What connects ‘Severance’ to ‘Abbott Elementary’? Quinta Brunson and Adam Scott explain everything

Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” and Adam Scott of Apple TV+’s mind-bending drama “Severance,” have a connection we can’t quite put our finger on. After talking about their shows — and the fact that both of their mothers were public school teachers — it turns out their familiar dynamic stems from an established collegiate relationship: As Scott accidentally spills, on VarietyScott’s “Actors on Actors” is presented by Apple TV+, Brunson will guest star on Starz’s upcoming revival of Scott’s brilliant but canceled “Party Down.” Please let us know!

ADAM SCOTT: “Abbott Elementary” is your show. My family and I – we go through phases of watching a show together. And we can’t watch it unless all four of us are there. “Abbott” is our latest. And the biggest.

QUINTA BRUNSON: Yay! That’s what I like to hear about it the most: watching family get-togethers.

Scott: And they’re also teenagers now, so it’s hard to find something we all want to watch. But it’s also pretty cool for them.

BRUNSON: Can’t they all get together and watch “Severance”?

Scott: No. We can, but it makes me way too nervous. We chatted a few months ago, and something you mentioned that I found really interesting was how big of a fan you are of the network sitcom — and the idea of ​​creating something that can be widely sent to all homes. You are credited with reviving the network sitcom.

BRUNSON: It’s too big. I saw this title, and it’s too much.

Scott: Yeah.

BRUNSON: I think even though “Abbott” succeeded, which I’m very grateful for, people have been doing a great job in the networking space for a very long time. “Young Sheldon” has drawn large followings — even their reruns do. There’s this season’s shows, like “Ghosts” on CBS, which is just a joyous and delightful show to watch, and “American Auto” and “Grand Crew” on NBC. It was a combined effort, and I think “Abbott” feels like a great show that anyone can connect that narrative to. “Parks and Rec” was that for me. I liked having this thing that I could watch with my friends and family, it was easy. “Parks and Rec” felt like a risk, where you almost couldn’t believe you were seeing this on the network. “Parks” was so beautifully written.

Scott: And the jokes were so great. I didn’t want to screw up any of them; I wanted them to work. I mean, I remember going to do something dramatic for the first time after doing “Parks” for a while, and it was like, “Oh yeah. That’s right, that’s different. And having to change a bit.

Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

BRUNSON: It’s exciting, I think, as an actor. After doing Janine for months straight on “Abbott,” I remember being so excited to come and do something else in a way that seemed almost childish. I felt like a little kid, like I had to be someone else today.

Scott: But it was announced, right? We can say it – you are the star guest of “Party Down”.

BRUNSON: I don’t think it was advertised.

Scott: It was not?

BRUNSON: I have not seen it.

Scott: I totally thought that was the case. You are in “Party Down”.

BRUNSON: I am, and I was so excited to be there.

Scott: There’s something about “Abbott” that’s a great mix of those cutting edge jokes and a bit of subversion. It’s so deeply funny, but also the cuteness in the show – my mom was a public school teacher, and there’s something that strikes me squarely in the heart every week. Because it’s so clear that you have such an affection, and such respect, for teachers. Where does this come from?

BRUNSON: First of all, I didn’t know your mother was a public school teacher. You told me a lot about “Star Trek”.

Scott: I did it.

BRUNSON: This affection, the one you speak of, is one that you surely share. Being a teacher’s child is a unique experience. My experience was also really unique, because I went to the school where my mother taught. I was in her kindergarten class, then I was in the school where she taught for the next five years. School ended at 3 o’clock, but we got home around 5 or 6 o’clock. She worked even harder, but still put food on the table. And so, naturally, I have an idea that most people don’t. I also have such respect for the profession and a love that was formed through love for my mother, but through her love for her colleagues. There’s an article in the Wall Street Journal, and it was talking about “Severance” and “Abbott” and exploring the workplace. And, I was like, “Why are these two together?” I thought this comparison was so interesting. A question I had for you: How was it day to day?

Scott: It was hard. I remember arriving in October 2020, a month before filming started, and went straight to the set from the airport. Because I had seen pictures of this [director] Ben Stiller was getting ready with his team and I just wanted to see him. I had been looking at pictures on my phone for a long time so I went there and saw all the sets.

BRUNSON: Yeah, where was that?

Scott: It was on a stage in Queens.

BRUNSON: What!

Scott: Yeah. And they built this main office with the green carpet with low ceilings and all that. Once I walked onto the set and saw the enormity of it, I started freaking out a bit. Because we got all nine episodes. Amy Poehler used to call the start of a new show: You’re at the foot of show mountain. You’re, like, at base camp, and there’s a pure face in front of you. And you just have to get rid of it. When it comes to a brand new show, the whole mountain of the show is right in front of you. I just have a quick question: When the accolades started rolling in, were you still shooting, or was it all shot?

BRUNSON: Thank God it was all shot. ‘Cause it just has to bounce off me and be, like, “Cool, love it or hate it, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Like, with “Severance,” it was done before it started airing.

Scott: It’s true.

BRUNSON: Did it feel good?

Scott: Yeah. Because we also shot everything all at once. We just shot all nine at the same time – we were shooting, like, something Episode 1, and then after lunch we were shooting Episode 8. We did, and it took about 10 months.

BRUNSON: I was talking to a friend who is also a writer of a show that has a soul. For me, that’s what allows it to stand the test of time. I feel like “Severance” has a soul.

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Alexi Lubomirski for Variety

Scott: “Severance” was unique because we were filming during pre-vaccine COVID. We started filming the day after the presidential election in November 2020, and in New York, so everything was really locked down. It started this pattern that felt very isolated and kind of parallel to the show. When we were on set together, the actors, it was our time during the day to be around people and to be able to connect with people. And I think the characters also yearn for attention. If you were to find the soul of the series, it might be somewhere in there.

BRUNSON: I have quick questions.

Scott: Sure.

BRUNSON: Where was the outside? Was it computer generated, or was it real outside of Lumon?

Scott: It’s a real building in New Jersey. It was Bell Labs back then.

BRUNSON: We still don’t know what Lumon is up to, unless I missed something.

Scott: Well, Lumon is usually one of those companies that’s been around for a long, long time, where you eat your cereal, and you’re like, “Wait, they do that? And they also make my light bulbs. I think it’s alluded to in a conversation early in the series.

BRUNSON: Is Zach Cherry really that funny?

Scott: Yeah. He is the best. You don’t know Zach?

BRUNSON: I do not know him. But yesterday, I said, I’m going to get this guy. And he follows me on Twitter, and I never…

Scott: You want me to tell him to stop following you on Twitter?

BRUNSON: Nope! That’s what I did in my brain last night. I was like, “It’s going to be so weird to follow him now that I’ve seen him on a show. So I’m not going to follow him back. But I will follow him. He’ll see that and say, “Why don’t you just follow me at this point?”


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