’s getting out of their job and going to the movie, thinking that this might be a good movie, and they go and see it and then all of a sudden they end up at Dukes of Hazzard. But I think that, for me, I really liked the tone of this movie. I thought it had more substance to it, and I liked the character, because he’s a grounded guy, with a real story. I thought that the humor was different. It was a little bit more intelligent and the chance to work with these actors was important to me. I felt like—specifically, I thought the movie could work. I also thought that if it did work, in the long run, it could help open up the proper doors.
PF: Could you relate to this character?
SWS: A little bit. You know, I was clearly a lottery winner when I got American Pie, on a level. You know, my first movie, to be a movie that a lot of people liked and it gave me a career. I didn’t have to worry as much about that kind of struggle. But I understand it, and I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it with my family and my brothers and my friends. I’m very lucky that I don’t have to worry about that kind of struggle. But as far as growing up, and going—you know, those kinds of questions of, “Where am I at in my life? Is this where I really want to be?” I remember even being 21 and working at some crap job, and trying to be an actor, going, “Man, am I going to be 40-years-old, and working still selling glow-in-the-dark stars and going, “What the fuck am I doing? I’m still selling glow-in-the-dark stars. I never made it. You know, am I making a mistake? Is this really where I want to be?” And what I like about this character is, I don’t think he ever really anticipated working at a grocery store at 35. I think he probably had some bigger dreams, and it just turned out that he’s still there. And he’s really trying to make the best of a mediocre situation. You know, and trying to give himself a good life, and his wife a good life.
PF: Seann, how surprised are you that you’ve attained the kind of success that you have?
SWS: I don’t think about it, because it would stress me out too much. I mean, it’s always there, that constant, like, “I can’t believe that I’m in movies, and people know who I am.” You know? I just wanted to do movies. In fact, I wanted to do dramas, and darker films, but it’s such a gift. I remember I was in Paris, and I’m just traveling, just backpacking and messing around and some guy came up to me and was like—some artist—and he was like, “Man, I’ve got to tell you.” Actually, my friend was with me. He spoke French. I don’t speak French. And he was like, “Tell your buddy, sometimes when I’m lonely or I feel bad, I have a bad day, I’ll put in American Pie and it makes me feel better.” I’m thinking, “That’s pretty amazing.” Because I don’t watch American Pie and—you know, there are some serious downsides to it, because there’s constant comedic baggage that you carry, to the filmmakers that I’d really like to work with. I’m not really that worried about it, as long as I keep trying to do my best. But then all of a sudden you hear something like that, and you go, “That’s really why I wanted to be an actor.” Even if I’ve done some crap. I mean, I’ve had some people come up to me on some movies that are just terrible that I’ve done. And they’re like, “I really liked that movie.” Like, “What? Evolution? Bulletproof Monk was a terrible film.” But they go, “No, I liked it.” Well, good. You know what? At the end of the day, that’s why I do it. I mean, because I love movies. And I don’t really care about winning awards. I mean, I’d love to work with filmmakers that I watch at home. But when you hear something like that, it kind of puts things in perspective a little bit.
PF: Does this honesty of yours get you into trouble at all?
SWS: Well, not yet. [laughter] Maybe soon, man. Who knows? [laughter] I don’t give a shit.
PF: You know, this character is a guy whose dreams are pretty much unfulfilled. Are your dreams as yet unfulfilled? Or do you think you’ve fulfilled a lot of what you’ve been dreaming of, since starting out as an actor?
SWS: Well, I think I’ve had dreams that have been fulfilled that I haven’t even had. Like, you know, just—even being in movies. You know, when I came out here, I knew that it may never happen. But on a different level, I feel like—you know, the movies that I want to do, I haven’t done yet. And I think that The Promotion is close to those kinds of films. And even though—you know, Southland Tales, many people hate. If that movie worked, it would have been the right decision.
PF: And I think you do a film like that for the experience of working with that particular director. Wouldn’t that be part of the thinking?
