Writer/director Maggie Carey's The To Do List is one of the year's funniest, frankest, most unexpectedly heart-warming films -- and while Aubrey Plaza is a joy to watch, it's Scott Porter who expertly (and seemingly effortlessly) steals the entire film with his inspired performance as Rusty Waters.
Given the chance to bring a comical character to life clearly energized Porter, who uses the opportunity to remind those of us who've forgotten his Broadway work, and cameo in Music & Lyrics, simply how gifted a comedian he is. Turns out, that was exactly the reason he signed on!
I recently sat down with Porter, on his 34th birthday no less, to talk about altering his public professional perception, the appeal of raunchy women and the time he formed a boy band that sang about nothing but bread!
ETonline: Do you mind spending your birthday promoting this movie?
Scott Porter: Not at all. I had a great time on this film. Our trailers were so small, but it didn't matter to any of us because we were going to sit in the parking lot and shoot the sh*t anyway. It was actually kind of cool that they were so small and the walls were so thin because I got to hear Donald Glover write his entire Childish Gambino album while we were making this movie -- so I basically got a sneak preview. And I got to hear Bill Hader tells stories about how Superbad came together and his adventures on SNL. You don't always get the opportunity to bond with a cast this much, but I've been so blessed. Yeah, there were a few bad ones, times I didn't get to know the whole cast. Like on The Good Wife, I didn't really get to know anybody because it's a rigorous shooting schedule and the dialogue has to be so spot on. I didn't get to play on that show as much and after a year, I didn't really develop any friendships. Friday Night Lights, Hart of Dixie, The To Do List and 10 Years are films I really got to connect with people and now have a huge circle of friends as a result of doing.
ETonline: Rusty Waters: good porn name or great everything name?
Porter: Great porn name. Great everything name, actually. When I got the script, Rusty Waters showed up on page 20 and his description was "Rusty Waters: grunge rock lifeguard." In five words, Maggie told me everything I need to know about this character.
ETonline: Did the script also lay out what he would look like or did you collaborate on the hair and aesthetic?
Porter: Oh, the next line was, "The hair of Kurt Cobain and the body of Marky Mark." So I really knew what Maggie wanted. She's so smart with setting a scene and establishing a character in as few words as possible, so you can get into the meat of the scene so much faster. I knew what I was getting into, and knew I was going to have to do some work to get ready for it, but who could pass this up.
ETonline: There's a line in the script where Aubrey's character says Rusty's body "feels like Marky Mark looks." That's a high benchmark for an actor to achieve. How did you do it?
Porter: Dude, I love hot wings and I love pizza and I like to have a beer. I'm just a dude, but that doesn't lend itself well to looking like Taylor Kitsch [laughs]. I don't love taking my shirt off, but I stay pretty fit, but it still took about three and a half weeks of buckling down on the food and upping my game in the gym. I hope it turned out well.
ETonline: For a guy who doesn't love to take his shirt off, you almost never have your shirt on in this movie...
Porter: I tried to put my shirt on all the time [laughs]. But Maggie kept saying, "Who gave Scott a shirt?!?" And then they'd take the shirt away from me. I kept on begging for a tanktop at least. Nothing. He's a lifeguard who loves his vitamin D.
ETonline: What was it about the script you were attracted to?
Porter: Guys don't seem to think this, but the stuff that girls talk about is more raunchy than what guys talk about in a football lockeroom. I was on a football team my whole life, listening to dudes talk about girls and knowing it was bullsh*t. But when girls talk about those things, they're usually being honest. And, I think they talk dirtier about dudes than guys talk about girls. My wife has had some very enlightening girls night out [laughs] -- there's this term called Dirty Bathroom Floor that they taught me. Meaning, "Ryan Gosling? I would do him on a dirty bathroom floor." I think girls talking sh*t is way more fun. And it's not bad to be the object of objectification at all. If anything, this is going to sound so corny, but as an actor, you want people to see you as a whole person, not just a single facet of your emotional spectrum. And whether it's the audience or the industry, you end up getting pigeonholed as one thing. So for people to see I can be funny and stay in shape is a bit of a weight off my shoulders. This film allows people to see more of the complete me.
ETonline: How consciously have you chosen projects to show people "the complete you" since Friday Night Lights?
Porter: I wasn't a dramatic actor coming in. I'd been doing musical comedy! My journey on FNL with Jason Street was very dark and very heavy; it was dramatic all along the way and there was a weight to it; you knew the moments he smiled were fleeting. Then I played a terrorist on Caprica and then this soulless guy on The Good Wife, so I started getting all these dramatic offers. I wasn't getting asked to do lighter fare. I wanted to get back to comedy, because, as much as you can separate work from life, the longer you play a role, the harder it gets to leave your briefcase at the office. I needed to do something fun. 10 Years was a fun, light role, followed by Hart of Dixie, followed by To Do List -- to answer your question, yes, those were all deliberate choices. I look at someone like Hugh Jackman as a benchmark for my career, if I could be so lucky. He sings, he dances, he's Wolverine -- he does it all and the world knows who he is as a person, at the same time.
ETonline: In The To Do List, you and Aubrey's characters spend their summers working at a pool. What's the worst non-acting job you've ever had?
Porter: I took a lot of jobs based on who I worked with -- I loved working with friends. I was a dishwasher at Panera Bread for two years, and that wasn't because I got stuck in the kitchen, I chose to be the dishwasher because my two best friends, Rick and Matt, got the jobs with me. Rick did food prep, Matt did To-Go orders and we all hung out in the kitchen all day. We'd turn the radio on and sing in harmony and hang out. It wasn't even like we were working. Funny story, one of the weird things to come out of that job was the head of all Panera bread stores heard us singing in the back. He asked if we knew the tune to God Bless America, which we all did. So he gave us the lyrics to God Bless Our Sourdough, which is Panera's anthem. So we did an on-the-spot acapella arrangement, with Rick and Matt doing a two part harmony and me beatboxing, in the middle of the store. He loved us. He nicknamed us The Panera Boys and once a year would fly us to the National Panera convention so we could sing songs like, you know My Girl? Well, we re-wrote the lyrics to be, "My Bread, talking 'bout my bread ... rye bread!" [laughs] the Orleans had You're Still The One -- well, we wrote Still The Bun about cinnamon rolls. That was the worst job, being a dishwasher, but really the best job because I got to be with my friends.