Shit Buckets and Stopwatches

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The Party Down cast reflects on a season that almost didn’t happen.

“If there was one more COVID case that popped up, we would’ve had to shut it down and not do the season,” says star and executive producer Adam Scott.
Photo: Colleen Hayes/B) 2022 Starz Entertainment, LLC

“If there was one more COVID case that popped up, we would’ve had to shut it down and not do the season,” says star and executive producer Adam Scott.
Photo: Colleen Hayes/B) 2022 Starz Entertainment, LLC

Prior to 2019, it seemed like the closest we’d ever get to more Party Down was through events like a Vulture Festival panel featuring the show’s cast and creators. But a funny thing happened following that onstage reunion: The false starts and scheduling conflicts that stymied previous attempts to revive the cater-waiter comedy suddenly seemed surmountable. Within a year, conversations between creators Rob Thomas, Paul Rudd, John Enbom, and Dan Etheridge and star Adam Scott were setting the table for a third season at Starz. All they had to worry about then was the novel coronavirus that wound up providing the punch line for its season premiere.

Now that the third season — with its showers in clients’ non-party bathrooms, comically large amount of mushrooms, hot urchin, and other on-the-job mishaps, misunderstandings, and humiliations — has come to a close, an age-old question resurfaces: When’s Party Down coming back? And how can a Vulture-orchestrated conversation between the show’s principals help? In an hour-long virtual roundtable, Scott and co-stars Zoë Chao, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, and Tyrel Jackson Williams reflected on season three and received a surprise visit from an old friend.

Adam, you helped plot the third season with the creators — how were you able to make more Party Down a reality?
Adam Scott: The creators and I all started texting about it in late 2020, then we started having weekly Zooms around January ’21. I was by myself in New York, so it was super-fun to actually talk to people and hang out with friends — it was still sort of lockdownish. We would talk about, “It’s been 13 years, so where do you start?” We had general discussions about possible parties. After four or five of these Zooms, John went away and came up with everything. He just took all this chaotic information and crafted the entire thing on his own.

Then it was a matter of scheduling it because everyone’s super-busy.

Martin, Ryan, Ken, and Jane, were you aware of these conversations?
Martin Starr: I didn’t get information until those conversations of “Can we all do it?” and hoping the schedules worked out. That became difficult at the end there. Hopefully, should we go back again, we’ll have everybody everybody.

Zoë and Tyrel, where do you come in?
Zoë Chao: My agent said that they were making a third season of Party Down and I lost my mind. My partner has watched both seasons six times each, so in our household we hold this show in high esteem. I was like, “Yo, can I put my hat into the ring?”

Jane Lynch: Did you say “yo”?

Chao: I was like, “Yo, agent, can we audition?” She was like, “Yeah, if you’re interested.” Then I was like, Wait, this is a terrible idea to add new people to this show. It’s a perfect ecosystem. Why eff that up? But, yeah, I’d love a chance to eff it up.

I was staying at an Airbnb in L.A., and the man above me is a personal chef. I was like, “Yo, Kenny” —

Scott: That’s how Zoë starts all of her conversations.

Chao: “Do you have any kitchen utensils that I could use?” And he was like, “I’ll do you one better,” and he gave me his chef uniform and hat and cravat. When I got the part, he gifted them to me.

Lynch: What was the audition, Zoë?

Chao: It was some version of the ’shroom script.

Tyrel Jackson Williams: Really?

Marino: So was there somebody there with a timer?

Chao: You want to explain that joke?

Marino: We’ll talk about it later.

Tyrel, your reaction indicates that you auditioned with a different episode.
Williams: The scene I auditioned with was one of the dance-fight scenes between me and Ryan, which was a lot of fun to do because I didn’t fully understand what was going on. I was like, Okay, so I guess I’ll be doing a lot of dancing.

The thing I remember most about the audition process was doing the test with Ryan over Zoom. I was really concerned that a comedic back and forth wasn’t going to work with internet stuff, but it was actually really great.

Photo: Vulture; Photo: Starz Entertainment/Colleen Hayes

Ryan Hansen: We had a blast. It was obvious that you were the guy, by the way.

