Scott Porter remembers the day when, on a break during shooting their movie 10 Years, Aubrey Plaza knocked on his trailer door and dropped off a script.
“[She] said, ‘Read this. You’re going to do this with me,’” he recalls of the quick, matter-of-fact encounter.
The movie was The To Do List and she wanted him to play the guy she targets as the man who is going to take her virginity, the college-aged, guitar-playing, long, flowy, golden-maned lifeguard-by-summer Rusty Waters. It was just the role he was hoping would someday soon come his way, a character that brought with it the opportunity for the Florida native to show he’s more than just the “Friday Night Lights” quarterback confined to a wheelchair following a paralyzing injury, or a deceptive law firm investigator on “The Good Wife,” among other dramatic roles.
“Scott doesn’t give himself enough credit,” writer/director Maggie Carey says. ”He is so funny in the movie…he’s super funny.”
Carey wasn’t just impressed with Porter’s comedic sensibilities, though. She also took advantage of his physique to add some more skin to her R-rated coming-of-age sex comedy. In fact, she considers Porter the only nudity in the film.
“He had to have his shirt off a lot in the movie,” she recalls, adding that one of the producers, her husband and Porter’s co-star Bill Hader, at one point commented, “You know, his shirt’s off enough. We get it.”
But Carey insisted it was all for the sake of comedy, playfully arguing, “We’ll just keep the shirt off.”
“It was a funny joke to me,” she adds. ”There’s nothing funnier than nice abs.”
A few years later, here is Porter on his 34th birthday recounting stories of the movie that clearly holds a special place in his heart. For all the absurd, memorable scenes in the film, though, there’s one in particular he says fulfilled his childhood wish of taking over a water park, or in the case of the movie, a community pool, with his friends. ”That night was a lot of fun,” Porter recalls.” It was just Bill and Aubrey and me and Johnny [Simmons], and it felt like we were in a water park, a theme park, at night just by ourselves. It was really cool.”
When The Seven Sees sat down with the genuinely kind and welcoming Porter, he was funny and candid, talking about why this role and movie mean so much to him, his thoughts on whether “Friday Night Lights” will actually make a comeback on the big screen, how he got ready for all of that “nudity,” living out his rock star dreams, and why he’s cool with playing a character more than a decade younger than he.
THE SEVEN SEES: Here we are, chatting on your 34th birthday. How gratifying is it that you’re still being asked to play young roles like this Rusty Waters?
SCOTT PORTER: It’s cool, but we all have to remember that we shot this film almost three years ago, so we were all a little bit younger. And Rusty is a college kid, almost done with college; he’s a lot older than Aubrey’s character by more than a couple years. So for me it wasn’t that much of a stretch, but I was playing a high school kid when I was 26, 27, 28 years old on “Friday Night Lights.” And hell, don’t we all want to be asked to play roles that are much younger than we really are for as long as possible? (laughs)
SCOTT PORTER: I’ll roll with that. I’m good. I think I had just turned 31 when we shot this film, but it also really lends itself well to the time period of the movie. If you watched television in the ‘80s or ‘90s, all the “90210” kids were not [the age they portrayed]. So, oddly enough, this being a period piece about the early ‘90s, it all really fit together and added to the overall comedic arc and how we wanted this movie to feel to the audience. So it wasn’t too much of a stretch, but it was a lot of fun.
THE SEVEN SEES: Last year we spoke about “Hart of Dixie” and we briefly talked about The To Do List; you were really excited about it and it had just been moved to be a summer release. I think it’s very obvious the enthusiasm you have for the film. What’s the root of that?
SCOTT PORTER: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a [dramatic] actor; I grew up wanting to perform. I tried to do music for seven years of my life, chasing the record contract for a long time, and it just didn’t end up working out. But I ended up in New York doing musical comedy and theatre, then I got “Friday Night Lights.” L.A. loves to put [actors] in a box, and make sure you stay there with the toys that are like you. And I’m not…I’ve tried to learn so much, as far as dramatic acting and trying to find my way in that realm, but I wanted to do something lighter; I wanted to do something where I could just play a character, which I hadn’t really had a chance to go outside myself and play somebody who I completely am not. And Rusty is that guy. It’s in a lighter movie, in a comedy. The cast is incredible, and I was just blessed to be a part of it and be able to learn from all of these great comedic actors as I was playing in the same sandbox as them.
