Being Barb and Loving KISS: A Conversation with Multi Award Winning Megan Mullally
Multi-award winning actress Megan Mullally has been a fixture in our living rooms since 1998, when she started her run as Karen Walker on the hit NBC sitcom WILL & GRACE. A range of guest spots on shows as diverse as SEINFELD, FRASIER, 30 ROCK, HAPPY ENDINGS, BOB’S BURGERS, PARTY DOWN and PARKS AND RECREATION have further confirmed Mullally’s comedic talent.
Born in Los Angeles, Mullally’s career began in Chicago theatre. She made her Broadway debut in the 1994 revival of GREASE, and only a year later starred alongside Matthew Broderick in the revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. In 2008, Mullally played Elizabeth in Mel Brooks’ hit musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and in 2014, to rave reviews, played Adelaide opposite Nathan Lane in GUYS AND DOLLS at Carnegie Hall. Most recently on Broadway, she starred with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in Terrence McNally’s smash hit IT’S ONLY A PLAY. Off-Broadway, she has starred alongside husband Nick Offerman in Sharr White’s two-hander ANNAPURNA.
Recent film roles for Mullally include ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY, THE KINGS OF SUMMER, SMASHED, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME and FAME. She will appear in the upcoming films THE MASTERPIECE (dir. by James Franco), INFINITY BABY (with Kieran Culkin), and LEMON, starring Michael Cera and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Janicza Bravo. In television, Mullally had a leading role in last season’s Working Title/SkyTV/NBC mini-series YOU, ME AND THE APOCALYPSE, alongside Matthew Baynton, Jenna Fisher and Rob Lowe.
In WHY HIM?, Mullally plays Barb, the mother of the Fleming family, whose daughter Stephanie invites them to spend Christmas with her new boyfriend Laird (James Franco). While the eccentric, uncensored billionaire Laird provokes the ire of the conservative Fleming family patriarch Ned (Bryan Cranston), Barb comes to admire her daughter’s boyfriend.
From the film’s set at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, Mullally discusses her role.
Who is Barb? What’s her relationship with Bryan Cranston’s character, Ned?
Well, they’re a conservative (American) Midwestern couple. But Barb is a little more unbuttoned than Ned is. She’s an artist. She’s a photographer. She was always a little bit wild compared to Ned, but she’s not wild by any other standard. Over the course of the movie, she gets to let her hair down just a little bit. And she encourages Ned to do the same.
Laird takes a shine to Barb, doesn’t he?
I think it’s just that James Franco thinks I’m really hot. [laughs] In the script, Laird definitely says some inappropriate things to Barb right in front of Ned and Stephanie – my character’s daughter and his girlfriend – about how hot Barb is and what a great body she has.
How did you become involved?
I got a call last fall saying that John Hamburg – who I was already a big fan of because I loved his movie I LOVE YOU MAN – was doing a new movie. I feel like I LOVE YOU MAN kind of kicked off a series of comedic movies that have a slightly different tone– they’re a little more grounded in reality, and also a little more comedy-forward.
So, I was a fan of John’s, and my agents called and said he was doing this movie called WHY HIM?, and that there was a role– Bryan Cranston’s wife– and that John was considering me for the part. I was very excited. So we met over Skype because I was in Boston with Nick [Offerman], who was working there at the time.
John and I had a really great talk. I actually knew his wife slightly because she had done an episode of CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL. She’s a really great, hilarious actress named Christina Kirk. It also turns out that John and I have a lot of mutual friends– the Rob Corddry, David Wain contingent. We all know each other, we’re all friends, but I’d never met John. So, right away I felt like he was somebody that I would be friends with.
We talked for an hour. At the end, I was like, “Well, whatever happens, we’re having a double date.” I felt that we were on the same page. I knew that it was between me and only a couple of other people, and then I got a call that I had gotten the part.
The script seems to have been geared towards each of you. Has it changed much since you first read it?
I think it was a happy accident. Or maybe it was all John’s master plan. But you never know until you get there. Until you start reading the script out loud with the other actors, you never know for sure how the chemistry will be. One cool thing in terms of the casting is that I think it’s very believable that we’re a family. But at the same time, everyone’s style is a bit different. We’re all in synch and playing the same movie, yet we all have a slightly different take.
Bryan and I have some crossover in terms of style, because we’re both old school to a degree, and then I have some of that Corddry/Wain/etcetera new school mixed in. Zoey and Griffin are just kids, really. I don’t think Zoey would go for me calling her a kid but she just turned 21. She’s a kid.
Then you’ve got Keegan, who’s such a brilliant improvisational actor and just a great actor in general. And then we’ve got some really funny smaller guest roles. Casey Wilson, Andrew Rannells, Adam Devine. We just sort of all clicked.
James seems to have a surreal energy of his own…
Yeah. He’s definitely a different breed. In the movie, he’s supposed to be this guy who no one knows what to make of. He’s great. He’s really funny.
Has there been any adjustment for everybody’s differences?
We haven’t struggled with anything. It’s been more of a question of which tack to take in improv. We follow the script and then sometimes we go off on tangents. There have been a couple of times – and I’ve never experience this on any other project I’ve ever worked on – where the improvisational runs were so good that they had to turn back around so they could get new reactions to things that came up in the improv.
Especially with the Ned and Barb characters– Bryan and me– there have been times where it’s simply been about finding a balance so that it doesn’t appear that we just crawled out from under a rock. We’re not playing broad caricatures of clueless mid-westerners. I’m not saying that mid-westerners are clueless, I’m saying that there have been broad caricatures of silly, touristy mid-westerners in film and television. We’re not that. But there have been times on set where Bryan and I are improvising, and it’s funny, but it’s not exactly right. It’s either a little too knowing, or too out of touch. So we like to find that balance.
It’s interesting for me because I usually play the crazy one, and I’m not playing the crazy one in this. The first week, it was a little jarring. I was like, “Oh, okay. So I can’t just be outrageous and do whatever I want.” There’s been some slight self-monitoring of that because my role is more reactive than anything else.
Have you generally been drawn towards crazies?
Well, I don’t know if I’m drawn to them, but it’s what I get cast as normally. So when I got this part I was actually glad to be playing a reasonably normal person. There’s still a way to bring a lot of comedy to a character without being the crazy one.
Why Him? is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday May 1, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment