Scott Porter has all the makings of a perfect summer crush. Piercing blue eyes? Check. Wide, white grin? Check. All-American down-home charm? Double check. It’s no wonder that in his new film, The To Do List — in theatres July 26th — he plays the object of the lead character’s blistering, all-consuming summer obsession.
While having a summer crush is a familiar experience to all, most people do not pursue it with the organization or focus of Brandy Clark, played to nerdy a-type perfection by comedienne Aubrey Plaza. The film’s action starts with Brandy — an over-achieving recent high school grad, whose obsessive summer crush on Porter’s hunky blonde lifeguard character, Rusty Waters, leads her to tackle her sexual inexperience one checkmark at a time.
While he may not usually be blonde, “hunk” is surely a description that has been used for the brunette actor in the past. As Friday Night Lights’ football hero Jason “Six” Street — felled by an injury and forced to grapple with a wheelchair-bound future — Porter was the embodiment of the true-blue American boy next door. Before and since, he has tackled roles that have shown his diversity, from a dramatic turn as a bad guy P.I. on The Good Wife to a Southern gentleman lawyer with lady drama to spare on his current hit show, Hart of Dixie. With The To Do List, Scott is tasked with going toe-to-toe with some of the most talented comedians in the business including Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Donald Glover and many, many more. After only a few seconds of screen time though — as seen in the film trailer alone — it’s clear that he (and his wig) are up to the task.
“My character, Rusty, was a bit more subdued,” says Porter. “I almost felt like the less I did with him the funnier he became.”
We caught up with Porter (well, actually we interrupted some newlywed nesting as he was hanging picture frames in he and wife Kelsey Mayfield’s new home) to talk comedy, to-do lists and why he considers himself “a huge nerd across the board.” (Spoiler alert: it has to do with comic books).
So your new film revolves around an a-type girl with a bit of a thing for lists. Are you a list-maker yourself?
My wife would tell you I’m more a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of guy. (Laughing) Every now and then I make lists, but my life is pretty spontaneous in its nature just because of the business I chose to be a part of.
I imagine your schedule can be pretty unpredictable.
Making lists as an actor can tend to stack up on you — you might make a list of your plans thinking you will be done in eight hours, but not be done till fourteen hours later. I make wish lists, not check lists. Things I wish I could get done”
You mentioned your wife — congrats on your recent wedding! Before you met, did you ever approach dating in a similar way to Aubrey’s character in the film, i.e. map out a plan to get the girl?
No, you know what, I’ve never been a type A personality; I’ve always just let life come at me, as opposed to really attacking it. The way I’ve approached relationships or meeting a girl has never been in the style of putting a list together to try and impress someone.
Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind a guy, right?
Meeting my wife is the perfect example. I had been single for about two years and wasn’t sure I was going to be…you know…a relationship type of guy again. But then I met her at a Halloween party and played beer pong with her and never looked back. We haven’t spent a night apart since then if we’ve been in the same city. Of course, if one of us is on the road for work we’re apart from each other.
That’s quite the romance.
It was just love at first sight, it was go time and there was no time for a list, and I think that’s almost a better way to live…but that’s just one man’s opinion.
No list necessary! There are bucket lists though to consider. Originally they were more for older people trying to get things done at the end of their life, but it seems like that pressure to do everything — sort of the YOLO philosophy — is reaching people younger and younger. Do you ever feel that pressure in your own life?
I think whereas to-do lists are a tricky thing because there’s always a chance that you don’t get it all done and pressure mounts on you, I think a bucket list is a different type of situation. I think everybody should have one; I mean it’s about dreams and aspirations. Unless you have a list of things you would love to do, who’s to say you’re ever going to actually follow through and get those things done.
Come across a situation like this yourself in the past?
I was working in theme parks in Orlando, Florida and got an opportunity to go to Tokyo for a year, which required me dropping everything I had going on — quite a bit at the time. I had a band that was seeing success, and a great job that allowed me to have that band as an outlet, and my family was based in Orlando. But I’m a total video game guy and a fan of anime and comic books in general, and Tokyo is sort of a Mecca for people who love those types of things, so when I got the opportunity I went. If I hadn’t had a desire or a dream to go there someday, I may not have taken that chance.
You’re pro bucket lists from the sounds of it.
I think making a bucket list helps alleviate some of the fear of doing those things. Once you set it in stone or write it on a piece of paper, it becomes more of a realistic goal for yourself.
That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned music earlier, and your character in this movie actually plays guitar. Do you think you’ll ever get back into the music game?
I gave seven solid years of my life to music — working three jobs and putting myself through school while trying to create something musically that would catch on. The band I was in actually entered a local competition — Star Search — and we won. Sony flew us up to New York for a meeting and we were sure that was it, but then they wanted us to change a bunch of things, and change a couple members of our band. We refused, thinking that of course another suitor would come along, but they never did.
Did you bow out after that?
There was three more years of toiling and doing college tours and eating cheese sandwiches on the road in a van with five other guys, and it’s a life that a ton of people live. But for me, it was a pretty substantial amount of time…I mean seven years now that I look back at 33 is a large percentage of my life that I gave to that passion that just didn’t work out. I think there’s a reason I am where I am. That said, I would love to get back into music.
So no to going back to music then?
I would love to record again, but I am lucky in that my success in the acting world will allow me to pursue music in a very personal manner as opposed to trying to warp and bend it to the wants and desires of other people.
I can definitely see that, especially with the successful run you’ve seen as an actor. You’re roles have run the gamut and you’ve worked with many of the actors on this film in previous roles — Rachel Bilson is your co-star on Hart of Dixie for instance, and you worked with Connie Britton on Friday Night Lights. Was it fun to reunite with them and play different characters or were you tempted to call them Dr. Hart and Mrs. Coach?
This is a business of very personal relationships. I think the only person I would ever have a problem not calling by their character name from a previous project would be Kyle Chandler (from Friday Night Lights); working on something else with him I would probably want to call him Coach. Everyone else I would call by their real names because we have personal relationships. Unfortunately on The To-Do List I didn’t get to share the screen at all with Connie or Rachel! I also was a little bummed because Clark Greg who plays her husband and Aubrey’s father in the film, is a favourite of mine.
Yeah, he’s great.
Being such a huge comic book nerd, to me he is Agent Coulson of The Avengers, and I didn’t get to work with him on this one either. When you have a huge ensemble cast its tricky to get all the actors in one place at one time.
It’s a cast that is stacked with comedy talent. Lots of your fans, or at least the ones who have become fans through watching you in the role of Jason Street on Friday Night Lights, probably associate you more with dramatic acting. You have taken on some pretty hilarious roles though before The To Do List. Are you more comfortable in one arena over the other?
I don’t know that I have a preference. I love to tell stories and I love to be challenged. When I grew up I was really heavily involved in team sports — soccer, basketball and football in high school and then football in college — and I think that competitive spirit is something you have to find an outlet for.
Well Hollywood is definitely somewhere that it could thrive, it’s a tough industry.
For me, it’s (about) challenging myself in a role that scares me a bit and seeing if I can come out victorious or not. Hollywood is very quick to try and pigeonhole someone. Right before I did Friday Night Lights I was doing a role in a musical comedy off-Broadway called Altar Boyz — it was laughs from beginning to end and all about timing and a lot of comedic acrobatics. Right afterwards my role on Friday Night Lights — my first big television role — was very dramatic so the immediate reaction in Hollywood was, “Oh we have a new dramatic actor.” I think it’s a shame because there’s a lot of people who are capable of both.
I think you’re right. It’s hard to avoid getting categorized unfortunately. And I don’t think comedy gets the credit it deserves sometimes.
Personally I think comedy is a little harder than drama. Until you get to drama that’s scraping the depths of your soul. But with comedy there’s just so many layers, making sure the jokes land, making sure the timing is there, making sure the chemistry of all the actors is there. It’s a real balancing act. I’m just happy to be getting opportunities to do both, so that I don’t get locked into one idea of what I can do.
Well certainly you were in pretty great company in this film in terms of comedic actors to work with — Audrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover — it’s a list of some of the top young names in comedy. Was there a lot of improv on set or was it all there in the script?
There was a fair bit of improv for certain characters.
We’re you happy with your performance. I love how straight you decided to play Rusty, it’s pretty hilarious.
It kind of ended up being the right choice I think. Bill Hader walked up to me at the end of the movie and said he loved my performance. It was a moment I will never forget because Bill is a giant in my mind, I mean he is one of the funnies actors I have ever seen on television and have ever worked with personally. And of course, he improv’d constantly.
I can only imagine!
Like you said this is a movie of comedy heavyweights, and I wasn’t sure I belonged there at first. But comedy is also about catching each other and being generous and there for each other, and the cast really was all of those things. They allowed me to feel like I belonged, and hopefully it comes through in the film.Published July 25, 2013