When Megan Mullally first appeared as Debra Messing’s feisty, socialite gal-pal Karen on hit sitcom Will & Grace, she was reportedly intended to be no more than an occasional supporting character. Thanks to Mullally’s zippy one-liners and undeniable charisma, Karen won both an audience of fans and a bigger spotlight on the show, and though this is the Emmy-winning role she’s best known for, Mullally has hosted Saturday Night Live, co-starred on shows like Party Down and Children’s Hospital, and appeared in recurring roles on 30 Rock, Happy Endings, and Parks and Recreation (alongside her husband Nick Offerman, whose interview you can read here).
Mullally’s career doesn’t begin and end with television, either. Her comedic chops are certainly second to none, but her resume runs the gamut from music, live theater (she’s currently starring in a play called Annapurna), and Broadway musicals to animated programs and, of course, film. Her latest feature role comes in The Kings of Summer, a coming-of-age film about three teens who flee their home lives to build a house in the woods and live off the land. RT spoke with Megan over the phone about her work in the film, her chemistry with husband Nick Offerman, and her musical choices as half of vocal duo Nancy and Beth. Naturally, she also gave us her Five Favorite Films, which we had to expand to six because she just couldn’t narrow down the last three:
[Note: There is some colorful language in this interview.]
The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967; 88% Tomatometer)
Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964; 100% Tomatometer)
I’m gonna have to say Mary Poppins. I’m really gonna say it. If it was on right now, I would hang up on you and start watching it. There’s no way I could ever not watch it if it was on, so I think that’s a sign of it being one of your top five. It’s so… merry. You can’t watch that and not feel good, and I love Glynis Johns, the woman who plays the mother, and I love Julie Andrews. I mean, when it was windy in Oklahoma City when I was a kid, I used to get my umbrella and go out and try to fly. I think I actually did a few times, but don’t tell anybody. Just the magic of it all. I love it.
Next, Mullally describes how she got involved in The Kings of Summer, what it’s like to have a relationship with Nick Offerman, and the practical advice she gleaned from a hip hop group called Riskay.
Megan Mullally: My part’s not big enough to get asked the important questions. [laughs] Nick [Offerman] has a lead in the movie, and I think he’s really great in it; he’s the dad of one of the kids. He’s the only adult who has a lead, and I think what he’s doing is, he’s sort of being the glue. So once he was cast, Jordan Vogt-Roberts — the exceptional director, who I think was 27 when he directed the movie, and is 28 now — said something to the effect of, “What about the old ball-and-chain?”
I had read the script already, because when Nick and I get offered things, we usually ask the other person to read it to get their take on it, and I had loved it. And I remembered the part that they ended up offering me. You know, she’s just a crazy, silly, annoying, overbearing mother, so I was thrilled, and that’s how that happened. Then, the movie itself, Nick and I both saw it together at Sundance, and we were just blown away by it.
RT: Did you have some expectation of what the movie was going to be like before you saw the final product?
MM: I had no idea how beautifully ambitious the movie was going to be. It’s shot so well, and it’s directed so well. And Jordan did a lot of really smart things. One of the really smart things he did was, he brought in all of these top-of-the-line improv- or sketch-based comedy actors to do all of these cameos, and it just brings the comedy to a whole other level. The thing that stands out the most for me about the movie overall, I would say, is he somehow manages to seamlessly blend this real comedy with a lot of passages that are kind of lyrical, for lack of a better word. Beautiful and lyrical and evocative. And, I don’t know… I can’t think of a movie where I’ve seen both of those things in the same movie.
RT: You and Nick seem to get offered things together pretty often.
MM: We do. Like, a lot.
RT: You two have amazing chemistry on screen, like your cameos on Parks and Recreation.
MM: That’s nice of you to say. I feel like it just comes from the fact that we have a history together, but we have this trust, and we genuinely like each other, and we enjoy each other’s work, and also we just enjoy each other, period. So that helps a lot. But it’s gotten to the point of, like, we’re getting into Hume Cronyn-Jessica Tandy territory with the amount of work we’ve done together, you know? It’s spinning out of control. [laughs] But we just really like working with each other, and we have a lot of ideas for things down the road that we’d like to do, that we just haven’t had time to pitch to anybody yet. Right now, it’s just chance, but we have things that we want to do.
RT: Do people typically pitch you guys on doing things together, or do you seek out opportunities where you can work with each other?
MM: We have never actively sought out an opportunity to work together. Usually it’s just kind of synchronicity; it’s weird. We met doing a play in 2000, and after we were a couple for real, Nick guested on Will & Grace, and I’ve guested a few times on Parks, and then all the other stuff is just… You know, we started out doing Children’s Hospital together, but then NBC won’t let you do more than one or two episodes of another show, so he can only do like one episode a year of Children’s Hospital. I don’t know, it’s crazy the way it all happened. I think because we have such a good relationship, people don’t hesitate to ask us to do things. You may or may not know couples who might not be the most ideally suited to one another, so I think there might be certain couples that people would be like, “I don’t know. Should we ask them?” I don’t think they have that hesitation with us, because we get along.
