Party Down; Episode 104; Investor's Dinner

Over the last decade, Martin Starr has brought a unique ruckus to comedy on TV and in the movies. As an actor, he portrays characters that have settled into their aloof, awkward skins by way of deep thought, nerdy diversion, and hilarious observation. Poofs of weed smoke often chip in. While plagued with girl problems, his characters typically win over audiences until they are subtly recognized as the coolest, smartest dudes on screen.

It was under the guidance of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow—as the lanky, bespectacled and beloved teenager Bill Haverchuck on Freaks and Geeks—that Starr set this precocious M.O. in motion. And it’s a personal belief that had Freaks not been brutally axed in ’00 during its lone season, Haverchuck would have gone on to land a bevy of moist females. Of course, Freaks is now forever renown for launching a bevy of careers, including those of Starr, Seth Rogen and James Franco. And for being one of the best fucking things ever. Starr has notably followed up with memorable roles in Knocked Up—beard fail—and in the recent, terrific Adventureland, an ’80s time-capsule that stays with you like the killer kiss on a Ferris Wheel that didn’t happen and will not.

Which brings us to Party Down, Starr’s new original comedy series on Starz (mhmm, same galaxy). The series debuted in March with a surprising cast of familiar and funny peoples like Adam Scott (Step Brothers), Jane Lynch (Best in Show, Talladega Nights), and Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield hottie, True Blood). Its premise revolves around an L.A. catering business stocked with young struggling actors, writers and dreamers. It’s like the anti-Entourage but with an equal, funnier abundance of showbiz cameos. Given carte blanche on profanity, nudity, and adult humor by the pay-cable network and co-producer Paul Rudd, Party Down is categorically awesome, though its current profile is low and insidery, like a fave dive bar.

On Party Down, Starr is at his darkest and most biting as Roman DeBeers; an aspiring screenwriter and novelist, DeBeers has been reduced to parading trays of food around at diverse parties filled with “ordinary fucking people” who don’t get his Repo Man references. In the proceeding big rocket of a chat below, Martin discussed Roman, the creative freedom allotted by Party Down, loathing Hollywood shallowness, Freaks and Geeks past and future, and a full-frontal role that likely would have strapped his career to a hard trajectory of sex and death.

Hunter Stephenson: You guys are currently on a press tour for Party Down, is that right? You’re doing stops at Best Buys? [laughs]

Martin Starr: [laughs] Uh, yeah. We went to one Best Buy…that was a very unsuccessful trip, but it turned out okay. I got to play video games the entire time.

Ha. So, what was your experience making the first season of Party Down?

Martin Starr: The show is a fucking blast. It’s probably the best set I’ve ever been on. We laugh all day and we improv as much as humanly possible; so much so that the majority of it will never ever see the light of day.

Your character on the show, Roman, is a struggling screenwriter slash smartass elitist. How would you describe his outlook on life?

Martin Starr: I think Roman is really disenchanted with the way things are, and very aware that even though he considers himself a good writer, good writers don’t make it. He knows that quality isn’t the first thing that people [in Hollywood] look at or look for. But I think he’s also going through the same motions that most people go through when they get [to L.A.]. Giving their scripts to Arnold Schwarzeneggar and what not…

[laughs] Yeah. If Party Down gets picked up for a second season, do you see Roman becoming a humorous caution-tale for would-be writers?

Martin Starr: [laughs] I dunno. I feel like going to L.A. in general…is a caution-tale. It’s filled with a lot more stories about the people who never made it than with the people who did. On the show, we’re examining how that affects the personal lives of these characters.

One of my favorite lines in the show is when you’re working the party for old people and you say, “Where the fuck is my ginger ale?” to your co-worker who’s tending bar. That line leads to him spiking your drink with a boner pill. The show has a really high quote ratio already…

Martin Starr: Yeah. [laughs] In the porno party episode, there’s a scene where a male porn star walks into the party, and I recognize him. Adam [Scott] threw out a name and dared me to say it. So, I told him I would, but told him not to laugh. And of course, he did laugh. But I looked at the porn star and with a completely straight face I say, “Holy shit! That’s Balls McCumface!” That was the name that Adam created, and I wished to god that they had put that in. I mean, we’re on fucking Starz, we could have said anything. And it’s not beyond porn stars now to have a name like that.

Party Down; Episode 105

Especially in 2009. Was Party Down green-lit with the recession and America’s tanking economy in mind? Obviously, actors, creatives and young people are always struggling in L.A. and balancing shit jobs, but the concept seems particularly timely…

Martin Starr: They’ve been trying to make this show for, like, three-and-a-half years. But I guess we did fall into a time-slot right as the economy fell to shit. [laughs] But it just happened. That’s just how these things happen.