I am super-excited about the movie. I think it’s one of those roles that might change the perception of who I am and what I can do a little bit more, and that’s all you want – people to see you as a whole in this job we do, be seen as a whole person and not just one type of actor. This is a fun, intelligent, really great movie and I’m just excited for people to finally see it after two years of waiting for an audience to be able to watch it. It’s so close now, I can taste it. There is a level of excitement that comes along with that.
THE SEVEN SEES: It’s interesting what you bring up about being put in a box. Often at interviews we hear filmmakers say they wanted a certain actor for a part, and if they couldn’t have that person, they wanted someone just like them. Is that some of what you feel you were experiencing, pigeon-holed into a certain kind of role, frustrated because you knew there was so much more to you that just that?
SCOTT PORTER: Yeah, and that was a big part of me taking “Hart of Dixie” as well. Doing “Friday Night Lights” and “Caprica” and “The Good Wife,” I enjoyed all of them immensely and would do them all over again – I’m not in any way, shape or form undermining what those roles were or what they meant to me – but there is this side of me that is the funny, kind of dorky guy. “Hart of Dixie” [producers] Leila Gerstein and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage all said, “We saw glimpses of you in Music & Lyrics and ‘Friday Night Lights’ of smiles and laughs and jokes,” especially when Taylor Kitsch and I – as Tim Riggins and Jason Street – would get together; there were moments and flashes of comedy. “Hart of Dixie” came to me and said, “We know you’re more than capable of doing this. It’s an hour-long romantic comedy and we want you to be one of the male leads. What do you think? We want Scott Porter, not Jason Street.” And it was really cool to hear somebody say that.
Now, I feel like two years, going on three now, of “Hart of Dixie” and movies like The To Do List and 10 Years are all really widening what I think people think that Scott Porter role actually is. And that’s any actor’s goal, I guess, is to make sure people understand you’re versatile; perception is reality in Los Angeles and the saying ‘What have you done for me lately?’ really applies out here. But I think doing something like “Friday Night Lights,” which left an indelible mark on people and is not easily forgettable, keeps that door open to dramatic acting for me, and hopefully these new projects are kicking open a new door.
THE SEVEN SEES: Well, not only is the door open to dramatic roles, but it’s also open for a possible return to “Friday Night Lights” if there’s any truth to the talk that it could come back in movie form.
SCOTT PORTER: You know, the Kickstarter thing is really interesting to me. And maybe it’s right for some projects, but I don’t think it’s right for all of them. “Friday Night Lights”’ fanbase is crazy intelligent and really, really loyal and fantastic; we never as a television show had to talk down to them. A lot of TV shows – I don’t know if it’s the executives in charge or if it’s the network heads being scared that the audience isn’t going to be able to follow along – but a lot of them nowadays are dumbed down to a point, and you see the shows that aren’t that way really rise to the top. So we know our fanbase, who we never had to talk down to or refresh everybody’s memories or do a lot of exposition in our dialogue, they kept up with us and they loved us, so I know we have a firm fanbase who would really support it. That being said, the story would still have to be solely in the hands of the small group of people who created the show. And to get that timing right and to make sure all the pieces are there – you can’t do it without Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton; you can’t do it without [executive producers/writers] Peter Berg and Jason Katims; [director/executive producer] Jeffrey Reiner was such a huge part of our show – these are people you can’t really do the movie version of the TV show without. And the script has to be perfect. There are such high expectations. I think it’ll be a wait-and-see with Veronica Mars to see how that turns out, see if [Kickstarter] really is a viable way to make hit films.
THE SEVEN SEES: There has to be a rhyme and reason; don’t make it just for business purposes.
SCOTT PORTER: Exactly. Peter Berg stood on the side of the hill after we wrapped the show – we were out in hill country down in Texas – and he is a manic genius, and to see him take a moment and say, “I want you to just appreciate this moment, because I feel like we told our story. Now we’re closing the back of the book and we’re going to go ahead and put this book up on the shelf. Everybody really appreciate that what we’ve done is in writing and nobody can ever take it away from us.” He really felt like we had accomplished something in our own right, on our own terms. So to open the book back up and try to write an epilogue, it’s going to be tricky. But we’ll see.