SWS: Well, yeah, because it’s one of those things. You know, every movie’s a risk. Less so with the big-time filmmakers. But the guy who’s doing this follow-up to Donnie Darko, there was this big opportunity for me and I’d like to continue to do big comedies, I follow actors’ career paths. Ever since I was a little kid, I just loved movies and I think that I haven’t been that successful in the comedy genre yet. You know, it’s not like I’m Ben Stiller, or any of these big boys.
PF: Is that what you aspire to be? Do you aspire to be a major comedic actor?
SWS: No, not really. But I think it would help. I think that if—I really don’t know what the hell’s going on. I think that when you have real success, when you have a real big hit, it opens up the doors. And I haven’t had that in a while. I’m afraid to admit that I don’t really care. You just do your best, and you just cross your fingers and hope for the best. So it’s just like—I think that right now, the majority of the people that have allowed me to have a career see me as the goofy guy. And, you know, on some level, I don’t mind to kind of cater to that, and try, if I get the opportunity, to have some success with that, to open up the opportunities to do the films that I would prefer to watch when I’m at home. And that’s all—it’s just a matter of time. Or maybe not. You know, it’s just one of those things where you just have to kind of wait and see, and just try to hope for the best.
PF: Are you competitive?
SWS: I’m competitive with myself, really. I feel like, if you do the best that you can, and if you don’t get the job or if the movie doesn’t work, well, at least you can go home going, “Well, listen. I tried the best I could. I believed in it.” But I do think that—I’m not competitive with other actors at all.
PF: If you believe everything one reads on IMDb, you seem to be at least reasonably busy. So let’s talk about some of these films that you’ve got either coming up or in the can. Little Big Men sounds really interesting.
SWS: Little Big Men, yeah. That’s going to be with Paul Rudd. And I think—that’s what I was saying. I was trying to go back and do a big R-rated crazy comedy, and hope that it’s funny, and hope that it works, so it opens up more opportunities. But I think, actually, the movie’s going to be really funny. Jane Lynch is in it, Elizabeth Banks. It’s McLovin’s next film. And we’re going to add a couple scenes to it. We had a huge screening in L.A., and I think it was probably the most successful screening that I’ve had in any comedy that I’ve done. I think even better than those American Pie films.
PF: Who do you play in that?
SWS: I play a guy who’s kind of an extension of the character I played in American Pie, but he’s actually a good guy. In the sense that he’s a good guy, but he’s really irresponsible. He’s a bit of a fuck-up, and he’s a womanizer, and he just doesn’t want to work. He doesn’t want to do anything. And through the circumstances throughout the film, he really has to grow up. And—but he’s a good guy. So that’s the one major difference. But he’s a bit of a wild man. And I just realized, I’m like, “You know what? It doesn’t work for me to play a character like I played in Woodcock or Dukes of Hazzard.” You know? I think that’s why I really liked Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers. It’s so fun to see him just be that guy. And so we’ll see, man. You may watch the movie and be like, “This is a piece of shit.” Hopefully you’ll think it’s funny, and you’ll understand.
PF: What about Planet 51? You’re shooting that now, right?
SWS: Yeah. Well, that’s an animated film. We’re doing some stuff for that. And I think it’s going to be really, really wonderful. It’s this Spanish animation company, it’s their first film. And the guy that wrote Shrek. I’m also doing Ice Age 3. So I’m doing that. I initially started off doing that for my niece and my nephew. And then when I watched Ice Age 2 and realized that my best performance was animated, I realized that I gotta keep doing these animated movies! But I’ve got this movie called Trainwreck: My Life as an Idoit, the guy that produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 21 Grams, comes out in September. It’s a small little movie based on a true story. It’s kind of a dramedy. And then Gary the Tennis Coach. Which is—we may—I would love for you to see someday, but we may be totally fucked. Because it’s—I produced it, and we basically stuck to the script, but I think it’s going to get an NC-17 rating. And I think it’s too rowdy for theaters, so it might have to go straight to DVD. I mean, it makes Stifler seem like a choir boy.
PF: Now, did you say you’re doing Ice Age 3?
