Scott Adsit Talks 30 Rock, Improvisation, and Alec Baldwin's Big Ideas
The fictional writer's room of 30 Rock is a dormitory of misfits, droll freaks, and the occasionally sane scribe. Comedian Scott Adsit's character Pete Hornberger manages to be all three: a neurotic, convulsing everyman who can still put Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) in her place or spring Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) from a fight in the basement. For Adsit, a veteran of Chicago's Second City improv troupe, the show has become its own kind of beast, wavering between Laugh In-style absurdity and stark reality. Movieline spoke with the 44-year-old actor about Pete Hornberger's journey on 30 Rock, Second City nostalgia, and performing with a very nervous comic legend.
Your character Pete's had a subtle arc on 30 Rock. He's less insane than he used to be.
I think we get little windows into him. He's like an advent calendar. Every once in awhile you get to open it up and see something bizarre in his psyche. You get little windows. Not necessary big stories, but it makes him a little more intriguing that you have to build the story in your own mind.
What would be the big Christmas Eve reveal on the advent calendar of Pete Hornberger?
He kills everyone at NBC. Or, the bones of his children.
30 Rock itself has evolved -- it's gotten sillier and smarter in many ways. How did you first perceive the show when you first read the script, and how does that differ from the show now?
My first impression upon reading it is that it would be like a Larry Sanders Show, where it was kind of real-ish but not hyper-real, more stepping towards three dimensions than we're used to seeing on TV. What eventually happened was it turned into a new kind of animal that somehow walked up both sides of that river, that's pretty real in some of its devotions, and then on the other side it's ridiculous, sketch-level comedy that somehow still rings true. And it's like really smart-silly, a really great form of comedy that I think Monty Python does, where it's just intelligent and as silly as you can be. The great thing is, I think the writers are all devastatingly intelligent, and they assume that the audience is just as smart as they are too. They're never writing "down," they're always writing "to" exactly what they would laugh at, and respecting the audience as being as smart them. [They're] writing "up" to them.
Pete's relationship with Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is one of the subtler treats of the show. Perhaps there's a latent understanding between them, even though Pete can be afraid of Jack.
It's funny, because it's been a slow process for Pete. He's no longer afraid of Jack, and I don't know if we've even touched on that yet. Alec and I have always maintained that Pete should be the one guy who might even be ahead of Alec. Not in business or anything like that, but maybe he's not afraid of Jack at all and is ready to make fun of Jack in a sly way. We keep fighting for it, because that's what we want the relationship to be -- that Jack takes Pete a little more seriously. And he can be a little afraid of Pete, for whatever reason. Alec really wants to push that. But playing with Alec is really easy, because he finds the tone of the scene immediately. You can just follow his lead.
30 Rock's been picked up for a fifth season. Where's the show going to go next? They've covered good ground so far.
It's going to be all Pete, all Pete the time.
The unexplored territory! I don't know. The writers are off in their own cloistered world that never sees the light of day. I just hope that I'm in their thoughts. As far as the show goes, I think it's going to get funnier. After season three, I was thinking the same thing you just said. But then season four, I think, was the funniest one so far.
Furthermore, where did the name "Pete Hornberger" come from? It sounds like a writer sat on that name for 25 years and waited for the perfect character to give it to.
[Laughs.] I don't know! That was handed to me. There was a line in a script we shot, and I don't think it made the final cut. But at some point Kenneth points out that I'm Jewish, makes this big deal about being Jewish, and then I say, "You know, I'm not Jewish." He looks at me slyly, shakes his head, and walks away. He assumes that Hornberger must be a Jewish name, and I'm not even Jewish. But Hornberger? I don't know. It sounds really dirty. It could've been someone that [30 Rock producer] Robert Carlock went to school with.
You're an improv veteran, so I'm sure you've seen plenty of insane characters in real life -- does the show pick up on that showbiz insanity realistically?
Everybody gets their insane moments of course, but when you talk about life choice and Tracy and Jenna, they're more crazy because they're a victim of their choices. You know what you're going to get from them, but then they'll trick you and show some heart and intelligence that you don't expect.
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