THROUGHOUT THE course of Party Down‘s original two-season run, Ken Marino went there. In one episode, his character, catering team leader Ron Donald, gets talked into starring in a pornographic movie as a way to fund his dream of owning an all-you-can-eat soup restaurant. In another, he gets tricked into ejaculating into a cup and handing it over for inspection to an unsuspecting pre-med major. And in perhaps Ron’s most memorable Party Down moment, he vomits all over the ground and himself in front of an old crush, shouting “call an ambulance!” just a few moments after triumphantly chugging a full bottle of liquor at his own high school reunion—which he was, of course, also catering.
After 13 years away, Party Down—the cult classic comedy
initially watched by just about no one that has since become a comedy staple—is now back for a third season. And, like it never left, Marino slid right back into his unforgettable role as Ron Donald, gross out humor and all; seriously, once you see what Ron goes through in Episode 5, where the team caters a fake prom for Lydia’s (Megan Mullally) actress daughter, you’ll never forget.
It sure makes one wonder: is there anything Marino wouldn’t do for this role? As long as co-creator and head writer John Enbom says Ron would do it, he’s in. “Part of the fun of Ron is that he’s got a black cloud over his head and whatever could go wrong goes wrong, and then some,” he says on a mid February afternoon, a week before the long-awaited Party Down revival season is set to debut on STARZ.“Wherever that takes that character, I’m happy to go there.”
Party Down is a show that’s essentially about the nature of failure, and how the Party Down catering team—made up of people with unrealized dreams of being actors, comedians, sci-fi writers, and, yes, owning soup restaurants—carry on with their lives even when it seems like those lofty dreams may never happen. And Ron Donald, a perpetually-doomed people pleaser, is an essential piece to the show’s puzzle. “I love comedy that is uncomfortable and a little dark,” Marino says, noting that his favorite episode of the show’s original run was “James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion,” the episode where he ends up covered in his own vomit. “It’s so funny, but it’s sad. And it just walks that line so beautifully.”
It’s not the first time Marino has come back to an old favorite role—he’s also returned for two Wet Hot American Summer series on Netflix—but it’s clear how excited and grateful he is, both for himself and Party Down‘s many devoted fans, that the show managed to finally make it back to the air after all these years. But whether it’s walking into walls, slipping around in fake vomit, or just making a general fool of himself, it’s clear that Marino will do just about anything for Party Down.
We spoke to the star about becoming Ron Donald again for Party Down‘s next big event.
Men’s Health: How did it feel becoming Ron Donald for another season of Party Down after so many years?
KEN MARINO: It was a special show when we did it, and I came to peace after many years of talking about it possibly coming back in some incarnation. I was eventually like, “Oh, I guess it’s not.” And it was a gift to get that call and to be told that we’re going to get to do six more.
I didn’t believe it until we were on set. And then we were on set and I had my stupid haircut, and I got to see everybody in their little white shirts and their pink bowties. And I got to see Ryan [Hansen]’s stupid face, and Adam [Scott]’s stupid face, and Martin [Starr]’s stupid face, and Jane [Lynch]’s wonderful face, and Megan [Mullally]’s wonderful face. And I knew I was back home in my Party Down home.
Can you describe any of those moments when it seemed like Party Down was going to come back, but it didn’t happen?
Throughout the years I would do press for other things and people would always bring up Party Down, which always felt nice. And they would say, “I hear a Party Down reunion’s in the works.” And I would say, “I don’t know any details, but fingers crossed. I feel like something could happen.” And that happened for a good eight, nine years. And then I finally gave up being hopeful. I think there’s a moral there, a lesson in life: Stop being hopeful.
Sounds like something one of the characters would say.
Stop being hopeful and then maybe something will happen.
You mentioned Ron’s haircut. What was the hardest part about becoming this character again? Was it like riding a bicycle, or did you have to get yourself into the groove a bit?
I want to say that I really had to go back deep into the back of my brain to find Ron again. But the truth is, Ron is right there in me, ready to come out. I love playing him.
