When Party Down premiered way back in 2009, little did we know just how formidable an ensemble cast had been mounted to tell the story of a group of wannabe actors and writers working at a high-end catering job to make ends meet. There was Megan Mullally, a few years after the end of Will & Grace; Adam Scott, before he charmed his way onto Parks and Recreation opposite Amy Poehler; and Lizzy Caplan, who was continuing to expand her versatility after defining roles in Mean Girls and Cloverfield. Then, of course, there was Jane Lynch, who would go on to appear in seven seasons of Glee and take home an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for her role as Sue Sylvester in the hit Fox series.
Though Party Down ran for only two seasons, it amassed a cult following for its biting humor and commentary on what it takes to make it in Hollywood. So, given the current trend of reboots reviving some of our most beloved — and sometimes gone-too-soon — series, how lucky are we that Party Down is returning for a six-episode season on February 24 on Starz? Only, it almost didn’t happen.
“We’ve been trying to come back for years,” Lynch tells Shondaland of her return to Party Down. “We thought we’d be doing a movie, and we couldn’t get that going, and we tried a couple of times to get another season going, and it just wasn’t working. Finally, we got an email from [series creators] Dan [Etheridge] and Rob [Thomas] that said, ‘I think we got it. Are you guys available?’ and we were all available, so it worked.”
The “we” Lynch refers to is Party Down’s remarkable cast, including original co-stars Scott and Mullally and other notable actors like Ken Marino, Martin Starr, and Ryan Hansen, along with a slew of memorable guest stars, including Jennifer Garner, Zoë Chao, and Tyrel Jackson Williams as series regulars, and James Marsden. (Caplan couldn’t join due to other obligations.)
For her part, Lynch’s impending return as the ever-well-meaning Constance Carmell is something of a full-circle moment — she did a full season of the show (which was canceled in 2010) before transitioning to her role on Glee, but, as Lynch relayed, the cast always remained close. The spark of this Party Down revival was ignited during the 2019 Vulture Fest when Thomas, Etheridge, and fellow co-creator John Enbom riffed with the cast about a revival, and lo and behold, 13 years after the show’s cancellation, it’s come to fruition.
“It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my career,” Lynch explains of her experience filming the reboot. “Everybody on it, we really jelled. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle-type situation. It was low stress, high fun. Everybody shows up with a realized character and a point of view. It showed itself in the first episode of the first season — a great premise, really funny writing, and they picked these people who show up with a thing. They open up their bag of tricks, put on a costume, and they do it. That’s why it’s so good. We also happen to absolutely adore each other. We really, really like each other.”
Back in 2009, Lynch initially got involved with the series after working with creators Thomas and Etheridge on Veronica Mars; she also knew Paul Rudd, who served as executive producer, from films they’d worked on together. “This ensemble comedy looked like a hilarious thing,” Lynch says. “I had no hope that it would become a series. It’s one of those things where you have to see what happens.” Its beginnings were something of a DIY venture. “The first pilot we shot was at Rob’s house. We shopped it around as, kind of, the product — like, ‘This is what we would like to do.’ When Starz picked it up, we reshot the pilot, but the original pilot was all at Rob’s house with a bunch of Rob’s friends, and the crew was Veronica Mars guys,” Lynch details. Constance, who isn’t as type A as the typical Jane Lynch character, was created with Lynch in mind. “John [Enbom] started to write this very innocent, batty person who was guileless. It was a relief to play her. I had no agenda. I wasn’t trying to do anything; I was just being Constance.”
When asked which episode of this coming season was her favorite to shoot, Lynch refers to one involving Ken Marino’s Ron and an unfortunate bout of food poisoning. “You’ll see me a lot of times in this scene covering my face because I’m losing it,” Lynch recalls. “He is the one person who never fails to make my knees buckle with laughter. He eats some raw fish, and he needs to make a choice. When you get food poisoning, are you going to do this, or let that happen? It was hilarious. I could barely get through it, I was laughing so hard.”
Indeed, it’s a thrill to see Lynch back in strong ensemble work. After all, she considers her first break to be Best in Show, and she’s remained a constant figure in Christopher Guest’s satirical world, having also starred in A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. (Fun fact: Guest was inspired to cast Lynch after directing her in a Frosted Flakes commercial.)
