Humor

‘Severance’: Ben Stiller, Adam Scott on Apple Show’s ‘Strange Humor’

“What are we really doing here?” That’s a question posed by Mark Scout, head of Adam Scott’s Macro Data Refinement department, in the new Apple TV Plus series “Severance,” a show about Lumon Industries, a mysterious company whose employees, like Mark, suffered a very literal “work-life balance” surgical procedure. It’s also a question series creator Dan Erickson, director Ben Stiller and stars Scott, Patricia Arquette and Tramell Tillman asked themselves a lot of questions about while making “Severance.”

“The starting point is so fascinating, and it poses so many interesting questions,” said Stiller, whose Red Hour Productions picked up the script from Erickson and brought it to Apple. “It was a question of where should we go with the show? Because we didn’t want it to go somewhere familiar, necessarily.

Stiller went on to say that “because the tone was so unique” and had a “weird humor about it”, the creative team really wanted to establish the “rules” of the world of “Severance” and “that’s what most of the time was spent doing.

The “Severance” showrunner Erickson first came up with the idea for this world while working a stereotypical 9-to-5 job that made him wish he could block out that part of his day entirely.

Apple TV Plus
Atsushi Nishijima

“I worked a series of office jobs when I first came to LA, and one in particular was in this weird little windowless office,” Erickson said. Variety. “And I would do these kinds of weird, seemingly meaningless, repetitive tasks all day and it was just mind-numbing. And I caught myself one day walking around thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could not live the next eight hours. I wish I could disassociate myself and have it be 5 a.m. and suddenly I’d come home.

“And it occurred to me that it’s kind of a messed up thing to catch ourselves wishing for, given that we have a limited and precious time on this Earth, and here I wish I could give back some of that. “, he continued. “It was really born out of my own corporate misery.”

Stiller found Erickson’s story “reminiscent of some work, office comedies, but it also had that other weird, dark undertone.” The vibe made him think of a perfect candidate for the job, and it happened to be the same man Erickson wanted to hire: Adam Scott.

“I cut them out and implanted this in their brains!” the “Parks and Recreation” and “Party Down” alum laughed. And if anyone knows what breaking up does to a person, beyond popping big casting ideas in their head out of nowhere, it’s Scott, who plays the central character in “Severance.” It’s essential here for Scott and Co. that you believe he only plays one role – Lumon employee Mark Scout – despite having a literal split personality.

“It was really important to all of us that it wasn’t like two different characters, that it was definitely two halves of one guy and that it felt like that,” Scott said. “It’s just that half of Mark, who lives in the outside world, has about 40 years of life experience and mourns his wife and has a lot going on. And then the inside version of Mark isn’t aware of all this and, for all intents and purposes, is two and a half years old.

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Apple TV Plus
Wilson Webb

The parts of Mark that Scott describes here are known as his “Innie” and his “Outtie”, the cute terms that Lumon uses to make the whole cut thing look more like a neat parting that gives someone a good work-life balance and less like jail time for the employee’s work. Mark is just one of many Lumon staff members who have these double lives, including Irving (John Turturro), Helly (Britt Lower), Dylan (Zach Cherry), Mrs. Casey (Dichen Lachman) and Burt (Christopher Walker).

“Physiologically he carries all these emotions and feelings and stuff, he just doesn’t know what they are or how to identify them or name them,” Scott said. “So it was a constant game of addition and subtraction in terms of those two halves, and depending on where we were in the story and what was happening on the outside and how that affected the inside and vice versa. versa. And we were shooting the whole season at once and we were just jumping around. So it was always a math problem for Ben and Dan and I to always know where we were. A really fun math problem.

At Lumon, no one but non-separate management – like Arquette’s Harmony Cobel and Tillman’s Milchick – knows exactly what Mark and his colleagues on the Macro Data Refinement team are up to, or anyone else upstairs. separate. And even they might not even know the whole story, because a mysterious board above them is in charge of everything. Similar to the allegiance of their on-screen counterparts in the corporate line, Arquette and Tillman trusted Erickson and Stiller to piece together the complex world of “Severance” laid out for them.

