In the past two years, Megan Mullally has had pivotal roles on three of the most critically-acclaimed comedies on TV, starring on Childrens Hospital and Party Down and recurring on her husband Nick Offerman’s series, Parks and Recreation. The trio of characters she plays on these shows has displayed her diverse abilities, ranging from a sex-crazed, handicapped hospital boss to a caring stage mother to a devilish and manipulative librarian. As if playing such disparate roles with aplomb weren’t enough to show off Mullally’s versatility, she’s also an accomplished musician, has numerous Broadway credits, and has won two Emmys for playing Karen Walker on the long-running sitcom Will & Grace. On Childrens Hospital, Megan Mullally plays Chief, the extremely handicapped head of staff at the medical center, who’s the object of desire for many of her fellow doctors, despite her often-cartoonish physical ailments. Currently airing its third season, Childrens Hospital is just the kind of under-the-radar gem that comedy fans kick themselves years later for not discovering during its initial run.
I recently spoke with Mullally about the new season of Childrens Hospital (airing Thursday nights at midnight on Adult Swim), plans for a Party Down movie, the prospect of a touring Childrens Hospital musical, and the likelihood of Oprah playing Ron Swanson’s first ex-wife, Tammy #1, on Parks and Rec.
I understand you had a Party Down reunion recently. How’d it feel to reunite with some of your Party Down castmates?
Oh, it was really fun. That was in Austin just this last weekend. Everybody was here. We get together a lot, we have dinners and stuff. It was really cool. We spent the whole weekend together, staying at a gross hotel and running around. A lot of merriment and revelry. And they had a marathon on Sunday, and we did a couple Q&As and then a little more partying. We’re here in Austin though because Nick [Offerman] is doing an indie, and I’m doing a little cameo in it, so we were gonna be here anyway, so it all just kinda worked out.
What’s the status on the Party Down movie?
It’s not signed on the dotted line yet, but it’s looking really, really good. I think they’re shooting for next summer to shoot it, maybe when people are on hiatus. I don’t know yet exactly, I don’t know anything about what it’s gonna entail. The movie itself, I don’t know about the content, but they’re just like inches away from closing their deals.
Yeah, I know. That would be so much fun to do. Everybody’s really excited about it.
There’s a little Party Down reunion on Childrens Hospital, too, this season.
Yeah, that’s coming up. I don’t think that episode’s aired yet, but there’s sort of a surprise Party Down moment. It was just so surreal to shoot that because Ken [Marino] and I are both on Childrens Hospital and then, all of the sudden — it’s just the meeting of two disparate but similar worlds.
So, how’d you get involved with Childrens Hospital?
I got involved because Nick had done a movie with Rob Corddry that never got released, I don’t think. Didn’t see the light of day. They’ve bonded and all that stuff that men folk do… Rob had written 10 six-minute episodes for the web series, and he’d written a part for Nick. Then, he asked Nick if he knew any middle-aged actresses who were really funny. And so, that’s kinda how that happened.
I read those scripts and thought they were so funny and great. Nick and I were both so excited to do it. We shot the whole web series… They shot all 10 episodes in six days, and Nick and I shot all of ours in three days. It was boiling hot in the Valley in some abandoned hospital. It was fun. That was the first time I had met a lot of those UCB people. I didn’t know Rob Huebel. I didn’t know Lake Bell. Erin Hayes had done an episode of Will & Grace, so I knew Erin. Such a great group.
Childrens Hospital is known for doing off-beat theme episodes that break from what the show’s like week to week. Is it a challenge being in a show that changes so drastically with each episode?
Yeah, this season especially. I don’t think I really played Chief. I played Chief maybe in two or three episodes. The rest of the time, I was just doing some other like totally weird thing they’d written for me. It was just really funny and odd. This season, I haven’t seen all the episodes, but I’ve seen at least four that I think are really kind of groundbreaking for television. Especially for what this is, a 15 minute show on a weird network and with very little money. The show’s been very ambitious conceptually. The way that it’s shot this season is pretty impressive and innovative. I know it’s just a string of jokes, but what they do with it and how they do it, I think that’s the story.
Did you have a favorite episode this season? One that was most fun to shoot?
Later in the season, there’s an episode where we do the show in the style of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town, and I love it. There’s been some talk, I don’t know if it’ll happen, but there’s some talk of taking one of the episodes and touring it as a musical. That’s in the works, I hope it happens.
You returned for Parks and Rec this year for the season finale and we got a glimpse of Ron Swanson’s first ex-wife, Tammy #1. Your husband says he wants Oprah for the part. Is Oprah who you’d like to see in the role, too?
Yeah, that was actually both of our pitch. That pitch originally came from a guy who I’ve known since first grade who lives in Oklahoma City. That’s where I grew up. Nick and I were in Oklahoma City about a month ago, visiting my mom. We were having dinner with this guy and he said, “What about Oprah?” And Nick and I were like, “Yeah! What about Oprah?” So, then we blabbed to everybody who would listen, but I don’t think it’s happening. Not because of Oprah. I just don’t think they went that direction. We were pitching a lot of people. We were pitching like Helen Mirren and just everybody.
Are you returning this next season for Parks and Rec?
Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m coming back. I’m probably coming back sooner rather than later but I don’t know for sure yet. I know that they’ve checked my availability and stuff, but I don’t know exactly when I’m going to be shooting. But yeah, I’m coming back for sure. I think there’s gonna be — I’m hoping anyway — there’ll be a throwdown between Tammy 1 and Tammy 2.
Who are the actors and actresses that had a big influence on you?
I would say, Meryl Streep. I’m not gonna lie. Patty Clarkson, I love her as an actress. Catherine Keener… Philip Seymour Hoffman. Comedically, Carol Burnett. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Mary Tyler Moore. They both had an impact on me. That show, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was the first weird show I ever saw when I was a kid. I just couldn’t believe it was on TV in Oklahoma City, so that was interesting to me. Woody Allen. Woody Allen movies. Laurel and Hardy. And then, a lot of music. A lot of musicians… And let me add Catherine O’Hara to that list.
How long does it take to shoot a typical Childrens Hospital episode?
We shoot one episode every two days for Childrens. We shoot 14 episodes in seven weeks. An episode every two days. It’s fun, it’s really fun to shoot. It breaks down, it’s just a little less than a half-hour show. A half-hour show, they shoot it five days and that’s 22 minutes. We’re shooting 11 minutes in two days.
How does shooting in front of a live audience for Will & Grace compare to Party Down or Childrens Hospital?
It’s so different. Will & Grace, the writing was so tight. Shooting in front of a live audience really was theater and it was very much farce. Shooting Childrens is fast-paced because we have a lot to do. We’ll shoot just 8 or 9 pages in one day. It’s fun to be able to kind of fuck around off-camera, and then we do more improvisation. We didn’t do any improvisation on Will & Grace. Most of it is scripted [on Childrens Hospital], what ends up on television, but we do improvise. We crack each other up. It’s not character-driven and there are no ongoing stories, there’s no continuity really. There’s not a season arc or anything, so it’s just jokes. You just kind of focus on what’s funny and you can go anywhere with it, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s just really fun to do.
Childrens Hospital airs Thursday nights at midnight on Adult Swim.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles who would love to see Catherine O’Hara as Tammy #1.