RT: Whenever you and Nick appear together, it looks like you two are having so much fun. Is that manic chemistry a reflection of what it’s like at home?
MM: Well, we do bits — we definitely try to crack each other up — but we’re pretty quiet, and we’re essentially homebodies. First of all, we don’t have time to go out and do anything. We love to just stay home with our dogs. I think we’re pretty understated in real life, but then when we get together for acting purposes, if the roles call for it, then that’s when we really let it rip.
RT: I get the impression that, despite Nick’s reputation, you wear the pants in the relationship.
MM: You are a very intuitive man. [laughs] Well, in what marriage is that not the truth? You must be single. [laughs]
RT: You are… not wrong about that, and maybe that’s why. Do you think you could actually get Nick to wear cornrows in his hair if you wanted him to?
MM: Are you kidding? I wouldn’t even have to ask him twice. He loves that shit. I mean, he’ll do anything. He’s had every possible hair configuration known to man since I’ve been with him. One time he had a little role in an indie movie, and he had — let’s see, how do I describe it? — a bleached white Mohawk that wrapped around over his ears into an under-chin beard. And I had to have sex with that, so if anyone should be getting the fuckin’ kudos, it’s me. And it was all his hair. The man’s got a good head of hair, and it extends to most other parts of his body. “Hirsute,” I think, is the word.
RT: So you and Nick and also Alison Brie have put out a number of promotional videos for another film you guys are doing together. Is there some sort of exclusive NBC club of comedy vets who just get together and talk about how great you all are?
MM: [laughs] That’s so funny. Well, yes, there is a secret club, to answer your question. The funniest part about all of that is that those weird videos that we’ve done with Alison are in support of a movie called Somebody Up There Likes Me, which, you’d think it was for The Kings of Summer, because we are all in The Kings of Summer, but Alison is not in Somebody Up There Likes Me, so it’s pretty confusing. We shot that first promo — where we’re smoking bongs — we shot that first one on the set of Kings of Summer, and Jordan shot it, and we only did two takes. So yeah, it’s all kind of incestuous.
RT: I know you also do some music. First of all, where did the name “Nancy and Beth” come from, being that neither of you in the group are named either Nancy or Beth?
MM: [laughs] You know where it came from? We were knocking around some ideas, Stephanie [Hunt] and I and Nick. We were in Austin, and we were out to dinner one night, and we were kicking around some ideas, and they were funny and they were kind of good, but nothing was really quite right. So I went home and, on my phone, I wrote a list of about 30 or 40 different titles I thought were interesting. I just emailed the list to Stephanie. “Nancy and Beth” was totally, by far, my favorite, but I buried it somewhere in the middle and I didn’t editorialize at all; I just sent the list to Stephanie. She instantly emailed back, “Nancy and Beth.” We have a crazy, like, one brain, Siamese twins thing happening. I think we just like it because it’s kind of funny and nobody knows why it’s called that, which is sort of what we like.
RT: I have unfortunately not had the pleasure of seeing you perform as part of Nancy and Beth, but I have seen a clip of you performing a certain song with Nick, pertaining to certain aromas of a genital nature.
MM: Yes. Whoever wrote that song is a very practical lady.
RT: Was it the poetry of its lyrics or its feminist message that inspired you to cover it?
MM: Well, let’s bring this full circle. This is a good callback. So, the guy who plays my husband in The Kings of Summer, Marc Evan Jackson, is a great improv comedy-based actor. He’s so funny and he’s so everything you have to be to be funny, but he kind of seems like he could be a CPA, because he dresses very conservatively — he wears, like, khakis, you know? It’s really odd. So, he’s the one who suggested that song. He came to see Nancy and Beth and then he texted me, “You gotta do this song called ‘Smell Yo Dick’ by Riskay.” I was like, “Okay?” Nick and I have an assistant who’s a gentleman, and I asked him if he would transcribe the lyrics of the song, and the poor guy’s a Christian. I mean, he almost had to, like, move out of his own skin. He almost didn’t recover, but he did it. And the second that Stephanie and I sat down and went through the lyrics, we… were.. dead. We were dying. It just seemed so right, somehow. So I don’t know, anything beyond that, it just felt so right. [laughs] We had already done Cypress Hill’s “Hits from the Bong,” and Nick does that; we sing “Son of a Preacher Man” and then he does the rap. So we already knew Nick could do the gentleman’s rap in “Smell Yo Dick.” We knew we had money in the bank there.
RT: I’ll have to ask Nick about his burgeoning rap career.
MM: You know, he’s pretty good, I have to say. And he’s got some moves, too. [laughs] Once you see it, you’ll never forget it.