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Apple TV Plus
Wilson Webb

“Honestly, the hardest thing for me to understand was, what was the tone? And it was a real exercise in faith from Ben’s vision that he understood what the tone was [created by Erickson] was,” Arquette said in an interview with Variety. Arquette says “there was so much structure” in the fictional company, but also in the making of the show itself, in terms of “the composition of the shots, in the wardrobe”, which helped establish ” behind-the-scenes work. of this company and all the years we’ve been there and how that has influenced the way we communicate with people.

Tramell says that when he first read the script he “had no idea what was going on”.

“I was introduced to Milchick and the tagline was ‘enthusiastic company man.’ And you can take that a myriad of different ways,” Tramell said. “So I took that on as a big challenge, a great challenge as an actor, to be able to find a way to bring this very mysterious guy to life. And Ben and Dan were really instrumental and made themselves available for me to sit down and talk with them and have a rap session and build this story of who this guy is and ultimately what Lumon is and how it fits into this narrative. ”

Much of the “Severance” story and Lumon mystery is driven for viewers by the filming location Stiller and Erickson chose for the show: the Bell Labs Holmdel complex in Holmdel Township, New Jersey, which for decades was a research and development facility first for the Bell System and later Bell Labs.

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Apple TV Plus
Atsushi Nishijima

“It was all kind of dictated by what this company was, and their history, and what they were doing, what they in fact were doing, how long they were doing this process,” Stiller said. “So we had to get into this story with Dan. And then finding out what the actual building was, where Lumon was housed, it was sort of written as this nondescript office building in an office park. And as we talked more about it, we got into the actual elements of how long it was around and when it was built.

That’s when they discovered the Bell Labs building, designed by Eero Saarinen in the late 1950s.

“It had such unique architecture and this beautiful, incredible scale,” Stiller said. “And the idea was that this was a huge multinational company, it made sense that this could be their headquarters and below that they could keep the workers made redundant. And so the cut floor design is really born out of finding that location first.And that kind of mid-century architecture, which would also make sense that downstairs, for people who are separated, they never see the outside world, so the company n I wouldn’t necessarily have to renovate or upgrade or update or change, because those people never really see what’s going on in the outside world.

Mark, Helly, Dylan and Irving refine their macro data – don’t ask what that means, “Severance” doesn’t want you to know yet – on very old computers that only allow them to perform these tasks. Stiller says it was “a logical inspiration for technology” because of Lumon’s desire to keep its employees segregated in the dark about what they’re doing.

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Apple TV Plus
Wilson Webb

“They wouldn’t want them to be digitally connected in any way with the outside world, so the idea was to keep all the technology in-house and sort of older and a little more analog,” Stiller said. . On top of that, he wanted the overall aesthetic of the cut floor to be “cold, clean and austere”.

“We knew we would be spending a lot of time there, so the subtle textures of the walls and the floor, the rugs and the panels between them, all that stuff, we thought about it a lot because we knew we were going to be spending a lot of time in there.

Although “Severance” has yet to be renewed for a second season at Apple, Erickson says Variety he has already outlined his plans for a 10-episode follow-up to the drama, which premieres on Friday. As Season 1 is about to launch, Erickson promises that questions about Lumon will soon be answered, but many more will be asked over the next few weeks. However, Erickson has so much “Severance” charted that all of those answers couldn’t even make it to the screen.

“A lot of the work we’ve done is stuff that you never even see on the show, but we figured things out,” Erickson said. “For example, is it a publicly traded company or not? You don’t even see the board of the company, they’re never really seen, but the question is how did they liaise with their different heads of different departments and things nationally? So there was a weird amount of actual research. I didn’t go to business school or anything, but I did a lot of research in line about how these things work.

“And then we threw a lot of it out, we were like, we’re not going to do this, this is a sci-fi show!”

The first two episodes of “Severance” will launch Friday on Apple TV Plus.