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.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: 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.
Have you had a chance to read The Advocate’s recent cover story on Sean Hayes?
No, I didn’t see it yet, but I did just see him on Broadway in Promises, Promises. Oh, my God, you’re going to die. The whole show’s amazing, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen him do. I’m telling you right now that he’s going to win a Tony — slam dunk. It’s like a star is born, even though he’s already been a star for 10 years. You’re going to freak out when you see how good he is. I’m so happy for him. I’ve seen him twice in the past week, and he’s such a doll.
Four years after Will & Grace ended, Sean’s Advocate interview marked the first time he’d spoken openly about his sexuality in the press. Did you and Sean ever have any conversations about whether or not he should come out? I imagine you probably had a very “so what, who cares?” attitude about it.
Yeah, I did have that attitude. There are totally two schools of thought about this, and there are a lot of people I really respect who are from both camps — the “So what, who cares?” camp and the camp that asks, “Yeah, but will this in any way impair my ability to get cast in certain roles? Would I still get cast as a leading man in a romantic comedy if everyone knows I’m gay in real life?” I don’t know the extent to which that really comes into play anymore — I think it still does, unfortunately, to a degree — but I think that conflict had something to do with his hesitation. Of course, in real life there’s nobody more out than Sean. It was just in the press that he didn’t want to say one way or another. I think he just felt it was nobody’s business, but I feel like he came to it in his own time. You also have to understand that Sean was 27 when we started Will & Grace, and Sean’s character was a sensation from the pilot. He’d never been on a television show before, so that was a lot to take in. It’s hard enough to keep your head on your shoulders, which he did, without having to deal with “Do I come out or not come out?”
In your own now-infamous 1999 Advocate cover story — which we’ve already established that I didn’t write — you said, “I consider myself bisexual, and my philosophy is, everyone innately is, although I’ve never had a full-on relationship with a woman, just a couple of what I’d term half-assed dalliances.” But I’ve read more recent interviews in which you’ve somewhat backpedaled and distanced yourself from that statement.
I think if you read the exact quote, it’s completely true, and it’s exactly what I meant. I do think everyone’s innately bisexual, but, as you know, people acknowledge that or realize that in themselves to lesser or greater degrees. Some people are completely unaware of it, and some people are very in touch with it. I was also saying that I’m just an open-minded person, and I feel like who you fall in love with is who you fall in love with. I was single at that time, and if I had fallen in love with a giant Samoan man or a beautiful woman from Ecuador, that would’ve been that. It could’ve been anything. It’s just more evolved to think in those terms — that it’s about the person and not their gender, skin color, height, or weight.
But after that Advocate interview, you’ve been pretty much labeled as a bisexual in the media.
Yeah, I know, I’ll still read that. My husband is always like, “Really? Are you bisexual?” [Laughs] I know the gay community wants me to be bisexual, but unfortunately I’m not as bisexual as people have wanted me to be. I am married to a man, we’ve been together 10 years, and I’ve never had sex with a woman. But I do still think everybody has an ability to love that isn’t limited by gender.
Especially given the play’s gay subject matter, your gay fans — myself included — were very much looking forward to seeing you on Broadway this season in the revival of Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart before your unexpected departure from the project a couple weeks into rehearsal, which ultimately led to the show’s cancellation.
Oh, yeah, well, thanks for asking about that, but do you know about Karen: The Musical?
Yes, and I hope that, if nothing else, not doing Lips Together will allow you more time to focus on that.
Yeah, totally. It’s going to be a touring show. We’re going to be doing it in Los Angeles first, so you won’t have to travel far to see it. We’re developing it now. We’ve got a producer, a composer, and a director, so now we’re just looking for the perfect people to write the book. It’s going to be a big throwdown between Karen Walker and Beverley Leslie, so I think Leslie Jordan and I are going to have a lot of fun together. And because it’s a touring show, we can take it anywhere Will & Grace is popular, which is kind of everywhere.
But getting back to Lips Together for just a moment, there has been a lot of speculation about why you actually left the show. Personally, as a longtime fan, I don’t like reading reports of you being a total diva, so I’d love for you to clear up all those negative rumors. Will you ever release some sort of formal statement with your side of the story in your own words?
Yeah, someday the story will come out. But I think you and I both know that I am not a diva. It’s sweet of you to ask me about it, but at this point it’s not a big deal. Let’s wait until it all comes out organically, you know what I mean?
Fair enough. In the meantime, care to comment on Chace Crawford dropping out of Footloose?
[Laughs] I didn’t even know about that.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. To end on a lighter note, after seeing your commercials for M&Ms and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, I firmly believe that you should sponsor everything. Is there another product you love or use regularly that you’d want to sell with singing and dancing?
It should be some kind of douche. Maybe Summer’s Eve. Why not? Or adult diapers. Let’s just go for it, right? [Laughs] OK, see? Now you’re my Brandon.
Advocate.com, April 2010.