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A Theory About Adam Scott’s Facial Hair

You can glean a surprising amount from studying Adam Scott’s facial hair. What does it all mean for ‘Big Little Lies’?

(Getty Images/Ringer GIF)

Adam Scott is barely in the first episode of Big Little Lies, but he’s in it enough for you to notice his very healthy-looking beard. It’s the fullest beard he’s ever sported in a movie or TV show — not Casey Affleck promoting Manchester by the Sea full, but maybe James Harden when he was in OKC full. This is an important observation, because Big Little Lies is a show about murder, full of characters about which we still know very little. Adam Scott’s beard could be the key to unlocking the mystery. Because over the course of dozens of film and television appearances and as many facial hair variations, one thing holds true: The longer Adam Scott’s beard is, the less likable his character will be. Stick with me.

Scott has been bearded onscreen — and I must be specific, this theory does not take into account films and shows in which Scott is solely mustachioed; mustaches are wild cards and mess everything up — 13 times. (We’re also excluding appearances for which photographic beard documentation isn’t readily available online.) In those 12 movies and TV shows, his beards range from five-o’clock shadow to MLB relief pitcher goatee to unkempt and bushy. His characters, meanwhile, range from impeccably charming to endearing-but-flawed to murderous to literally the biggest douche on film. Assigning an educated yet arbitrary likability rating to these 12 characters, and then observing their respective facial hair growth, you notice a trend: All of his most hateable characters have relatively full beards, and as Scott’s beard shrinks, that level of detestability falls accordingly.

Maybe it’d help if this was all visualized for you.

Some observations:

Five-o’clock Is a Guaranteed Good Time

If you see a shadow on Adam Scott’s face, prepare to be charmed. When he’s rocking that facial hair, he is a likable character 100 percent of the time. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing Novak Radzinsky, seismologist turned action hero after a horde of lethal fish threaten to ruin spring break (Piranha 3D), an indie dude (See Girl Run, Passenger Side), or a burned-out actor (Party Down) — he will be endearing, and facial hair that says “I’m mature, but also the right amount of aloof” will be a big part of that. This facet of the Adam Scott Beard Theory even holds when you take into consideration the episodes in Parks and Recreation in which Scott has stubble. Ben might be jobless, but he also does claymation and invents board games, and there’s nothing more disarming than that.

‘Parks and Recreation’ (NBC)
‘Parks and Recreation’ (NBC)

A Medium Beard Is a Mixed Bag

What’s most fascinating (and confirming) about this evidence, though, is the way it holds when Scott’s facial hair is sort of in an in-between phase and his characters are more morally ambiguous. That Ted Hendricks, basically a fantasy version of a bully in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Caleb Sinclaire, a character who literally threatens to punch a woman in an IGA grocery store in The Vicious Kind, are bad guys with full beards cannot be argued. Henry Pollard from Party Down is an endlessly lovable slacker with light scruff — we all agree on this.

‘August’ (First Look Studios)
‘August’ (First Look Studios)

But look at the cases of 2008’s August and Scott’s appearance in an episode of Drunk History. In both, Scott plays characters who are only kind of likable, for different reasons. Scott’s Joshua in August is a pretty respectable guy, a victim of the unceasing ego and ambition of his brother, played by Josh Hartnett. Still, he’s less likable than Hartnett’s character, and that guy’s a jerk who takes Naomie Harris for granted. The corresponding facial hair — a goatee that’d make Kevin Youkilis proud — reflects that. And in Drunk History, Scott dons a patchy beard and handlebar mustache combo to play John Wilkes Booth; the hybrid choice of facial hair is a representation of the complicated feeling of finding humor in the story of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

‘Drunk History’ (Comedy Central)
‘Drunk History’ (Comedy Central)

Sometimes Dads Just Have Beards

The only real outlier in this theory — the exception that proves the rule — is Scott’s character in Krampus. He plays a pretty basic, uncontroversial dad-in-crisis in the horror movie, despite sporting one of the fullest beards in Scott’s career.

Fear the Beard?

‘Big Little Lies’ (HBO)
‘Big Little Lies’ (HBO)

After one episode of Big Little Lies, it’s very difficult to say whether Scott’s character, Ed, will fit into this decade-long trend or not. So far, he’s been a refreshingly easygoing figure in a sea of chaotic housewife passive-aggressiveness. He cooks (and lets the family eat at the kitchen island — SO LAID-BACK); he wears New Balances; he says unbelievably sensitive and selfless things like, “We’re going to have a pretty big fight about this, but not tonight” when Reese Witherspoon is in a state of personal crisis but also being mean to him. If you made any snap judgments about Ed right now, they’d be positive.

But you know what? BEWARE. That beard is full as hell. Big Little Lies is also a show about how affluent people keep shameful truths hidden behind the (see-through) doors of their immaculately constructed coastal homes. Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Nicole Kidman are the focus of the show, but the point is that everyone has secrets — Ed included. Maybe his secret is that he’s not as gluten-free as he says; maybe it’s that he’s a real asshole who murdered someone at a fundraiser for an elementary school.

Talking about his massive Big Little Lies beard, Scott told Seth Meyers that he insisted on having it because that’s how NorCal dads do, but I think he was being coy. He didn’t want to give anything away. I think he actually insisted on the beard because he knew he was playing a murderer, and also that all of his other hateable characters in the past had full beards. All I’m saying is there is a lot of anecdotal, facial-hair-related evidence suggesting that Ed is a bastard, and I will not be surprised if he turns out to be the killer. Charts never lie.