So, has our fawning coverage of Party Down — the greatest-ever ratings-challenged Starz catering comedy — convinced you to check out the upcoming second season? No? That’s cool, there’s still time before Friday’s premiere! Our latest effort comes via an interview with Ken Marino, the extremely polite comedy veteran (The State, Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models co-writer) who plays Ron Donald, the bumbling, well-intentioned catering-team leader with dreams of opening his own Soup ‘R’ Crackers franchise. Marino spoke with Vulture about the possibility of a third season, the impact Steve Guttenberg had on his life, and still hearing the phrase “I wanna dip my balls in it.”
Your fellow cast members Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, and Ryan Hansen have all landed new acting jobs. So, what does that mean for a potential third season?
You know, the honest answer is, I don’t know what’s happening with the third season. We all want to keep doing the show, we all love the show. But the way we were all able to get such cool people was that everybody was under a one-year contract. What was nice about the second season is we got picked up pretty quickly, so we locked into it and everyone was like, ‘Sure, let’s do it, great.’ This season, they’re waiting for the show to air, and we finish shooting around Thanksgiving, and so there’s just a long wait. There was no guarantee — there’s still no guarantee that there’s a third season — so, essentially, people had to feed their families. I don’t think there’s anybody to blame, other than it’s just the nature of one-year contracts and us having people who are wanted.
So you can see a third season happening with replacements, the way they brought Megan Mullally in for Jane Lynch?
They set the show up in such a way that they can bring new people in, and have reasons for people exiting. It’s the nature of that kind of business, the catering business — people can leave town, people can give up. Certainly the tone of Party Down is, they probably didn’t make it … I guess the biggest blow was losing Adam to Parks and Rec, ‘cause he’s a regular on that. I know that it was a very hard decision for him. Ultimately we all supported him and wanted him to do it, because the other option was just waiting to see if Party Down got picked up.
Oh, he asked you guys before taking Parks and Rec?
Adam? Yeah. We’re all pretty tight on the show. He was like, “Listen, this is a tough decision for me.” We all talked to him about it, yeah. It wasn’t like we just saw it in the paper … “What the hell?!”
Originally Adam Scott’s role was meant for Paul Rudd, right?
Way, way before I was involved in the project, Paul Rudd was supposed to be the Adam part. They had a deal with HBO, and then it went over to another network, FX or something, and ultimately it didn’t get made there, and I don’t know what the scripts looked like, or what they were back then. I came on when I was doing Veronica Mars. I was talking to Dan Etheridge, one of the producers of the show, and he was telling me about this script they wrote, and I read it and the way I remember it, I said, “Hey, if you ever audition for Ron, please keep me in mind.” And Veronica Mars got canceled, and [co-creator] Rob Thomas — for whatever reason, I’m so glad he did it — he’s like, “I’m going to shoot Party Down at my house for a week and I’m going to pay for it.” And so we all came onboard, shot there for a week. They cut together this really cool pilot and trailer, and shopped it around. Then the writers’ strike happened, and I thought it went away. Then all of a sudden I get a call eighteen months later: “Hey we got picked up, you wanna do it?” I was like, “Hell yeah.”
That pilot is not the first episode of the show, but will that be shown in some format?
I was hoping that they’d put it on the first-season DVD, but for some reason they chose not to. I think it had to do with getting permission from certain people … uh, I actually have no idea. Now I’m just literally making shit up on the phone. So I can talk.
What can we expect from Ron in the second season?
He follows through with his dream — he gets his Soup ‘R’ Crackers — but things don’t go the way Ron had hoped, and he’s clinging on to some of the things that he got while running the Soup ‘R’ Crackers, some materialistic things: his new car, and he got a young girlfriend, she was like the hostess at the Soup ‘R’ Crackers. And he’s got some new stylish clothes, with some fleur-de-lis on it, and that starts to fall by the wayside. As time goes, he has an existential crisis. He wonders what it’s all about. And at a certain point Ron has an epiphany. I think that’s fair to say.
Steve Guttenberg is in one episode, playing a version of himself. How exaggerated is the fictional Guttenberg?
I don’t know him that well. I can say that he’s probably the most laid-back, cool guy I’ve met in this town … on a side note, meeting him for me was kind of an amazing experience, because growing up Diner was a movie that affected me enormously, and his performance in Diner … there are specific things in that movie that I connected to growing up on Long Island, and he’s a Long Island guy. His attitude and his personality in that movie inspired me to want to act. And it also inspired me to write a movie called Diggers, which was about a bunch of friends in a clam-digging community on Long Island. I wouldn’t have written that without having been inspired by Diner and his performance. I handed him a DVD of Diggers and was like, “You’re a huge part of why this was made.” I said to him, “Your introduction in that movie, when you brush your teeth, I still remember how you brush your teeth. You don’t use toothpaste.” I said that informed that character so much for me. And he was like, “Wow, man, thanks a lot!” I came off as perhaps a bit of a stalker.
That’s crazy! He was probably just expecting some Police Academy jokes.
No, he didn’t get any of those.
So, Party Down is the classic critical darling with low ratings. But I imagine you’d rather be on something like this than the inverse?
Personally, I just want to work on shows that I’m proud of. I’ve worked on things that were basically jobs, and I’ve worked on things that I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be a part of, and Party Down is one of those things. It’s always a bummer to hear that people don’t watch it, but I think one of the reasons we get to do what we’re doing is because Starz was a little under the radar. They gave us more freedom. I was on a show called The State a long time ago, and we were under the radar on MTV, and what made The State special for me, and I think for the fans of it, is it has a very specific kind of singular voice, and the same holds true of Party Down.
Since you brought up The State, I have to ask — do people still yell your old catchphrase at you?
Um, I’m assuming you mean the catchphrase, uh, where I’m in the Jew and the Italian and the redhead gay, and I say, ‘I’m gonna make a nice pizza pie’? Is that the one?
Ha, that’s not the one I was thinking of.
[Laughs.] You mean, “I wanna dip my balls in it.” Yeah. Do I hear that around? What was your question?
Yeah, do people bring it up to you?
Well, you just did it.
I know, I feel terrible!
No, look, it’s not like I don’t want to hear that phrase again. We thought it was silly and stupid and funny at the time, and we still think it’s silly and stupid and funny. I love that for some reason people, a sprinkling, a smattering, of people, still say that to me.