The future of “Lethal Weapon” rests largely with the dude who can’t find his car.
When the Fox action series returns later this month, it’ll be without its title star, Clayne Crawford, who was dismissed last spring after numerous accusations of bad behavior behind the scenes. Enter Seann William Scott, the Twin Cities-bred actor best known for playing grinning goofballs in big-screen comedies like “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Role Models” and the “American Pie” franchise, for which he’s portrayed incurable horndog Steve Stifler four times.
The Minnesota native is smart enough to know the switch will provide a field day for skeptics.
“I’m sure people are saying, ‘Clayne was amazing — and now you’re going to hire Stifler?’ ” Scott said by phone last month from his home in Los Angeles, where he was taking a rare day off from shooting the show’s third season.
“I’ve pretty much played morons my whole career. For once, I’m playing a super-capable, bright guy with a serious background. I’m hoping people will respond to what I’m doing. Honestly, I stress out so much about not doing a crap job. I’m so consumed with not embarrassing my family.”
The new character, Wesley Cole, a former CIA agent who prefers to negotiate first and shoot later, also required getting ripped — and we’re not talking about downing shots at the Boar’s Nest.
For the past few months, Scott has been mastering a form of Filipino martial arts, skills that are essential in pulling off the drama’s endless cycle of fight scenes.
“The fact that Cole is a super-physical guy was one of the big selling points,” said Scott, somewhat amazed that his yellow Labrador wasn’t interrupting the phone conversation. “I’ve obviously never had the chance to showcase that skill set. Thank goodness I can still do it.
“Dude, I’m not that old!”
Scott, 41, first flexed his muscles in the mid-1990s as an all-around jock in Cottage Grove, making the varsity football and basketball teams at Park High School. But when he compared his accomplishments with those of classmate Sam Jacobson, a future Gophers star and NBA player, he realized that sports wasn’t a realistic career.
Shortly before graduation, he decided to invest as much dedication to acting as he had to athletics. Without any real experience on the Twin Cities theater circuit, he moved to Los Angeles, where an agent saw potential.
Within three years, he was cast as Stifler in “American Pie,” spiking a rival’s drink with a laxative, vomiting on a would-be lover and chugging beer mixed with semen.
His follow-up characters didn’t get much nobler.
“I didn’t think Martin Scorsese was going to cast me in his next movie,” he said. “I understood why I wasn’t getting cast for other things. I would have been a distraction. I kind of pigeonholed myself, but I felt really lucky to get the chance to make people laugh.”
Recognizing that Hollywood was becoming less interested in mid-budget comedies not starring Will Ferrell, Scott got attached to a TV project by Sacha Baron Cohen and began pitching the show to executives, signaling to the industry that he was ready to consider a move to the small screen.
Around that same time, Fox was dealing with a major headache.
“Lethal Weapon” was performing well for the network, largely because of the on-screen chemistry between Crawford and Damon Wayans, reprising the roles played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the blockbuster film series. But behind the scenes, Crawford was alienating his co-workers, with the actor himself admitting on Instagram that he had been reprimanded more than once.
According to the trade publication Variety, the actor allegedly dropped several F-bombs while shooting a scene near a public pool filled with children. One crew member immediately quit. Wayans would later complain on Twitter about an incident in which he was struck in the head by shrapnel during an episode directed by Crawford.
The show “had descended into chaos, grinding production to a halt on multiple occasions, splitting the crew into factions, and creating an environment so toxic that by season’s end, Pinkerton security guards were present on set at all times to ensure that disagreements would not deteriorate into physical violence,” the trade magazine reported.
Fox decided to cut ties with Crawford, and came very close to scrapping the show altogether. But then Scott — an actor who oozes Minnesota Nice to colleagues — suddenly became available.
“If we could not feel confident that we could bring that show back with a great cast and in a way the audience would accept it, we simply wouldn’t have brought the show back,” Fox Television Group chairman Gary Newman told reporters earlier this summer. “And until they came up with Seann, we were planning on a schedule without ‘Lethal Weapon.’ ”
Showrunner Matt Miller told Deadline last month that the first two weeks of shooting had been “absolutely charmed,” with Wayans also sounding optimistic, if not relieved.
“We’re only the first [episode] in but it is definitely a lot lighter in tone, and we are having fun, on and off set,” he told Deadline.
Scott diplomatically dodged questions about the backstage drama before his arrival, insisting that his primary focus was adjusting to a more hectic schedule — and not screwing up the opportunity.
“For years, I liked the idea of doing a movie and then taking time off, doing a movie, taking time off. But now I want to be more productive and challenge myself,” he said. “I’ve had enough time off.”
If “Lethal” continues to attract viewers, Scott could find himself playing cops ’n’ robbers for a number of seasons. But he hopes to squeeze in a visit back to Minnesota — he’s only popped back for a couple of days in recent years — and he won’t rule out returning to the franchise that made him famous.
“Honestly, if they did another ‘American Pie’ movie, I’d do it in a second,” he said. “I love that part so much. It’s fun watching Stifler get older and not change. Maybe it’s called ‘American Funeral.’ ”