Party Down returns to Starz next Friday night with a few cast and character shake-ups. Out is Jane Lynch who unfortunately could not reprise her role as character actor-turned-cater waiter Constance due to her extremely busy shooting schedule on a little Fox show called glee. In for Lynch is Megan Mullally, a veteran character actor in her own right, who plays a new transplant to Los Angeles who is trying to get her young daughter into film and television. Ken Marino (Ron) returns to the team after his Soup-R-Crackers franchise folds to find his one-time protege Henry (portrayed by the affected Adam Scott) now stepping into the leadership boss man shoes.
Mullally is a pretty hot 'get' these days and can pretty much book any job she wants (she is currently spending the spring and summer living and working in theater in New York), so how did Party Down manage to snag her? "You know Megan and I had worked together when I did a guest spot a long time ago on Will & Grace," Marino explains. "And then while we were shooting [the first season of Children's Hospital], I was also shooting a couple of guest spots on her show, In The Motherhood which got canceled. We got to know each other a little bit better, and then she sent me an email to say she was a fan of Party Down, and so when Jane [Lynch] wasn't able to [come back], I was like 'What about Megan?' They-- meaning the producers-- went off and made their choice, but I like to think I might have had something to do with it!"
Mullally herself says she just wants to "work with really great people. I want to work with people who I really like and who I think are really funny, and this is a big group of just those kinds of people!"
And it seems like there is a lot of crossover with these actors' current projects, forming something of a comedy mafia. Season two of Children's Hospital shot last month, bringing both Scott and Lizzy Caplan (Casey) over to the short form series for separate stints. "Martin Starr was supposed to do a stint, but there was a scheduling problem," Marino adds. Maybe next season, though? "There's only so much pull that I have!" He laughs.
This idea of actors bringing in their other actor friends for roles is something that doesn't happen that often in mainstream Hollywood, partially because actors-- unless they are hybrid producer or director actors-- don't have that much control. But mostly because actors see each other as competition. Improv comedies are different, though, because they rely on the group or ensemble dynamic and everyone has to feel completely comfortable with each other in any given scene. "There's this really, really big network of super funny and smart people, and they all support each other, and they all want to see each other succeed," Mullally explains. "They give each other jobs, and you do not find that in any other part of 'the business.' It reminds me of the only other time I've experienced something like this-- back in the early eighties I lived in Chicago, and it was at the apex of the Steppenwolf Theatre scene, and that was also a time when it felt like a community and everyone appreciated each other. That's what [Party Down] is, and it's been really great. I'm very happy to be a part of it."
The two projects may be similar in style, in that the actors pretty much have leeway to say and do whatever they want once they get one take exactly as it's written. Marino is quick to point out, though, that "there's a sadness to Party Down. There's a dark cloud looming over [them], but the comedy plays in that world, and there's a lot of heart to it."
Marino is excited to be promoting not only the return of his stoner screw-up character, but also his directorial debut for the show (he previously directed a few episodes of David Wain's web series Wainy Days). Marino steps behind the camera for Party Down's season finale, in which Jane Lynch returns to get married and hires her old pals to cater the affair...and apparently gets into it a bit with her replacement. "I got to direct Jane and Megan in scenes where they were going head to head," Marino spills. "It was awesome, and also, I didn't really have to do anything but make sure they were in the same frame together and then just let them do their thing...I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with both of them."
And just how much does Marino hate glee for stealing Lynch from his ensemble comedy? "Oh bottom line, I hated it!" He dead-pans. "I mean, I only watched a little bit to see Jane, but yeah, it sickened me." Marino is quick to point out, though, that the door closing behind Lynch was left cracked for Mullally, which is never a bad thing. "When you trade out Jane for Megan, you know, you're not really missing a step. It's a lateral move from one awesome comedienne to another, so thank God Megan wanted to do the show because she brought a whole new energy and freshness to a big void."
Starz doesn't announce renewals for series the same way most networks do, so Marino admits he doesn't know if they'll be back for a third season. "I hope we get to do more, but if we don't, well, it was a blessing to have gotten to do twenty of those. It's a great creative team; the producers are awesome, and the cast-- I love every one of those guys! Plus, I get to play a really stupid character with a really big d*ck."
For those of you who haven't subscribed to Starz yet, you can watch the season two premiere of Party Down right here, a week early!