Having grown up in Northern California, Adam Scott knew many Ed Mackenzies like the one he played on HBO’s Big Little Lies.
“I grew up about 20 minutes from Monterey [where the show takes place],” said Scott, “so I felt like I knew that guy, the Northern California, work-from-home dad, with the fleece vest and some Tevas.”
In fact, having a beard was Scott’s idea. “He’s probably on a Frisbee team of some sort, and so I thought a beard was right in line with who that was. Not a hipster beard per se, but a Northern California, I’m-going-to-go-for-a-hike-through-the-Santa-Cruz-Mountains beard.”
This is just one of many deviations HBO’s Big Little Lies takes from the book. In the Liane Moriarty novel by the same title, Ed is little more than a supporting character who chides Maddie when she gossips or comments on how she seems to care a little too much about her ex-husband. However, in the series, Ed is a well-rounded character with his own set of problems, thanks to both great writing by David E. Kelley and an outstanding performance by Scott.
“It’s such a lovely, beautifully written book, but yeah, the role [in the HBO series] is much different. I think they did a great job beefing it up. I think things come home to roost a bit more with Ed in the show.”
More roosting means more drama, a genre that Scott was ready to return to.
“Until by fluke I got a role in Step Brothers 10 years ago, I wasn’t really in the comedy world at all, so before taking that left turn, I was primarily doing ‘dramatic stuff.’ Partly I wanted to make sure I could still do it, and the material was incredible, so I really wanted the role. I auditioned for it a couple of times. I really wanted to be a part of it.”
And just as audiences were impressed with the Big Little Lies cast and director, so was Scott.
“I think that I was intimidated certainly by everything by the project. Jean-Marc [Vallée], who was I aching to work with. I love his work. Particularly Wild, I was moved by that movie. He and Reese’s work in that movie. And Laura Dern’s as well. Everybody, all these people, I was really intimidated and thrilled that I was getting a chance to do this. All I could think was, ‘If I don’t mess this up, it’ll be incredible.’ Looking around, I’m the only one who could potentially screw up the scenes I’m in because it was a stellar group. I feel like this material and the team involved were just as indestructible as you could get.”
Like his character in the series, Scott’s on-screen wife Maddie (Reese Witherspoon) also faces some new problems compared to the book, including an affair with a co-worker. Throughout the series, there’s tension between Ed and Maddie, but it especially comes to light in the final episode during Ed’s karaoke moment.
“I think once they arrive at the party that night, Ed’s suspicions, the things he pretty much knew were true, were cemented. Over the course of the song, I believe he forgave her. But I also like that it can be interpreted a different way as well, but that’s what I feel happened there. I think that’s one of the terrific things about Jean-Marc’s work. Depending on who you are and where you are, you’re going to project different things onto the work, and he leaves it there for you to do that.”
It’s a beautiful, emotional musical moment, even if Scott wasn’t actually singing.
“No, I wasn’t singing in the finale,” Scott laughed. “My singing voice is unfortunate, to put it lightly. I think that Jean-Marc didn’t want the singing to feel polished or too professional, but my singing would be distractingly bad. It veers way too far out of the professional lane, and it just would have been distracting. It was a needle and a thread, and my singing would have made that thread, like, four inches thick.”
After the finale, for weeks after, it seemed like no one could go anywhere online without running into something about the final episode, as it had become a cultural phenomenon in the same vein as HBO’s True Detective.
“I don’t think you can ever expect a reaction like that. I certainly had never been a part of something that had a reaction like that, at least while it was occurring or airing. I’ve been a part of stuff that caught on a few years later. But to be there as it’s airing, everyone getting caught up in it, was really fun. I was really proud to be a part of it while it’s really catching hold of everyone’s imagination. At the same time, I was not surprised, because having read the book and then the scripts for the episodes, I knew how juicy and fun and addicting it was. And I knew how great Jean-Marc was, so I wasn’t surprised because this material was a page-turner every week when we got a new script.”
Lots of questions have lingered following the final episode, including whether there will be a Season 2, which Scott stayed mum on, but he did manage to answer a question that’s been gnawing at a lot of Big Little Lies fans: Just how were Ed and Maddie able to afford that bonkers house on the beach on a graphic designer and part-time theater marketer’s salary?
“I think what we had decided was that Ed had sold a company of some sort a few years back and had money and was doing graphic design from home. He had come up with an app or some company and had an influx of cash a few years back that helped support the family and have an insane house like that.”
So no secret side hustle that’s Ed’s own Big Little Lie?
“That’s right,” Scott laughed. “Ed secretly sells beard hair on the black market.”