Was this your first time working with Fred Savage [who directed five episodes] and…

Martin Starr: Where’s Winnie?

[laughs] Not at all. But based on this show and his work on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, he seems to prefer a twisted sense of humor…

Martin Starr: Yeah, he’s pretty twisted. But also, with his experience, he knows what will and what won’t make it past a network. But we have a much more lenient network than…anybody else. I think Starz is the most willing right now to accept new ideas. Well, most of our more ridiculous improvs don’t make it in, but hopefully in the second season that will change. But going back: I think it worked in our favor with the economy going to shit because that was one of the reasons why so many amazing actors [appear on the show]. It made it much easier, because people were glad to be working at all and our show offered something much different…

It was a bit off-putting at first watching Party Down because of that. Not only is the cast recognizable, but there are so many guest stars popping up in weird roles. Like, J.K. Simmons showed up in the last episode to scream death threats and say “Fuck,” like, 100 times. With a TV series like Eastbound & Down, those guys are able to get more established names because their season is only six episodes. Whereas, you have a shitty economy on your side.[laughs]

But, also, centering a show around an L.A. catering business is ingenious because there’s a high turnover rate; the core skeleton crew can be rotated if need be. For instance, I know that Jennifer Coolidge is taking Jane Lynch’s place later this season…

Martin Starr: Yeah! You’re one of the only people who knows that. She’s amazing to work with. And the show is open to rotation like you said. But if we do get a second season, I’m positive that we’ll all…if we’re available, we’ll do it. [Reveals a first season spoiler I’ve omitted.] I know I’m available right now, but I haven’t got any official word.

Party Down; Episode 104; Investor's Dinner

I know that you’re currently working on a script with Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up, Paper Heart) that would feature you in the lead. I haven’t heard a gist of the plot though…

Martin Starr: We still haven’t worked out a lot of the details, but it’s basically a story about platonic love, the friendship between a young man and an old, decrepit woman…

Like Harold and Maude?

Martin Starr: It definitely has a familiar tone to it, and well, oddly enough, it’s set in the ‘70s. Who knows what might change? The idea began because Charlyne had a revelation when she was with her boyfriend [Michael Cera] that she didn’t want to keep going to these events that she had no interest in. She had no interest in the people at them.

Like gross L.A. parties and so forth?

Martin Starr: Yeah, like L.A. parties and stupid premieres. Essentially, Hollywood-type shit. Everyone has their version of that. Whatever business you’re in, you’re expected to go to certain things and schmooooze, and those things just take a bit of your soul away. You know? And she told me that she just wanted to spend time doing only things that made her fulfilled. That’s a normal feeling.

It is. And I like that you’re extremely candid about only wanting to do work that holds up. In a way, I feel that over the last few years  comedy has become, like, this last bastion for integrity. I know that I look to a lot of different comedians for inspiration because they seem the most wary of compromise these days, of fucking bullshit. There seem to be all of these mini-groups that have bonded to avoid the really soul-less shit. I mean, economic factors play into decision-making and taking on work, but comedy seems like the best way to get at life right now. I’m not sure how to put it, because doing good work is a common goal, but what is your take?

Martin Starr: Yeah. I don’t have any interest in wasting my time on projects that I’m not interested in. That’s what it comes down to. You never really know what the outcome is going to be, but going into something, I definitely take into account the people who are working on it. Paul Feig [creator of Freaks and Geeks] once said to me that “Life is just too short to work with shitty people.” And that’s something I agree with 100%. It’s important to work with people you respect on a creative level and on a personal level. And, for instance, I am so amazingly proud of Adventureland, and how well it did or didn’t do makes no difference to me.

Yeah. The marketing for Adventureland just seemed way the fuck off. The premise was great and so was the cast, but by the time it was released, the marketing made me not want to see it. It made me un-psyched. The TV-spots had, like, studio indifference: like here’s this great comedy that isn’t “loud” and it’s a fucking chore for them to deal with. Does that make sense?

Martin Starr: Yeah. [big laugh] I think that had things gone different…you know, I’m not too disappointed with how things turned out though. I mean, if [Miramax] were smarter, they would have aimed some of the marketing at the Twilight crowd and focused on [co-star] Kristen Stewart. Those fans come out in triplicate, with their parents. [Twilight's following] is a bit creepy, but they’re nice; we met some of them at Sundance. Something that Judd taught me was to keep your hopes high and your expectations low. And I had total faith in [director] Greg [Mottola], but after I saw the film, I was like “Holy Shit.” I think Adventureland is a film that in 10 years, I think people will really appreciate. Do they right now? I have no idea.

adventureland_1

See, when I saw the film I didn’t make the connection [to Twilight]. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if someone tried to sell me on the movie like: The girl from Twilight is in a comedy where she sulks around in a Hüsker Dü shirt with a Black Flag poster predominantly featured. But I really loved the film.