Williams: Before hopping on, I was like, I just hope I don’t completely embarrass myself and mess this thing up, but it was a lot of fun. It was one of the few auditions after which I was like, I think I got a solid chance.

Jane, you’re coming back after leaving the show for most of season two. What do you remember about starting on season three?
Lynch: Well, I love the fact that I didn’t have to wear a white shirt tucked into black pants. It’s not a good look for me anymore.

The first scene I shot was where we all meet at the bar at the Nitromancer kickoff party, and it was so great because we all hadn’t seen each other, some of us, in 13 years.

Marino: I was still like, It’s not going to happen, until we got there and we were on set that first day.

Scott: It almost didn’t happen. We delayed one week because there was a COVID case, and then when we were about to start, there was another one, so we delayed another week. This was right when Omicron started popping up in January of ’22. If there was one more COVID case that popped up, we would’ve had to shut it down and not do the season.

Ryan, how do you feel about having your character’s name in the title of the season premiere, “Kyle Bradway is Nitromancer”?
Hansen: It’s a dream come true to have my name in the title of the Party Down episode. Finally.

I thought that was so incredible — the way Kyle got brought back into Party Down is by getting this big superhero movie and then getting chopped down to earth really quick.

Tyrel, what was the impression you were hoping Sackson made in the premiere?
Williams: I didn’t want to stick out in a way that distracted from the reunion of all of these characters. Figuring out how I fit into the dynamic of the show and how to enhance it — I won’t say that was easy, but I had a lot of support from the cast and John and Rob and our director. Everybody was like, “Yeah, take a second. Get used to this. We do things a very specific way.”

Scott: Tyrel and Zoë immediately felt like they’d been with us the entire time. We really lucked out getting them.

Chao: Martin was so kind to, several weeks into shooting, say, “Do you remember your first day on set? You were so nervous.”

Martin, what was it about Zoë’s first day on set that led you to ask her about it later in the season?
Starr: She was so sheepish for the first few days. And there was no introduction. We had shot a scene without her and then all of a sudden she pops up in the next scene and no one was like, “Hey, everyone, this is Zoë, a new cast member.” So she was standing to my left, and I was like, “No one prepared us for this moment.” Then I introduced myself, and she seemed a little uncertain of whether this was the right place. So I tried my best to reinforce that it was the right place.

Marino: By immediately making fun of her.

Starr: That’s how we do it. Welcome to Party Down. No, I didn’t start with, “Hey, you look real nervous.”

Lynch: Martin Starr, the goodwill ambassador.

Starr: Well, I do what I can.

I didn’t realize that the season had been shot out of order.
Marino: Five was the only one.

Starr: Because of the COVID situation, I think we had to shoot out of order so that we got Jane in there because there were some scheduling issues.

Marino (to Chao): Your introduction was me shitting in a bucket.

Lynch: That’s when I knew we were back, when he was trying to decide between throwing up or shitting in a bucket. You are the most committed physical actor I’ve ever met in my life. There’s a lot of shots of me doing this [covers face with both hands] because I’m laughing so hard.

Episode two is where Jennifer Garner’s character, Evie, starts to play a bigger role. Adam, what was it like striking up the Henry-Evie relationship? In the back of your mind, were you thinking, Are the fans going to accept this in light of Henry’s previous relationship with Casey?
Scott: When John came up with the character of Evie, it was “someone like Jennifer Garner,” and it wasn’t until we were a couple of weeks into trying to figure out who would play the role that someone said, “Why don’t we just try getting Jennifer Garner?” All you can do is ask, and she said “yes” pretty quickly. Her kids were really into Party Down, so that really helped us out.

We weren’t really nervous about striking up that relationship. I knew, at the very least, that she’s so great that she could just fake it and it would be amazing, and it was.