Is there anything you have to do to snap out from under that Ron Donald black cloud when the camera stops rolling?
I’m not an actor who carries anything with him after they yell “cut.” I mean, sometimes it’s exhausting and sometimes you remember something and you’re kind of living in that a little bit. But by the time I’m headed home, all I’m thinking about is going home and spending time with my family, and maybe icing up my knees or my putting a heat pad on my back because we did some physical stuff and I didn’t necessarily stretch out as well as I should have.
What were the physical challenges for this revival season?
The same as they’ve always been. Episode 5 has a lot of physicality in it. He walks into a wall, he passes out, he’s got to shit in a bucket. He’s got to punch a van. He’s got to quickly jump in the shower, jump into the van, run around. He’s always around and hustling and moving a little too fast where he can get hurt. But I love that stuff.
I love trying to add a little physicality to any of the scenes without disrespecting the text. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s why you have a director and a producer who’s like, “That was good. Keep that in. Don’t do that.” But I always like to take some swings with the physicality of it, because I think that only adds to it. And it works for Ron. Ron is a perfect candidate for that kind of humor.
Was there anything you tried for Season 3 that didn’t make the cut?
I remember the scene where I’m introducing the van to Henry being a longer scene—I know that whole episode was long. So they had to trim stuff down. I remember there was a lot of me moving around and dancing around with joy. And then I also remember punching the shit out of the van, which I think is still in. It has to be in there, but I don’t know how long of a take, because I really beat the crap out of that van for a while.
What do you think people are so drawn to about Party Down, both then and now?
I would say that the beauty of Party Down and the world of Party Down would fit at any time, and you could find the tragic moments of whatever time period you’re living in.
I think that’s the beauty of the show. You can plop it down at different times and it would work because there are always people who are failing to succeed and on the outside looking in. And then the larger picture of what’s going on in the world is only the spices and the extra stuff, the extra goodness that you can add to each story.
If you were hiring Party Down to cater an event that you were hosting and you could choose three of your castmates, who would you choose to be on the crew?
Do you mean the characters?
Whichever direction you want to take it.
I will say this: of all the characters on Party Down, Kyle (Ryan Hansen) is a good get because he’s good to look at, right? He’s good eye candy. The clients will like it, and his fuck-ups aren’t tremendous. He might say the wrong thing. He’s not the brightest bulb on the block. I mean, sure, I wouldn’t have his band play. But to walk around with abs for sure, Kyle’s in there. Back in when she was still slinging ‘derves, I would say Lydia (Megan Mullally), because again, she’s pleasant to everybody and she won’t rock the boat too much. And then myself, of course, Ron, who’s got it all together,
The team leader.
He’s the team leader. Oh, and I would hire Henry (Adam Scott), of course. He’s a great bartender.
His problems are just his own internal problems. He’ll be fine. Maybe he’ll sneak off and smoke a cigarette, but he’ll be fine.
When you started doing your first scene with Adam or your first scene with Martin or your first season with Ryan or Megan, did you feel like you had the same chemistry you always had, or did you have to work to get that back a little bit?
The chemistry between us came easy. I don’t remember if it happened the minute we were on set, but I would imagine that it was there from early on. I mean, it was just nice.
Look, we liked each other as human beings. We liked hanging out with each other on set and getting to know each other. We laughed a lot. And you felt like you were in a safe place as a performer, and you’re with a bunch of talented people. So when all of those things combine and you have a great script, you have a great captain who’s handing you these great lines and great scenarios and great scenes, chances are you’re going to have a really cool thing at the end of it. That’s my experience with Party Down. That was my experience with Wet Hot American Summer. That was my experience with Burning Love. That was my experience with Children’s Hospital, and Eastbound & Down.
When you’re comfortable and safe around a bunch of like-minded people who happen to also be really good at what they do, you tend to get something you’re proud of.
We’ve waited so long for this third season. Do you know if there are any plans to do another season after this, whenever that might be?
I think they’re logging in a fourth season for 2054, so I might not be here for that.
We’ll see. Fingers crossed.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.