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Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette: Sci-fi show 'Severance' doesn't feel crazy in 2022

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Adam Scott can now be seen in psychological dramedy, "Severance." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
Adam Scott can now be seen in psychological dramedy, "Severance." Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette and Tramell Tillman say the extraordinary lengths office workers go to to achieve work-life balance in the new sci-fi dramedy, Severance, don't seem as far-fetched as they might have a few decades ago.

"Getting an invasive procedure like this done by a giant corporation doesn't feel that crazy, like it maybe would have 30 years ago," Scott told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "Corporate culture and people's everyday lives are completely intertwined."

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Set to premiere Friday on Apple TV+, the show follows Mark (Scott) and his co-workers at the mysterious Lumon Industries, who agree to undergo a medical procedure called severing, which completely separates their memories of their careers from their personal lives.

John Turturro, Britt Lower and Zach Cherry play Mark's associates, while Arquette and Tillman play their supervisors. Ben Stiller and Aoife Mcardle directed the series.

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"The line between work and life has been getting more and more blurry for the past 10 years or so. Of course, it's been vastly accelerated the past two years, to the point where the line is sort of not there anymore," Scott said, referring to the many people who worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lumon, the company in the show, draws a distinct line down the middle and takes the division to the extreme, Scott explained, adding: "The corporate theory being, 'We can have people focused completely on work while they are at work with no distractions whatsoever.'"

The upside for most Lumon employees is that, after they punch out for the day, they can forget about their jobs and enjoy their families and hobbies without stressing about what happened at the office that day or worrying about what the next might bring.

Mark doesn't have this luxury, however. He consented to be severed because he is mourning the death of his wife and needs a respite from his lonely, pitiful existence eight hours a day.

"His life can be waking up in the morning, driving to work, and then immediately after he leaves work, he is going home and going to sleep," Scott said. "He's worked out this system of not feeling anything. As far as he is concerned, he can just ride this out the rest of his life."

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The conceptual benefits of severing are leaving behind trauma and pain, Arquette noted.

"Half this country is on pain medication for emotional or physical pain, so the idea that you could somehow walk away from pain is alluring in itself," she added. "Having said that, this workplace is full of a different kind of pain."

The actress said she was intrigued by how the show dives deep to explore whether people can ever fully divorce themselves from feelings and memories.

"Does pain ever go away? Does love ever go away? Are there things that are in every cell of us, no matter how much we want to avoid them?" she wondered. "Wouldn't we all want a fast track to healing if there was some way out?"

Arquette agrees with Scott that the premise of the series isn't as bonkers as it initially appears.

"This isn't even as weird as it's about to get. We're going into a Metaverse where people are creating whole relationships, personalities," she said, giving a nod to the huge advances in and rising popularity of virtual reality. "Are they an animal? Are they a person? Our reality is about to be super science-fiction."

Tillman hopes that in the midst of all these changes, people never lose their senses of humanity and community.

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"We all need that and crave that," he emphasized.

"I am optimistic that that will always be there, but it makes me sit up a little bit when I hear about all these new technological advances like avatars and the Metaverse. It's like: 'What is this? And what is this going to do to our own interactions, personally?'"

While technology and big corporations are everywhere, people can take a stand and be aware of how they interact with them, he said.

"I am more cautious about how I start my day and how I end my day," Tillman added. "When I start my day with my phone in my hand, I am a different person versus when I actually take a moment to breathe and say a prayer of gratitude or read a book."

In the show, Mark remains in stasis until Helly (Lower) replaces Lumon staffer Petey (Yul Vazquez) and starts challenging people about why they are there and what exactly they do for the company.

"That's disturbing to him," Scott said.

From a performance point of view, the actor approached Mark as two halves of a whole, NOT as two distinctly different characters -- work Mark and outside Mark.

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"It was important to Ben, Dan Erickson the creator and I that he felt like the same person," Scott said. "For an actor, the first instinct is to have a mustache and a limp for one of them."

Overhead camera shots of workers at their clustered desks in giant, empty rooms and labyrinthine, brightly lit, white hallways help set the tone for what life is like for the Lumon loyalists.

"Just walking onto those sets, you know that something visually unbelievable is happening," Scott said.

"Everything is just a little bit off. Add to that the culture and the history of the Egan family and the Lumon Corp., and it is this potent mixture of comedy and science-fiction and suspense thriller, and it all kind of works together."

Arquette recalled having a "million questions" when she first read the script for Severance.

Although not all of them were answered, she boarded the project because she had faith that Stiller, with whom she had worked on Escape at Dannemora, knew what he was doing.

"Part of it is kind of retro," she said of the look and feel of Severance.

"Part of it is futuristic, and then there are film noir moments, and then there are parts that are like this absurd comedy, and then some that are dark comedy. It's science fiction, so really I just had to trust in the process that Ben knew what the tone was."

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Tillman said he was drawn to the story because of its unique, thought-provoking qualities.

"It's so bizarre and strange, and also terribly specific," he said. "It felt like a great acting challenge, and I love to sink my teeth into projects that really push the boundaries. I really feel this project does that and invites audiences to lean in."

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