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In 'Severance,' the work-life balance issue is solved by a brain procedure


The Apple TV+ series "Severance" shows Mark, played by Adam Scott, sobbing one morning in a vast corporate parking lot. We will learn that he's recently widowed. As he arrives on his floor of the macrodata refinement department of Lumon Industries, he finds the crumpled tissue into which he cried in his pocket and seems to wonder, what's that? Mark has been willingly severed, a brain procedure to keep his work memories separate from his personal life, not just keeping work and life in balance but in what amounts to separate lives. And Adam Scott joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ADAM SCOTT: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Why would Mark choose severance, anyway?

SCOTT: Well, you know, I always kind of go back to the frog boiling in the water, where all of these things that would have sounded completely absurd five or 10 years ago now sort of feel everyday. And so the decision that was in front of Mark was one of convenience because, like you mentioned, he's recently widowed and - so he's making a choice purely out of a pain of avoidance (laughter) for those reasons. And for eight to 10 hours a day, he doesn't have to feel. He can just check out. So he's grown quite accustomed to this life.

SIMON: What does Lumon Industries actually do? Can you tell us without giving too much away?

SCOTT: Lumon Industries is sort of one of those companies, these enormous American corporations that's sort of just always been there. And it's sort of one of those companies where you're eating your cereal in the morning, and you look on the box, and you're like, oh, my God. They make this cereal? They also make my air conditioner and, you know, the stereo in my car. And they dabble in technology and health, and now they're sort of getting into people's minds, quite literally.

SIMON: What's happened to sleep in this world? People, when they're at work, aren't aware of having been asleep, right?

SCOTT: That's right. We feel the restorative properties of sleep, but we don't actually get to experience it ourselves. I kind of started thinking about it in sort of a tree-falls-in-the-forest question. Like, if you've never experienced sleep, then can you experience the benefits of sleep if you don't actually know what it is? - because it's not like there's a place to go nap down there. It's - you're just there to fulfill your workday.

SIMON: Yeah. Do - the question that I think that keeps coming up as you watch the series, which I enjoyed a lot, is do we need to feel pain and loss and anxiety to know happiness?

SCOTT: Yeah. You know, when we were making the show, I had just experienced a huge loss and, you know, got - I realized when I got to New York to shoot it that I hadn't come to terms with this loss. And it was a pre-vaccine pandemic, you know, in New York City, so that's all it was, was sitting in the apartment or being at work making "Severance." And so I had to sit there and come to terms with it. And, yeah, you need pain. You need to work things out because as long as Mark has the pin in that particular grenade, he's never going to be able to move on. At least that's how I feel in conducting my life.

SIMON: May I ask what you're - what or who your loss was?

SCOTT: Sure. My mother passed away just about 10 days before, you know, everything went down in March 2020, and so it was, you know, a surreal time for all of us. And, you know, we actually didn't end up being able to have a memorial until just this past December. And so those five months before we started shooting "Severance," I was, you know, in lockdown with my wife and my kids. And they really buoyed me for that time. And then I had to go to New York without them to make the show. And as it turns out, that's where it all - where I started feeling it all and coming to terms with it.

SIMON: Yeah. It's been my experience. That's how it happens.

SCOTT: Yeah. yeah.

SIMON: When you think you've reached a flat space and then you realize, oh, my. Yeah.

SCOTT: Yeah. You've got a sheer cliff right in front of you that you need to climb, right?

SIMON: Exactly.

Adam Scott stars in the Apple TV+ series "Severance." Thank you so much for being with us.

SCOTT: Thanks, Scott. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.