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For 'Severance' star Adam Scott, there's no separation between work and home

In <em>Severance</em>, Adam Scott plays a man who gets a chip inserted in his brain in order to separate his work life from his home life. The series was recently renewed for a second season; the season finale of its first season airs April 8.
Apple TV+
In Severance, Adam Scott plays a man who gets a chip inserted in his brain in order to separate his work life from his home life. The series was recently renewed for a second season; the season finale of its first season airs April 8.

If you could opt to completely separate your work life from your personal life, would you do it? That's the question at play in the Apple TV+ sci-fi drama Severance.

Adam Scott stars as a man who's chosen to have a chip implanted in his brain to do just that — and to escape overwhelming grief in his life. He and his coworkers don't remember their home lives when they are at work, and don't remember what they do at the office once they leave at the end of the work day.

Severance began filming during the pandemic, before vaccines became available, and Scott says the show's theme of extreme isolation felt particularly poignant at the time.

"Everybody was really sealed off and isolated," he says of the initial shooting schedule. "I would shoot the show, [then] get in a van, drive for 40 minutes to this apartment I was staying in, sit there by myself and eat, sleep, [then] get up, get back in a van, go there [and] shoot this crazy show."

Scott's previous credits include the sitcom Parks and Recreation,Big Little Lies and the cult favorite Party Down. He says that unlike the experience of his Severance character, in his line of business there's very little space between what he does and who he is.

"If you're an actor, your business is literally you and your body and your face and your emotions," Scott says. "How do you separate work from life? The work you're doing is replicating life and drawing upon your life in order to bring that experience to the role you're playing."

Interview highlights

On the scene when he first gets to the office and he walks through hallways for about 90 seconds

We shot that near the very end of the shoot, nine, 10 months in. ... And they built all of those hallways on this stage. And you did have to walk through them in order to get to the office. But they were also constantly moving them around. And depending on what we're shooting, they're sliding the hallways in one direction or the other and creating new patterns. So more often than not, I would get lost trying to get to the office set. And many times we'd have to just stop and call out and wait for someone to come find me. Because it all looks exactly the same, just like it does on the show.

On grieving his mother, who died in March 2020

She passed away and then we quickly went into lockdown. So we didn't have a memorial for her until just this past December. And I think a lot of people have gone through that as far as sort of putting stuff like this on hold.

For me, her death was world-changing. ... She was sick, she had ALS, so we knew what was coming there for a couple of years. But then the moment it happens, what I didn't expect, ... everything shifts. There's sort of a tectonic shift internally that's like a switch going off. What I realized was with a parent, it's like half of your view out the window. It's half of what you do things for. You're always thinking, Oh, what's my mom going to think about this?

On not fully coming to terms with his mother's death until filming Severance

That October, when I went to New York to do the show, the second I walked into the apartment and put my bags down and I was by myself, I realized I hadn't fully grieved and come to terms with my mom's death. And I had that in front of me and nothing but this time by myself to do it. And that's what I slowly but surely did over all that time by myself, either in this apartment or at work. And I feel like the show was certainly part of that process.

On trying to find work as an actor early in his career

I went to acting school for a couple of years and then moved to Hollywood — like, right in the middle of Hollywood — and just started trying to get auditions. I didn't have an agent or anything.

As far as what types of roles, it was literally anything. Any way of getting a speaking role. I really didn't care what it was, and [I] thought people who were being picky at that stage of the game were insane. I had friends in acting school who were like, "Oh, I don't know if I'm going to do TV." And I just thought it was crazy. Like, you've got to try to get anything you can. Because I didn't know anyone in show business at all. And so I just started trying anything.

I eventually got a speaking role, a pretty good role on a pilot for an MTV show, like a dramatic series that MTV did that actually ended up airing. And then I got a role on Boy Meets World and just sort of went from there, and just kind of made my living for 15 years until my career actually came together and started coalescing a bit. I just kind of went from job to job just trying to to stay afloat.

Lauren Krenzel and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Seth Kelley and Natalie Escobar adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ann Marie Baldonado
Ann Marie Baldonado is a producer and interview contributor for Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She got her start in radio in 1997 as a production assistant, working with reporters and helping produce the local broadcast of Morning Edition at WHYY. She joined Fresh Airin 1998. Her primary responsibility is finding interesting film, television, and theater guests for the show. She also produces and edits the interviews. She began contributing her own interviews to the program in 2015. Baldonado also serves on the editorial board of the podcast, The Longest Shortest Time. She lives in Philadelphia and she loves it. When she isn't working or wrangling her two daughters, she is probably watching television, although she knows she will never, ever be caught up on everything.