SCOTT PORTER: (laughs) When you do something that’s made for this little amount of money, everything has to be smart and has to be focused, and I would say as a writer that’s completely what Maggie is. She literally can let you know who your character is in one line of dialogue or in one small description. For me, it was five words: “Rusty Waters – grunge rock lifeguard.” We knew from “21 Jump Street” what this guy was going to be wearing, because in the ‘90s, you had the bell cow of MTV who kind of signified the changing of the musical guard and in the fashion world. Nowadays it’s all online and your phone, but back then, [Pearl Jam’s] “Even Flow” dropped in ’92 and Eddie Vedder had that flannel tied around his waist with those huge baggy jeans and those boots and he stage-dived off of that speaker and is caught by all the people in Seattle who dressed just like him. Nirvana hits and then Pearl Jam hits – that was a seminal moment in the ‘90s; it was a changing of the tide.
We knew Rusty Waters was going to be one of those dudes. And the fact that it’s set in Boise, the Pacific Northwest, they were close enough to it to feel those first shockwaves of that kind of earthquake that was grunge rock in Seattle. So the description of Rusty just (snaps fingers) – I knew immediately what this guy looked like; Maggie knew exactly what she wanted. Everybody from our costume designers to make-up to hair, especially, with that wig all really stepped up and knocked it out of the park. But yeah, those five words – “Rusty Waters – grunge rock lifeguard” – I knew what I was getting into.
THE SEVEN SEES: You have to admit, it’s also pretty funny that Maggie – and I think this was a surprise to you at the press conference – considers you the nudity of her movie, that she argued for you to be shirtless as much as possible.
SCOTT PORTER: Yeah, I thought I was going to get to wear a wife-beater or a tank top a little more. We left the necklaces on, but that was about it.
This was the first film I’ve ever done where I had to be that in shape, because usually I have “bodyguards” I’d say, like Taylor Kitsch or Wilson Bethel, who take their shirts off and I don’t have to worry about being the muscle in the scene (laughs). I like to eat; I like to eat pizza and burgers and wings – those are my favorite thing on the face of the earth – so it’s tough for me to actually buckle down and get to that point. For this movie it was more than worth it.
THE SEVEN SEES: How much prep time did you have between getting the role and your first day on set?
SCOTT PORTER: Just like everything else, this movie moved extremely quickly, so I had three weeks to get it together, three weeks of really intense dieting. I work out on a regular basis. At this point, you just have to find what you love to do in the gym; I love the cross-fit style work-outs and TRX bands. I don’t love throwing around a lot of weight; I’m not a big muscle-head. But then I also play team sports; I have two basketball leagues and a flag football league that I’m involved in. So I stay in shape, and if I need to, buckle down, which I had to do for this film. It just becomes a really intense regimen, but luckily I haven’t had to do it all that often. I want to put it in my contract that there has to be another guy that has to take his shirt off more than me on any project. (laughs)
THE SEVEN SEES: I think one of the funniest scenes is one where you actually had your clothes on and we really see the grunge side of Rusty. It’s at the party where Brandy first sees Rusty, which then turns into that awkward dream sequence.
“The To Do List” Clip – Party Scene by thesevensees
THE SEVEN SEES: This film is a bit of a “Friday Night Lights” reunion for you with Connie Britton, though I don’t recall that you actually share any scenes. I can’t imagine how much you must love seeing her here versus what you worked with on the show.
SCOTT PORTER: I think she hit the nail on the head when she said it’s the perfect parody of Tami Taylor if she was able to be this sexually free. (laughs) It all still comes from a very sincere place, her advice in the film. She feels that she’s very correct and she’s not out there playing a nymphomaniac – she’s just a mother who’s trying to give advice the best way she can. And that’s what I think is very cool about this film is that some of the jokes in the film are going to go over teenagers’ heads, but the adults are going to get each and every one of them because we’ve all gone through this rite of passage. And then when we become parents, we don’t become perfect people; we remain the people we were while trying to raise kids the best we know how. And that’s why I love the element of Clark [Gregg] and Connie in this film. I think they’re very important characters and I think their storyline is huge because the awkwardness of sexual relationships doesn’t go away once you get married; it still exists even in the best marriage. We’re people and we’re flawed, but we’re also just trying to figure it out, and you see them even as a married couple with two daughters still trying to figure it out in their own way. I think that’s why this movie is really for everybody.
THE SEVEN SEES: And your “Hart of Dixie” co-star – Rachel Bilson is so unexpected and hilarious!
SCOTT PORTER: We haven’t talked about it yet, but she is the one who, out of all the people in the film, is going to change people’s perceptions of them and what they can do. Her ability to carry the vulgarity of that role – she might actually be the most vulgar in the movie – and she does it still with that sweet charm, but you realize there’s a little edge to this girl that maybe we haven’t seen before. Or maybe it was cute before, then there was some edge, and now it’s sexy. I think this could be really big for her.