Having won two Emmys as rich and bitchy socialite Karen Walker on Will & Grace, Megan Mullally now embraces the unglamorous life in the second season of Party Down, a comedy about a ragtag team of Hollywood cater-waiters, which returns April 23 on Starz. After discussing the impact of two major Advocate cover stories — hers in 1999 and friend Sean Hayes’s last month — Mullally, an accomplished stage actress recently involved in a Broadway brouhaha to rival Jeremy Piven’s Speed-the-Plow sushi scandal, explains why fans should forget about Lips Together, Teeth Apart and focus instead on the future of Karen: The Musical.
The Advocate: Hey, Megan, how are you?
Megan Mullally: Good! Is this my Brandon? There’s a Brandon I did a big interview with for The Advocate years ago. Is that you?
No, sadly, I am not your Brandon. I wish that I were your Brandon. But that interviewer’s name was actually Brantley.
Oh, OK. Well, I could’ve had two Brandons.
Megan, times are hard. Why are you making me pay for the Starz network?
[Laughs] That was my mission — to make you get Starz. But it’s worth it because it will make you forget all your cares and troubles.
In a way you’re filling the gap opened by Jane Lynch when she left Party Down to join the cast of Glee. Those are some big sensible lesbian shoes to fill.
I know. It’s funny, because I’ve known Jane for many years. I saw a one-woman show she did years ago at the L.A. theater where UCB is now on Franklin. I was like, “OK, that bitch is amazing.” Then I’d see her around, and we have mutual friends, so we’re really friendly. Then I stumbled upon the first season of Party Down, and I was like, “What the hell? This is the best show!” So my husband [Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman] and I both started watching it, and we couldn’t get over it. When she left to do Glee, I was like, “Thank you!” because then they offered me a role. So, yeah, I’m fulfilling exactly the same function as Jane, but it’s a different role.
Tell me about your character, Lydia Dunfree.
Lydia has moved to Hollywood from the Midwest with her 13-year-old daughter, Escapade, who is going to be the next Hannah Montana. Lydia’s very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, extremely optimistic, superfriendly, and she loves everybody. Most of the other caterers are pretty cynical, so it’s a bit of a jolt for them when Lydia bursts onto the scene. But she’s got so much goodwill that they can’t resist her.
It must’ve been somewhat daunting for you to join an established cast after a whole season.
I never worry too much about that stuff because I always figure, “Oh, it’ll all work out and everyone will be nice,” and luckily they were. It’s the nicest group of people. They were so incredibly welcoming, and there was never a moment where I felt like the new kid or anything.
Talking about Lydia’s racist ex-husband, you get to say the phrase “Jew faggot” in the first episode, which really sets the tone.
[Laughs] I know, and I was very pleased when I read that in the script. Yeah, Lydia’s ex-husband is not a very nice person.
Lydia also reveals how her ex used to make her kiss her best girlfriend. Does Lydia have any bisexual tendencies?
Well, Lydia surprises you. She seems so dorky and naive — and she is dorky and naive — but there’s an episode where we cater an orgy, and she’s just really determined to get the host of the orgy to be her new husband so she can put a roof over Escapade’s head and take her to all her auditions. So if it were for the betterment of her daughter’s future, she’d probably go there.
Lydia is not a glamorous role. Did you mind having to wear that awful pink-and-white cater-waiter uniform all the time?
You think this isn’t glamorous, wait until you see me in Children’s Hospital [the Web comedy series moving to Adult Swim on May 2], where I play a hunchback who walks with a walker — the ugliest woman you’ve ever seen in your life. No, I didn’t mind it at all, because I don’t have a lot of vanity, especially as an actor. I feel like it’s all about the storytelling, so if you’re a caterer, you’ve got to wear that thing. By the way, that’s a $99 wig from Hollywood Boulevard that I’m wearing in Party Down. I just love that Lydia wanted to get a really hip haircut because she was moving to Hollywood, but it actually looks like Jane Kaczmarek circa 2002. I thought it was hilarious that that’s the coolest haircut she could think of and that was Lydia’s idea of glamour.
I’m so glad to hear that’s a wig. I was afraid you’d cut your hair like that for the part.
Oh, no. I mean, there’s sacrificing for your art, and then there’s just being dumb.
Does Party Down allow for improv?
Yeah, we improvise a lot, but at the end of the day we usually come back to the script. A lot of what you see in the finished project is scripted, but there will be some little improvised things that stay in. It’s a great way to keep everybody feeling creative and to keep our characters developing. It’s a really collaborative atmosphere.
You’ve spoken before in interviews about how some producers and directors have asked you to replicate your Karen mannerisms or voice for a role — like your experience with Finding Nemo. Is that something you ever had to fight when first joining Party Down?
Not at all. They had written this role that was very optimistic, naive, and other qualities that Karen does not have. They sent me three scripts, and when I read them I was like, “This is going to be a blast.” I immediately had an instinct about how I wanted to play it, and it’s just completely different from Karen. I think of myself as a character actress, and Karen’s just one of the characters I’ve gotten to play, but I feel like Karen takes on so much more weight because the show was on for eight seasons and it was such a popular show. But you have to move on to telling another story in a different world.
Party Down star Adam Scott is moving to Parks and Recreation, and it was recently announced that two additional cast members have been poached for other new shows. So if there’s a third season, only two original cast members will remain.
Wait, who else is leaving the show besides Adam?
Ryan Hansen and Lizzy Caplan.
If the show does return for another season, would you come back?
Yes, of course. The writers are great, and I feel like the spirit of the show is so strong that it would be easy for them to keep it going. And Adam would still be able to do, like, three episodes, so they could make it work for sure.