What made y’all interested in tackling the ways the world has changed since the first two seasons of Party Down — not only politically, as reflected in episode three’s connections to season one’s “California College Conservative Union Caucus,” but also the nature of stardom and starting out in show business as seen through the Sackson character?
Williams: The grind of trying to make it and get famous has just gotten more ridiculous and strange. There are way more hoops to jump through, and trying to make it as an actor, there are already so many ridiculous hoops to jump through. Trying to make your personality the thing that gets you paid and makes you famous — and the fact that there isn’t really a thing for people to latch on to aside from your face and how charismatic you are — I loved exploring that. Sackson’s fully aware of the fact. He’s like, “Yeah, I don’t know why people want to watch me do things.”

Marino: I just love Jane’s reaction when she gives this whole pep talk in the second episode, and then she’s like, “What do you do?” And you say, “Content.” She’s like, “So videos and stuff?” She immediately has complete vitriol and hate.

Scott: I love how Kyle reacts to Tyrel’s character — just so threatened and flummoxed by this kid coming in and taking his spot.

There’s the Kyle-Sackson thing, but there’s also the Roman-Lucy thing, and we start to see that develop in this episode, when he needles her about sharing her food with Nick’s Offerman’s Nazi character.
Chao: I will say, even though Martin isn’t the most obvious welcome ambassador —

Starr: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Nobody said that.

Chao: Art did imitate life insofar as we, in real life, have become very, very close buddies. I didn’t see that coming when we started the show, and sometimes I marvel at it now.

Starr: I can’t tell, is there a compliment in there?

Marino: That was the compliment.

Starr: Okay. It’s miraculous how I’ve become friends with you. All right.

You don’t see Roman try in relationships very often. There’s one in — I think it was the second season, where Kyle’s having a rough go and Roman just tries his best to be a friend but doesn’t really know how to do it, and there’s a similar vibe in the end of the sixth episode of season three, where he really tries to help Lucy get the thing that she can’t see herself.

Marino: To your point about the Nazi episode and the young Republicans episode being companion pieces, I didn’t realize the work Enbom did in the scripts of this season — there’s a lot of companion pieces and a lot of references to the first two seasons: themes and “It’s a fairytale” and different sayings. You felt like the first two seasons and this season were all one thought.

Photo: Clifton Prescod/B) 2022 Starz Entertainment, LLC

Ken, you directed episode four, “KSGY-95 Prizerwinner’s Luau.” Is this an appropriate time to bring up the timer?
Marino: I like to stay on schedule. In order to do that, I have a little timer with me that reminds me I can’t go on a long diatribe. When I’m in a scene, I actually carry the timer with me as opposed to just keeping it on my little stand behind the monitors. Most of my scenes with Zoë in the mushroom episode, we just had scenes together. So I was carrying this timer with me, and a couple of times I sort of forgot to not be patient —

Starr: No, that’s accurate. You forgot to be patient.

Marino: I forgot to be a considerate director, let’s say, and I would hold up the timer and be like, “We got three minutes to get the scene.”

Chao: No, no, you would go, “And action,” and then he’d show me his phone. And it would say three minutes and 17 seconds, and then we would go.

Scott: I remember, back in the day, you didn’t have an iPhone. You had an actual stopwatch with —

Lynch: A cord.

Scott: — that you would carry around. Like a coach.

Hansen: When you’re an actor, you bring the energy when you’re on, and then you can go back to your trailer and relax. Ken is the whole time just on.

Chao: It’s athletic.

We talked about episode five earlier, but I want to focus on Constance’s role in it. When she takes over for Ron, an aggressiveness comes out of her that we’ve never seen. Jane, where did you find that? How did you calibrate it with what we already know about Constance?
Lynch: This happened to me when I was a kid. I was made president of a club in high school and I became a frigging dictator because I really wanted to be a part of the group. And all of a sudden I went, I can’t do this. I’m not a leader.

I don’t think Constance, in her life, does anything very ambitious. She doesn’t push herself out of her comfort zone. She’s sitting back in a soft cotton place and being agreeable and fantasizing, and those fantasies come out of her mouth and she tells stories of things that never happened. When she has to step up and actually do a job and manage, she goes crazy. It was almost like her own drug trip, a part of her that she never expresses, but it’s pure, unadulterated fear, and it manifested in being manic, out of her mind like an autocrat dictator.

Scott: I remember when Jane came out on the dance floor and started yelling at Jen and I and just being so happy. How lucky we are to get to watch Jane come out five or six times and pretend like she’s firing us, and how different and weird and hilarious it was each time.