It makes sense that Lynch finds such comfort in Guest films, which rely heavily on the actors’ ability to play with wry improv. She admits the moment she felt fully realized as an actor goes back to her improv days, when an actor would, as she says, “show up with your wig and your boombox for your music.” It was where “the humble beginnings” of many of her alpha characters first appeared. “I did a one-person show based on some characters I’d been doing at cabarets and stuff, and I did this character that I came up with in therapy called the Angry Lady. My therapist was hearing me complain for the utmost time about a particular issue and said, ‘Just write a monologue for this lady.’ So, I wrote a monologue for this lady, and I couldn’t stop laughing as I did it — not only laughing at myself but at the human condition and how defensive we are,” says Lynch. “The more we try to defend ourselves, the more humiliating it becomes. This woman was a victim; she wore a neck brace because someone knocked her off her bike, her middle finger was in a splint, and she had a black eye because of some other mishap. Even her hair was angry. I walked out to this Wagner piece, took the microphone, and growled. She was so pissed off at the world. And that’s when I realized it comes from inside. I always thought I had to be more in order to play these characters, reach out to them and contort myself to get into them, when I realized it’s all here! You just pick it, and you blow it up! It lives in all of us.”
As for her penchant for ensemble comedy, Lynch credits watching The Carol Burnett Show as a kid. “There was something in me that went [gasp-sighs]. I just loved it!” she recalls. “I would think about it all week long. We didn’t have a VCR, but my dad had a portable tape recorder, so my brother and I would tape-record the lines, listen to it, and act it out all week. That was probably my first attraction to ensemble comedy. One of the things I loved about Carol Burnett is it’s called The Carol Burnett Show, but it’s also The Tim Conway Show and The Harvey Korman Show. It was a true ensemble. She let everybody else shine too. That’s all she wanted — because I happen to know her pretty well — just to have fun with friends. They were an ensemble of actors doing sketch comedy, and I love that.”
Lynch can, yes, spread the love onstage and on-screen, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t still a force in and of herself. A Cornell MFA graduate and former member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Second City comedy troupe during her formative years, Lynch surely put in the work pounding the pavement. She played Carol Brady in The Real Live Brady Bunch. She appeared on every ’90s TV show you could imagine: Frasier, Married … With Children, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Party of Five — the list goes on ad infinitum. She also did a bunch of guest spots in the aughts on shows like Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek, The West Wing, and Felicity.
But it was her iconic turn as Sue Sylvester on Glee that embedded her into the pop culture lexicon (and meme history) for all eternity. Throughout the series’ run, Lynch chewed scene after scene as the tough-as-nails cheerleading coach who sought to snuff out her school’s glee club. Across seven seasons, however, she also revealed a deeper, more personal side to Sue, one that allowed Lynch to really show her flexibility as an actor.
And that didn’t stop with Glee. Lest we forget, Lynch went on to host the Emmy Awards and won multiple hosting Emmys for the insanely popular Hollywood Game Night and took Broadway by storm in productions of Annie (2013), as Miss Hannigan, and Funny Girl (2022) opposite Beanie Feldstein.
When asked about what’s next, Lynch says that the good news is (scoop!) that she is set to return to the set of Only Murders in the Building as Charles-Haden’s (Steve Martin) stunt double Sazz Pataki, for which she earned yet another Outstanding Guest Actress Emmy nom. “I love what I do, but I’m not looking to be challenged,” Lynch says of her future career. “I don’t have that white-hot-what’s-next ambition anymore. I just want to have fun, and I want to work with great people. I’ve chosen things just based on the director, or I know who the lead is. I’ve worked with them before, and I think they’re great. I think it shows. I like to make people laugh. I like to know people are smiling.”
She’d also return to Broadway in a second: “I love performing live. I love ensembles. My favorite part of Funny Girl was the cast,” Lynch says. She’d also like to try her hand at interviewing people. “I was just on The Kelly Clarkson Show. We had a great conversation. Though the audience was only 25 to 30 people because of Covid, it was all of us together, and I love that. We’re having a conversation, and it’s sparking something in them, even if they’re not adding to it. I’m sure people at home feel it too. That’s just so humanizing and civilizing,” she says, adding: “It’s better than getting punched in the face, I guess.”
As for Lynch’s dream role — that may surprise you. “I have a repertoire of what I get cast to do, but really, we have it all inside of us. I’d like to play someone who just had a debilitating stroke, where you don’t have your body and it’s new, and you’re completely helpless and dependent. All of the sudden, it’s all gone. I’d love to do that,” she says, adding with a smirk. “Also, the wardrobe would be easy, and I don’t have to move.”
Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a multifaceted storyteller whose work has been featured in The Cut, NBC News Better, Time Out New York, Medium, and The Week. Follow her on Instagram @@vivtheemanningschaffel.
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