"Maisel" and "Veep" star Reid Scott on why he loves playing "the bully types"

The actor discusses embodying a late-night host, how "Veep" and "Maisel" differ and his charming film "Wildflower"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 28, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Reid Scott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Reid Scott (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

"I know my place," says Reid Scott, describing his character in the upcoming Anne Hathaway romantic comedy, "The Idea of You." "I play a prick." 

From "Veep" to "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," the affable actor has built a healthy niche body of work playing that arrogant, entitled, difficult guy bent on making everybody else's life a living hell. Yet the reason he's so good at being so awful may surprise you. "I was bullied as a kid," he explained on "Salon Talks," "and I've always had this chip on my shoulder about that. It's actually translated into me being attracted to playing those types of characters." 

Just this year alone, Scott's played "those types of characters" as an uptight investment banker in the comedy "Who Invited Charlie?" and a glib late-night talk show host who spars with Midge on the final season of "Maisel." But he's also been the loving (if anxious) uncle to a young woman (played by Kiernan Shipka) being raised by neurodivergent parents in the new dramatic comedy "Wildflower." So while he's happy to keep playing the jerk because "that's where I'm headed in my career," he'd also like you to know there's more here than meets the eye. 

Scott talked to us about how Stephen Colbert prepared him for "Maisel," what it's like getting yelled at by famous women, and why it's so important to him to play the bully well — even if it means he won't let his kids watch his performances. Watch Reid Scott on "Salon Talks" here or read our conversation below.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Let's start with "Wildflower," a movie based on the director's own family. Tell me how you got involved in it, and who you are in this family.

I actually play a semi-fictionalized version of the director, Matt Smukler. This is very much his family's story. I read the script, and it was so refreshing in that it was so authentic, down-to-earth, compelling — the young woman raising her two neurodivergent parents. I had a phone call with Matt, and him relaying his real-life experience with this situation, just really brought it all home for me. He expressed to me, too, that this movie, it's got a lot of heart, but they wanted to really capture the subtle nuances and humor that exist within a family, and often how families in crisis can use some humor to bolster themselves. I love that, because a lot of my career has been in the comedy space. I love finding opportunities to inject some softness, some lightness into those dark areas that we got to explore in the movie, and the cast was just amazing. 

It's just comedy heavy hitters all the way down

"This was a true labor of love. Everybody was there because they loved the material."

Oh my God, Brad Garrett is a hero of mine that I got to work with years ago. He is amazing in every single thing he does. I got reunited with my good buddy, Alex Daddario, we did a series together. The incredible Jean Smart

Jacki Weaver.

Jacki Weaver is hilarious by the way; the stories she had us captivated. The only thing that was missing was a bottle of tequila and a campfire. You just wanted to just sit there and just drink Jacki Weaver in all day. Kiernan Shipka was just amazing. She can do anything, so it was a really fun cast to work with. Everybody brought something so unique, we all worked so well together. This was a true, like every movie I do, really an independent film, labor of love. Everybody was there because they loved the material.

How did you all work together to make sure that you kept it a funny and entertaining movie, but also gave it that representation, that authenticity and that depth?

They cast it authentically, which was really, really important to the film. The young woman playing Bea's mother is neurodivergent, and she was fantastic. It was so fun because it was her first real professional acting job and she was so sweet, and so very, very intent on delivering a great performance. It energized all of us, because we really rallied around her to try to help her feel safe and accepted and bolstered by all of us. She gave a beautiful performance for her first performance. To bring that real level of authenticity, it helps all of us on set.

Also, that's just the way to tell the story. There are certain things in Hollywood that you can get away with, but that was something that I don't think anybody was interested in fudging or stretching. I'm so glad they didn't, because it made the movie what it is. It wasn't born out of a place of "How do we capture the headline?" It was that she was the best actress for the job because what she brought to it, no one else could ever possibly match.

You've got some other things going on, including "Who Invited Charlie?" with Adam Pally and you. It begins in the early days of the pandemic, and it has this mismatched buddy comedy vibe to it. Tell me about it and why you wanted to get involved so closely in this project.

My friend Nic Schutt is a fantastic writer, and we've worked together on a few other projects behind the scenes. During the pandemic, he and his family moved to Virginia and moved in with some close friends to pod up. He wrote this movie loosely based on his experience there, where he was the Charlie, the loose cannon. 

"I was bullied as a kid, and I've always had this chip on my shoulder about that."

He sent me the script, and I just loved it because it was unique in that it found a way to broach the subject of the pandemic without making it a pandemic movie. It's really not. That is the backdrop, but this is a family movie. The pandemic serves as really nothing more than the catalyst to get these characters to smash into each other. Then once that's established, we just use the pandemic for comedic fodder in the background.

I loved it because it's rare to find a movie like this where every single character changes for the better, really, and in a very genuine way. Adam's been a buddy of mine for a long time. We did a movie together a thousand years ago ["Slow Learners"], and have been looking for a way to reunite. We immediately thought of him, then when Nic and Adam and I were talking about the movies that influenced us and what we were trying to get at, what we were paying homage to, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" came up, "Uncle Buck," "The Great Outdoors," basically anything with John Candy, and "What About Bob?" These were movies that were hugely influential for us coming up, and they're all odd couples.

I was thinking also "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Trading Places." It's that tension. 

