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Martin Starr Pulled His Party Down Trip From Personal Experience

Martin Starr. Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for the caterers of Party Down to pass appetizers or mix cocktails under the influence — taking clandestine shots or sneaking a joint in the bathroom are some of the few “perks” of the revived Starz comedy’s roving workplace. Less common is the situation that kicks off the show’s latest episode, “KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau,” in which the entire crew of Hollywood wannabes and washouts does mushrooms behind the back of their clueless supervisor, Ron (Ken Marino). This includes hard-science-fiction writer and accidental icon to online fascists Roman (Martin Starr), who wouldn’t go in for this sort of thing if it weren’t for the bond he’s developing with new Party Down chef Lucy (Zoë Chao).

Unfortunately, Roman soon learns that he’s tripping in the middle of a police sting operation (and not, as he was originally told, a radio promotion ahead of a performance by former Police front man Sting). Fortunately, his ensuing panic and paranoia are conveyed by an actor with a knack for depicting intoxication — whether he’s quaffing beer from a mini batting helmet or enthusiastically declaring that his red-rimmed eyes aren’t a symptom of conjunctivitis. Starr’s aptitude with this tricky comedic tool makes for a full-circle moment in “KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau”: Thanks to a psychedelic epiphany, Roman finally completes the sci-fi epic he started while high on pot-laced desserts in Party Down’s original series finale.

It has been said the key to playing drunk is trying to convince other people that you’re sober. Is it similar with mushrooms?
With mushrooms, it’s a different story. I think I just accessed my many wonderful experiences with that drug. With alcohol, trying to avoid people recognizing that you’re drunk makes perfect sense. They say that about crying too: Showing someone holding back tears has more of an impact than bawling in the middle of a scene. I stopped holding back tears after my dad passed away, so I can’t relate to that anymore. I think you’re more of a man if you allow yourself to feel, and hiding it is not a way to progress.

Did I just get too deep? Did this become therapy?

That’s one of the reasons that people take psychedelics, right? To peel back those layers?
Absolutely. You can wash all that clean, and we’ll just pretend that I’m answering the question now: Yeah, doing mushrooms on set was interesting. Nobody expected me to actually just be high the whole time, but it was a great week for me. Is that better?

Why do you think Roman is skeptical about trying mushrooms?
In general, everything that has held that character back is fear. If he isn’t familiar with it, and hasn’t had that experience yet, the door is closed.

Is that what kept him working at Party Down all these years?
I would say fear had to have played a role in his remaining at Party Down — fear of change at the very least.

He caves to the peer pressure from his colleagues pretty quickly.
I know. It really didn’t take much.

I think it happened in the last episode, which I was in less of than initially intended because of a COVID scare, but there’s the seed of a connection planted between Roman and Lucy — him listening to how she treats her work, what art is to her, and how she expresses herself. Roman giving into peer pressure is such an easy buy, because you’ve got her pushing those buttons to try to encourage him to move outside of his comfort zone. If it was anyone else, he wouldn’t give a shit.

They each have an uncompromising philosophy about their craft.
A philosophy that, in the end, will not serve them well.

I love that John Enbom (Party Down’s co-creator) created this kinship, giving Roman this connection that isn’t just an antagonistic relationship like he has with Kyle. It’s not just the authors of the past he reveres — it’s someone he can appreciate in real life and have a human connection with.

And their connection is deepened by the hors d’oeuvre Lucy invents in this episode, “spanashe.” What was that made of?
I don’t know what the hell was in it, but on the outside were these uncooked noodles — rice noodles, sweet-potato noodles, or glass noodles. But they were so uncomfortable to eat, obviously, so that became a process too, trying to take them from an object to an actual, edible thing.

What do you think Roman’s vlog looks like?
Very boring. I can’t imagine there’s much entertainment value there. It’s like watching late-night local cable — you have some lady doing a show where she talks to her cat for 30 years. That’s actually a pretty high bar. So it’s less entertaining than that.

Enbom said there were plans to show Roman’s vlog to give an idea of how his message is unintentionally resonating with an audience of incels and Gamergaters, but “we always feel like he’s too gentle-hearted of a person to ever get that mean.” In playing Roman, where do you draw that line between his gentle-heartedness and his cynicism?
It’s just a protective shield. It’s a barrier that he puts up so that he doesn’t get hurt as much.

I went back and rewatched the old seasons before we got started on season three, and I forgot that there were some really sweet moments between Roman and Kyle where he shows care and love, and he tries to be present and show up for his friend when he needs him. Obviously, that’s hugely outweighed by the many instances he demeans him without particular purpose. It is a balancing act, but a lot of my job is following the writing, and John Enbom does such an incredible job at making it make sense emotionally. It doesn’t leave much that needs interpretation from me — it feels intuitive to the character that he started creating on day one.

“KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau” is the second episode of the series directed by your co-star Ken Marino. How would you describe his directing style?
Honestly, being directed by Ken Marino makes you feel like you’re already on mushrooms. He has a wonderfully manic energy about him, and it is strange watching him go from calling “action” to jumping into a scene.

It’s interesting, because he’s definitely a comedian first. He’s a good director, but he’s doing shtick while directing, which isn’t always the most valuable character trait for a director to have. But we are doing comedy, so it’s helpful to have a lightheartedness about the whole experience.

Despite his car getting wrecked, Roman experiences some triumph in this episode: He realizes that he can complete his opus by introducing a supernova. It’s nice to see him get a little victory — even if victory isn’t necessarily in Party Down’s vocabulary.
I mean, I’ll tell you the main reason I don’t want him to see any victory. It’s because then he won’t be a part of the crew anymore. I don’t want to not be on the show.

There are some characters it’s easy to root against. And I think he’s one of them because of how thoroughly he protects himself with that armor. He can be a bit of a curmudgeon and a grouch. It makes it easy for you to understand why success isn’t natural for him and why he will probably never see success — unless I get written off the show. That’s how you know you’re doomed. In The Sopranos, you worried about getting whacked. In this show, if you get too successful, you’re gone. You’re avoiding winning the lottery if you’re a Party Down cast member.

You have to watch out for what’s happening with you and Tulsa King.
Seems like it’s not too difficult to navigate, but hopefully we get to do more Party Down. Knock on wood, we can come back and do another season — it’d be great to do a full ten. I was worried and anxious about whether this would feel like the old show, and it has surpassed my expectations.

In what ways?
We’re certainly not the first show to try to come back after a massive forced hiatus, but to have this opportunity is incredible, and we would’ve jumped at it no matter what. To have John Enbom, and it still feels like his voice — it’s hard to put that into words. You can make the same meal with all the same ingredients, and it’s different on Monday than it is on Friday. There’s so much that feels up in the air until you do it, then you see the edit come back together and you’re like, Oh my God, we did okay.

Is it weird that I just turned our show into something that people eat? It’s good for you. Our show is sustenance. Please eat your vegetables.

It’s a show about catering, so that’s an organic analogy.
You’re welcome.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Martin Starr Used Personal Experience for Party Down Trip