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Megan Mullally Brings Her Band and Her Humor to Washington
Her duo, Nancy and Beth, performs Friday at the Birchmere.
The thing is, Megan Mullally’s voice is unmistakable, and from the first words—even if they are only “Hello, how are you?”—the endearing, almost child-like timbre conjures a road map of past happinesses prompted by her performances. The mind recalls that girly voice, delivering certain words in a certain way as a certain character, and the sense memory stirs smiles and a laugh. So as we talk on the phone—her in a trailer on a set in Los Angeles, me in an office on L Street—I have to ask, “With such a sweet and innocent voice, does anyone ever say no to you?”
“There are people who aren’t quite as charmed by my voice,” she says. “I do get said no to, but I do think my voice sounds young, which is a nice thing as you get older. I am a bit of a voice actress, and a hair and makeup and wardrobe actress. I believe in playing characters. I’ve used my voice to my advantage.”
Mullally will put both voice and characters to work on Friday night when she and her band, Nancy and Beth, take the stage at the Birchmere in Alexandria. It’s billed as “An Evening With Megan Mullally,” and she and her costar and bandmate, actress Stephanie Hunt, go on at 7:30. Tickets are still available. While it’s a singing show, Mullally’s fans from her star turns in Will & Grace, Party Down, Childrens Hospital, Happy Endings, and Parks and Recreation, and Hunt’s from Friday Night Lights, won’t be disappointed. “There’s a lot of humor in the band,” Mullally says of the repertoire of mostly cover songs, “and we talk in between. It’s gotten such a great response in the Los Angeles area. People want to get up and dance.”
But she won’t tell you who’s Nancy and who’s Beth. It’s quite possible they don’t know, either, or that they switch personalities as often as necessary. The band is young. This is their first “weekend” tour; they have performed in LA and Australia.
Nancy and Beth as a concept was born in Austin, Texas, where Mullally and Hunt were working on a film and connected when they were goofing around singing and discovered their voices had a remarkable harmony. “The second we started singing together we looked at each other and went ‘Woohoo, our voices really sound good together!’” Mullally says. Add to that Hunt’s skills on the ukelele, which she learned from her father. “It’s like we have a psychic connection. We don’t discuss the songs. We just do them,” says Mullally. “Then we stand in front of my bathroom mirror and do choreography, and then we go through my closets and pick out clothes. It’s like a little girls’ tea party.”
Mullally compares her professional bond with Hunt to the same creative energy she felt when working with Sean Hayes on Will & Grace, the landmark NBC sitcom that won her two Emmys and a number of SAG awards. “We had a sixth sense for each other. We could anticipate what we were going to do,” she says.
Friendship is celebrated by Nancy and Beth, along with the joy of music making. Despite a 30-year age difference, Mullally and Hunt connect in many ways. “It starts with this similar perception of music and a lot of other things,” says Mullally. “But we also love to shop for vintage clothes, talk about boyfriends—hers, not mine. I’m a boring old married lady—but it’s fun for me because I miss those days of your twenties and thirties when you can break down each other’s dating.”
Mullally’s “boring old” marriage is probably anything but. Her husband is actor Nick Offerman, a regular in the cast of Parks and Recreation. She says, “Nick is quite fond of Stephanie, too. We have taken her under our wing, but not in a parental way.” Offerman also sometimes performs with the band, memorably providing backup on the rap classic “Smell Yo Dick.” In the version they performed at the Largo Theater in LA, he rapped while Mullally unzipped his pants and sniffed.
We wondered what married life was like for a couple of actors who also act together [Mullally has appeared on Parks and Recreation playing Offerman’s character’s ex-wife]. “I don’t think a day goes by that Nick and I don’t look at each other and think, ‘How did this happen?’ We’re so lucky. We love being together. We love working together,” she says. She also benefits from his other talent as a master carpenter. “I can get custom pieces. They are beautiful.” She’s a proud wife. “He’s really established. He’s taken very seriously in the industry. When he got the cover of Fine Woodworking I think he cried. It was a huge thing for him.”
Mullally’s other talent, in addition to acting and singing, is creating new shows. She has something in the works for the Indepdendent Film Channel, with a pilot just around the corner. She just finished season five of Childrens Hospital, and has a few indie films coming out and projects lined up for the summer, but says Nancy and Beth and IFC are her two main focuses.
Her acting career in Los Angeles started with a minor setback but a good anecdote. She arrived from Oklahoma City, a theater-trained actress with Broadway on her mind, and was up for the part of Lana in Risky Business, featuring Tom Cruise in his breakout, star-making role. The part went to Rebecca De Mornay, though Mullally did get cast in a minor role as a prostitute. In an interview with actor/podcaster Kevin Pollack, Mullally mentioned that Cruise and De Mornay were an item during the filming and that the memorable scene of the two of them making love on the train at night was not necessarily just acting. I brought it up to her, noting that had she been Lana that could have been her getting it on with Cruise on the train. “That was real,” she said of the scene. “Rebecca really went after him. The camera was outside the train and they were alone in there. There was something going on on that L train.” We laughed and both agreed it was time to rewatch the scene. Of Cruise, she says, “He was a nice young guy. Very sweet. A boy.”
While Risky Business didn’t go her way, Mullally landed well in a city where actors usually find getting work to be all uphill. The William Morris Agency signed her within two weeks. “I immediately had stacks of scripts,” she says.
Though she’s an actress who does comedy well rather than a standup comic who moved into acting, she loves the “huge blossoming of real hardcore comedy and comedic actors who have migrated from New York to Los Angeles.” She describes the community as feeling like a repertory company. She also admits she didn’t think of herself as “particularly funny or able to land a joke” until Will & Grace. “Now I’m immersed in the comedy world, and I love it.”
Mullally’s reason for coming to DC extends beyond the show at the Birchmere: her best friend since seventh grade in Oklahoma City, Anna Fuhrman, owns the Proper Topper shop on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle. Mullally will appear at the shop on Friday from 1 to 3 PM to meet fans (and maybe sell a hat or two). “We’ve been through a lot of shenanigans together,” she says of Fuhrman—including getting their ears pierced at age 45 at a Dupont Circle tattoo parlor. We pointed out that isn’t exactly the most outrageous kind of piercing.
“I was afraid. I was scared to do it,” she says. “We went to a Japanese restaurant and ate sushi and drank a ton of sake and got shit-faced and went to the tattoo parlor and said to the guy, ‘We want to get our ears pierced.’ He asked us to fill out paperwork and asked if we’d had any alcohol. We said, ‘Nooooo.’”
Mullally and Hunt will bunk at Fuhrman’s Georgetown home. Mullally will get the guest room. “But where will we put Stephanie?” Mullally asked, and then answered her own question with perfect comic timing. “We’ll stuff her in the tool shed. She’s young.”