I wanted to let y’all know that we have somebody joining the chat. You may know her as Casey Klein from Party Down: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Lizzy Caplan!
Marino: What?

Hansen: Oh my gosh.

Lynch: Never again. Never again.

Caplan: Can I just silently weep throughout this whole thing?

Lynch: Oh, it’s so good to see you.

Caplan: It’s really good to see you. This counts, right? This counts as an episode.

Lizzy, tell us about filming your scene in the finale, and being Casey again, and being there with Adam playing Henry.
Caplan: This whole thing has been very crazy. We shot it real top secret in New York. Very splinter crew. It felt like a fever dream — this rushed little taste, but it was really nice.

I’ve watched all the episodes. I didn’t know if I was going to be capable of enjoying them because I would have such jealous FOMO, and I belly laughed at every single episode. You new guys, Zoë and Tyrel, are fully elevating it. I feel like you’ve done such an amazing job that it makes me hopeful that we get to come back.

Photo: Clifton Prescod/B) 2022 Starz Entertainment, LLC

How did y’all keep it secret?
Caplan: Turns out people aren’t paying super-close attention.

Scott: No one cares.

Caplan: There was one little thing we shot that wasn’t in it — it was supposed to be fake paparazzi footage around Central Park, and there’s this one paparazzi guy in New York who is at every set taking all these photos. He had been on the Fleishman Is in Trouble set the week before, and I had to tell him on the street in front of Central Park, “Please don’t do anything with these photos. It’s a surprise,” and basically promise him that I would take whatever photos he wanted the next week at Fleishman. And because nobody cares, nobody saw any of the photos anyway.

Scott: I remember we were super-worried about that and then nothing happened.

Caplan: Some things never change about this. There’s that Instagram account, DeuxMoi — something was sent to me about you guys all on a plane together. And then nothing.

It does seem like there’s more conversation around the show this time. What are y’all seeing? Does it feel like people are watching and responding in real time?
Scott: Seeing articles written about it is weird because we couldn’t even get reviewed back when it was on, and seeing the premiere the network threw for the show with this huge party was completely weird.

Starr: Rob Thomas had a premiere party at his house one year, but I don’t even think most of the crew wanted to show up.

Marino: All that to say — we have no idea who’s watching it or if we’ll do another season, but we’d like to.

Adam, are there conversations happening with John and Rob and Dan and Paul? What next steps need to happen — other than Starz saying, “Please make more”?
Scott: I think just waiting to see if they do want more.

Caplan: How can there not be another season? Everything that you’re saying is true: People are paying really close attention to it. There’s deals — you could get Starz for very little money just to watch Party Down.

Scott: I know, I get spam with Party Down on it.

Chao: I’ve been so used to seeing that promotional poster of you guys and the confetti. I’m out here in Apache Junction, Arizona, and one day I was just bloop-a-doop-doopin’ on my 99-year-old grandfather’s TV, and I looked up and the poster was the screensaver. I was like, Oh yeah, there’s my friends — oh my God, my friends! It’s part of a screensaver that’s coming on with Everything Everywhere All at Once and the Oscar movies.

Before we go, does anybody else have anything to share? Any Megan Mullally stories?
Starr: Listening to Jane and Megan talk about Adam and Lizzy, how much they look like brother and sister and how much they should fuck — it was amazing.

Lynch: “She could totally wear his jeans.” She improvised a lot. Well, we both did, I guess, but yeah, that was so much fun, and they kept so much of that in.

Scott: What was it, “They both have brown hair”?

Lynch: They both have big heads and little bodies.

Marino: I thought she was wonderful in episode five. I got a little emotional with the scene with her and Escapade — that was really beautiful, and I thought Megan was wonderful in that. It’s nice to see that side of her because she’s so funny.

Caplan: Being a fan now instead of a part of this, I have to say, episode five is an instant classic. I will rewatch that many, many times. You did it, guys.

Lynch: We missed you.

Scott: Never again without Lizzy.

Caplan: One of you has to go.

Starr: It’s me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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