I guess one of the things I had a slight problem with with Adventureland was the ending. It felt less realistic than the rest of the film. [Vague Spoiler] I was a bit disappointed that James [the main character] and your character didn’t just hit the road at the end instead of what happened…

Martin Starr: [Vague Spoiler] I don’t know if there was ever an alternate ending in the script. But I feel like that’s the romantic ending, they’re playing out their story. I also feel like a big part of it was the natural way that relationships unfold, and the way love unfolds. These two imperfect people get into a relationship because they allow themselves to see past each other’s possibly negative qualities. They accept the other person for who they are. That was the moment that was expressed at the end: Fuck all that other shit, it doesn’t matter. [Kristen Stewart's character] is a very unpopular portrayal of a woman, for a woman to be promiscuous and be accepted. [End Spoiler]

freaks

Right. And I know that the film was based on a lot of Mottola’s experiences growing up. I don’t know if you have seen it, but with Observe and Report, Seth [Rogen] said that his character could be viewed as an adult version of [his character] Ken Miller on Freaks and Geeks

Martin Starr: Really? Hmm. I still haven’t seen it, man. But Jody Hill is awesome…I actually had an awkward conversation with him before they started filming that. I kind of wanted to play “the flasher guy.”  I don’t know how much changed…

Are you kidding? You know who they got for the flasher role right? [laughs]

Martin Starr: No, I have no idea. [laughs]

[laughs] This guy is like the opposite of you; it’s this fat fuck with the tiniest cock of all time. Man, you would have been an icon…

Martin Starr: That’s perfect! [laughs] I would have been a penis icon. I would have been…an icon to every flasher? See, I came in originally with my own ideas and Jody said that the role required full-frontal. But I wanted to wear a prosthetic penis with a weird wart on it, just like the weirdest-looking penis…

Almost…like a syphilitic cock?

Martin Starr: Exactly. Just like an awkward color that is not…that is not familiar to a penis. But that was a drunken night at a party, so that was probably forgotten. It would have been something weird.

I consider Freaks and Geeks to be one of the best TV shows ever. Do you wonder what might have happened if it had aired on a network like HBO instead [of NBC]? Or like, Starz and AMC now?

Martin Starr: It would have been better if it was one of the first shows to come out on some crazy network; it would have at least gone on for a second season. But the one thing that really killed it, the people at the top [at NBC] weren’t ready at the time. And maybe it wouldn’t have done better anywhere. But in particular, Garth Ancier, who was running NBC at the time, he didn’t understand the show because—as I understood it—he grew up in an upper-class home, doing well, going to all prep schools. Shit like that. But he couldn’t relate to the characters on the show, and as realistic a portrayal as it was of the ‘80s in Michigan, he didn’t…

Maybe the show should have been called Preps and Fuckers

Martin Starr: Yeah. [laughs] May be. Or just Rich A$$holes. Did that go too far? [laughs] But NBC was so receptive. When we visited NBC, everyone was so nice, and they had photos of us on the walls and they were so proud to have our show there. I don’t think…I ever met Garth Ancier, but yeah, he was the guy who cancelled it in the end. I kind of feel like it all happened for a reason. Judd felt bad for a while, I think, because he had started everyone’s career off, and then he had to say, “Au revoir.”

knockeduppic21

Do you think there will ever be a reunion, like Freaks and Geeks meets The Big Chill?

Martin Starr: Who the fuck knows. But yeah, that would be really interesting. I hope that I get to work with Linda [Cardellini] and John [Francis Daley] again. I feel like Knocked Up was a bit of a reunion with me, Jason [Segel] and Seth. It wasn’t official though. I don’t think Judd would want to do it. It might be awkward, like a weird reunion like Saved By the Bell. Well, that worked [laughs]. I could imagine a crazy [unrelated] movie being written that featured everyone in it. Or we could be something in our 40s. Which would be fun. And weird.

Martin Starr can be followed on Twitter. He said in the interview that his dream is to have Meryl Streep play the role of the “decrepit old woman” in his aforementioned script, but fully admits that “she’d have to ugly-it-up with make-up.”

Party Down airs on Starz on Fridays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. A few episodes are now available for streaming online in full. The show is also a recent addition to Netflix’s Watch Instantly.

Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[at]gmail and followed on Twitter and Tumblr.

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