SWS: Yeah. Yeah, we’re doing Ice Age 3 right now.
PF: Is it fun for you to reprise that character and do all that stuff again?
SWS: It is. It’s actually really tricky, man. The animated stuff, the voice work, is really weird. I mean, like, I already feel like a bad actor. But when you start doing that stuff and there’s no other actors there—I mean, you really have to, like, swallow your balls and just go, “I’m just going to go for it here.” Because it’s a really weird process. But it’s rewarding. Because I remember I watched the final product, Ice Age 2, and I was like, “Man, I like this movie.” So, it was unfortunate that, like I said, my best performance was animated. But at the end of the day, I would sit with my nephew, and it was like, “This is awesome.” But it’s actually kind of strange.
PF: It takes a long time to record the voices for those, too.
SWS: It’s a little weird. I mean, I can’t say it’s exhausting. I mean, there’s people working in coal mines. But, you know, it is a challenge. But it’s a really rewarding experience. You know what’s strange with Ice Age 3—and I guess probably with Planet 51—is that if there’s a SAG strike, they’re going to have to try to get as many recordings as possible before. Because they don’t want to do animation before the recordings.
PF: Do you think there will be a SAG strike?
SWS: I don’t even know, man. Some people today said that there might not be. But I’m trying not to think about it. You know, I don’t care. I’m just trying to make sure that I wake up tomorrow. [laughter]
PF: What would you do if the acting kind of came to a halt? Is there anything else you’d like to do besides acting? I mean, I know you’ve dabbled in producing. Do you want to do some more stuff behind the camera?
SWS: Yeah, I love movies. You know? I guess if it was totally removed from the movie world, you know, if I wasn’t an actor, I think—you know, with the kind of regimen that I have, and the mindset that I have and being a little bit of a loner, I probably—I mean, maybe it’s a bit of a dreamer. Maybe it is the fact that I’m a huge lover of films, and a fantasy guy, that I think I’d love to be a field operative in the CIA and just assassinate people. Maybe, like, an interior designer, or an architect, or—you know, a veterinarian. [laughter]
PF: All over the place.
SWS: The first answer, though? Seriously, I would prefer to be, like, a field operative and just assassinate bad people.
PF: That sounds like a plan.
SWS: It sounds great, though. I mean, maybe it’s after watching Bourne Identity. But that sounds pretty great to me.
PF: Do you have anything else that you’ve signed up for, that you haven’t started shooting yet, that is likely to go ahead?
SWS: This movie with Patrick Wilson, who I think is an amazing actor. It’s a strange title called The Undeniable Charm of Sloppy Unruh.
PF: Yes, what is that?
SWS: It’s a really interesting little film that Patrick Wilson’s the lead of, and Amy Ryan and Zooey Deschanel. She plays my wife, and I play the antagonist of the movie. And it’s the guys that produced Little Children and Little Miss Sunshine. It’s been a really wonderful experience, just to get the opportunity—if we do get the financing. Because the producer saw The Promotion and based on his feeling about the movie, he offered me this role. So it’s a nice feeling, you know? And I love those actors. I hope that we get the movie to make the movie. Because it’s another step in the right direction, you know?
PF: Do you want to do smaller films as well as the big studio movies? Are you trying to go from one to the other?
SWS: I think it’d be great to have some success with the movies that are a little more commercial, that you’re really selling a product, you know? But also hopefully you’re funny. And also, you know, the movies that people talk about. The smaller movies that—although big movies can do the same thing. But I feel like—I’m not really at home talking about—you know, the bigger films. I’m talking about the movies that are just a little bit weirder. And I just—one movie I can’t stop thinking about—probably one of my favorite American films in the last—two of them, actually, are with Patrick Wilson. Little Children and Hard Candy. Those are two interesting little films in the last two, three years.
PF: He’s a very interesting actor.
SWS: He is. He’s a very interesting actor. And I’m really excited to work with him, you know? That’s a big deal for me. You know, I think to help persuade some of the filmmakers I’d like to work with to give me the opportunity. Movies like that can possibly help. You know?
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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