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  • Interview: Actor Adam Scott

    Thu, 10 Jul 2008 10:15:41

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    During August of 2001, in the throes of the dot com bubble, the era’s new wave of young entrepreneurs were wont to flaunt their socioeconomic supremacy. Displaying disregard for time tested business models, ethics, and the possibility of gross failure, they wielded technology to their advantage and accrued hundreds of millions in assets as a result. Little did they—or the rest of the world, for that matter—know that tragedy of a grand scale and a related marketplace crash was looming mere weeks away. It’s during this precarious time that August takes place, a drama starring Josh Hartnett and Adam Scott as brothers and business partners who run Landshark, a company whose function and practical purpose are left deliberately ambiguous for the duration of the film. Joshua (Scott) is the sound, reasonable sibling while Tom (Hartnett) is a businessman fueled by greed and guile. Their disintegrating fraternal relations mirror Landshark’s rapid demise; as the money slips away, so, too, does their already tenuous brotherly connection.

    In conversation with ARTISTdirect, actor Adam Scott talked about his memories of the dot com boom and subsequent bust, and how the gallant businesspersons of August bear similarities to the flock of 20-somethings running online operations today.

    The temporal setting of the film is really important to its characters, even though they’re not fully cognizant of that. What do you think the relevance of August 2001 is for Tom and Josh?

    It’s interesting because the specter of 9/11 is the specter hanging over the story. It’s an interesting perspective that all of this is going to be wiped clean very soon. All of these concerns, this whole situation that they’re in—that the country is in, as well—everyone is kind of swept up in this dot com boom.

    Considering what has happened since then and the radical shift, how did you transport yourself back to that pre-September 11 mindset?

    Since they weren’t cognitive of what was going on, I didn’t, really. I remember that time very well. My wife was in the dot com industry and my brother was as well, so I have a lot of perspective on what these companies were going through. The fact was, everything was unknown. No one knew exactly what was going to happen with this, but everyone was dumping all this money into it and it was insane. It was creating all of these crazy characters, like Josh Hartnett’s character. These rock stars who were just acting out and had nothing to go on. Some of them did, obviously, but some of them were just bullshitting.

    The story focuses on a phenomenon that is occurring once again today, which is this new wave of young entrepreneurs who wield extreme power. How would you describe the mindset of these business vanguards?

    The interesting thing is, Rip Torn’s character, the dad, asking, “What do you guys actually do?” That’s the main conceit. “What is it that you’re getting all this money for?” The movie never actually answers that question. You never actually find out what it is we do, which is one of the most interesting things about the movie. A lot of the companies that were in existence back then, you never really knew what they were planning to do with these hundreds of millions of dollars and what services they were going to provide. The Joshua character, my character, and Tom have very different ideas of how to go about [business]. Joshua is a little bit more old school with that kind of thing.

    I thought of the phrase “loyal detachment” to describe Josh’s relationship to Tom. Aside from the fact that [Joshua] has a family and certain obligations, what do you think separates him from his brother?

    The movie begins when there’s already a lot of damage done to their relationship, and I don’t think Joshua really trusts Tom very much. I mean, he trusts him about as far as he can throw him, and I think it’s pretty apparent from their first interaction in the movie. I think that, just over the years, he’s seen him be a little flagrant with their ideas and their company, but he’s cautiously optimistic because they both made a lot of money doing this. But he can also see where this may end up doing a lot of damage so he’s kind of riding this line of, I don’t completely trust my brother, but at the same time, this may just pay off.

    Why is it that Tom’s promises to Joshua are so seductive?

    I think it’s something that goes back to childhood with those two. That’s kind of what we thought: this is a pattern. But now, we’re coming on to circumstances that are irreversible and could be damaging—lifelong—as opposed to him talking Josh into stealing a candy bar. Now it’s something bigger and their relationship is really on the line for good, and I think that Tom’s right half of the time. Now they’re head[ing up] a hundred million dollar company, but they’re in trouble, so it’s okay for now but it’s going down fast. [Joshua’s] not sure whether to completely cut himself off from his brother or stick with him a little longer, because there was no precedent for any of this in America. It was like the gold rush; no one [knew] how much this stuff [was] going to be worth in a year.

    There’s an interesting line you have in the film. [Joshua says to Tom]: "Just because I’m smart doesn’t mean I’m stupid." Can you unpack that a little bit?

    Someone that’s very book smart like Joshua is sometimes a little less socially able—or sometimes can be thought of as gullible or easily manipulated—and I think that Tom, Josh Hartnett’s character, has taken advantage of this more than once. Joshua still doesn’t know how to say “no,” but all he knows is that he’s vulnerable and susceptible to that kind of manipulation. Even though he can’t recognize it when it’s happening, he can see it afterwards when it’s too late. He’s just taking the preemptive strike of not going for it, even though he doesn’t know if it’s going to work or not.

    It might be interesting to see how the young team behind a Facebook or the dot com startups now might process this and draw parallels to their own situation.

    I think that Facebook and MySpace and companies that are very successful now are successful because of companies like the fictional one that is in the movie, like Landshark. There were so many failures that they learned from all of those, so now you can come up with a business model that actually works, and the technology’s actually there to back it up. I think what we were thinking was—even though the movie never actually says what Landshark does—it’s something like Facebook or MySpace. Conceptually something similar, but the technology just wasn’t there and people weren’t ready. Things were just percolating, it was just getting started. People were just getting ready mentally for something like that.

    The film ends with a game of pinball. There’s a sense of childlike innocence, not only for the brothers, but also, we know what’s looming just around the corner a couple of weeks away. Did you have any of thoughts when you read that that was the coda for the film?

    It’s the one place where they can go and be brothers again in the movie. [Tom] kind of betrays that at beginning of the movie when we’re playing pinball for the first time and he brings business into it. I think it’s not appropriate and that’s where things really start to disintegrate. And incidentally that strip club where those scenes take place with the pinball is about half a block from Ground Zero. If you know that area of New York, you would know that whole area was just devastated.

    —Heidi Atwal

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    Tags: Adam Scott, Josh Hartnett, Naomie Harris, Rip Torn

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