Absolutely. Just that classic dynamic gives you so much material for comedy. Adam and I love working together because we whip each other up and we love to improvise. Our director, Xavier [Manrique], was really very keen on keeping the structure there so that we can really push the heart. We didn't want to lose the heart because a lot of times when you get improvising comics, we can just go all over the place and then everything just turns to s**t. We wanted to make sure that we didn't lose the heart, we didn't lose the story, but that we kept it alive. Jordana Brewster was the perfect third partner because she really was looking to stretch and do something comedic and she can run, she is so funny. I don't think enough people know that about her. But she brought all this heart and warmth and elegance to the part, but she also can give as good as she gets. In some of our more heavily improvised scenes, she was right there with us. She's very talented.

When I think of your career, you have done a lot of scenes where a woman is yelling at you. You get yelled at in "Maisel." You got yelled at on "Veep" all the time. What is it about these roles? When you're seeing the script, are you looking for the part where a woman yells at you? 

"A lot of times when you get improvising comics and we can just go all over the place and then everything just turns to s**t."

It's funny, I never really thought of it like that. First of all, I've been so fortunate to have been able to work with incredible women in this business, and I just chalk it up to sheer luck really at this point. But starting years and years and years ago, Betsy Thomas and the late great Jamie Tarses really gave me my start. Then I got to work with Laura Linney on "The Big C," and then Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Veep." I just shot a movie with Anne Hathaway ["The Idea of You"]. I love working opposite these really strong women. 

In terms of the parts that I'm taking, I was bullied as a kid, and I've always had this chip on my shoulder about that. It's actually translated into me being attracted to playing those types of characters, the bully types, because I want to service them well. You have to hate them enough to realize who they are and how dangerous they are and what they represent, not only to the scene, but society at large and what have you. But they've got to be likable enough that you want to watch these guys. 

Dan was a great example of that. He was the guy that, "Oh my God, I absolutely hate him. I can't wait to play this guy," because he was just so sleazy. I thought of Dan as the guy that this is all for show, that somehow he's a broken little boy inside. Because he's such a scumbag, he's going to get yelled at. I think he likes it because that's the whole backstory we gave and that's the relationship that he had with his mother. His mommy yelled at him a lot, so he sets himself up to be yelled at a lot.

That's his love language.

That's his love language.

Being yelled at.

Yeah, screaming.

When you talk about "Veep," and then I see you were doing this season on "Maisel," there are very few shows that have that level of writing, like "Veep"-level or Amy Sherman-Palladino.

Yeah, and yet so different, too. Because the Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino are two of the most brilliant writers I've ever worked with. Everything is meticulously crafted, and they expect the performances to be word-perfect and they're right. Amy was a choreographer and a dancer before her brilliant career as a writer and director and producer, so there's a musicality written in and baked into every single line. 

It was a shift for me coming from "Veep," which is also incredibly well written, but also very improvised in that we wanted to make it messy. You never hit a mark, you never said the same line the same way twice. Moving from that to "Maisel," where everything was hit that mark perfectly, the camera lands perfectly, say this line perfectly. It was a challenge for me to get up to speed with that amazing cast, but it was so fun. You saw it very instantly. It's like, "It has to be this way because every episode is its own little opera, really." The episodes from this season, they're incredible, absolutely incredible. It's some of the most cinematic television I've ever seen. Just the way everything is working in concert between the way the camera moves and the beautiful sets and the beautiful costumes and the language, it was special, really special.

You are returning yet again to the world of late night with a character who is in that milieu or behind a desk in some way. You've been the guest so many times on so many talk shows, what did you do to be the guy who's the host?

I did a fair amount of research. My character in "Veep" at one point becomes a morning talk show host. Then I worked on "Late Night" with Mindy Kaling. Granted, my character was a writer on that. With this, it's like, "OK, I know a fair enough about the character and the world, but I need to know more," so I devoured every book I could get my hands on, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, the real forefathers of that genre. 

"It's some of the most cinematic television I've ever seen."

Then I reached out to some modern-day late-night hosts and really picked their brains. Stephen Colbert was incredibly helpful. It wasn't really more about mimicking the performance when he is at the desk or at the chair, that I felt like I had a handle. I was like I wanted to know about everything that goes on behind the scenes.

Not that what he told me necessarily made it into the show, but it got me into the headspace of what it's like. Because you really are, your mind is so split in that job, because you have your home life, of course, then you're running a writers' room. You're also running a business because you're dealing with, in this case, the network and ad execs and all that stuff. Then you're also putting another persona forward to the audience at home, and that was so interesting. It was almost like this double duality and how you're juggling all these sides of your personality because of this one really unique job that if you think about it, maybe only a few dozen people have ever held that position in America, as preeminent late-night host. It's really fun to do that research and dive in. Then, like everything else in "Maisel," they made it easy because they built a full-size set for the late-night show with a full, 150 extras audience. I had all these people to really interact with. It was incredible.

You got a bunch of other stuff coming up. You have a movie coming out with Anne Hathaway. Tell me what you've got next.

At the moment I'm shooting something for . . . Well, it's probably a little premature to say, for ABC. We'll see how that goes. It's still the pilot stage but it's a lot of fun. I'm working with Sarah Shahi, who I think is fantastic, one of my favorite directors, Paul McGuigan. The movie with Anne Hathaway, "The Idea of You," we shot down in Atlanta just before Christmas, which was so much fun. She was amazing to work with, and it was a family comedy. I know my place, I play a prick in that movie as well because that's where I'm headed in my career. This is why my kids have seen nothing that I've done.

But you're a great prick.

Well, thank you so much.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bullies Reid Scott Salon Talks The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Tv Veep Wildflower