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Interview: Martin Starr of ‘Party Down’ On Bringing Back Roman After Over A Decade

Ever since his breakout role in the classic must-watch coming of age comedy, Freaks and Geeks, Martin Starr has been delivering memorable characters. The actor sat down with Awards Radar to discuss his recent return as Roman on the Starz series Party Down. The series has a unique history, after two seasons back in 2009-2010, the series was cancelled due to dismal ratings. Thankfully for fans, the show was not forgotten, holding a special place in people’s TV hearts. Over a decade later, the beloved series has grown a legion of new fans thanks to streaming, opening the door the unlikely door to a third season.

This meant Starr, Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch and the rest of the Party Down crew was back for one more season of the once cult favorite. Starr put back on the pink bow tie, but this time sporting a healthy beard to continue the story or fan favorite, Roman, the uptight, often reprehensible character we somehow root for on his quest to have his magnus opus published.

During our conversation Martin discussed the start of his career, joining and returning to Party Down, a fourth season, Roman in ten year, and more. Enjoy.

Steven Prusakowski: First of all, absolutely love the series. I’ve been a big fan of your work for probably two decades now. or close to it. Wonderful watching you grow up on screen. My first question is when did the acting bug bite you? What got you into this line of work?

Martin Starr: My mom is an actress. So she kind of brought me up and in essence, she had a business that revolved around acting. So there were workshops that I would go to as a kid, and it obviously gave me a comfort level in that environment. That has been very valuable for me in my life and my career. I think it really bit me when I was – I don’t know, when I was 11 or 12, – I started taking an improv class. That really changed the way that I felt about it all – it just started to click. For the most part, I think until that point, I had only really explored acting with adults, because my mom’s business was for actors who were working to create a career here in this business. It wasn’t for kids specifically. So when I found this improv class for kids, I kind of found a home there and felt like I belonged. I wasn’t a popular kid growing up. I was awkward and struggled with figuring out who I was and stuff. So I think that kind of gave me some confidence. That’s fine finding, finding that.

Steven Prusakowski: We were just talking about underdogs, outcasts and all that your character, Roman, and many of your former characters have that quality, they often don’t fit in perfectly. You make him feel so real. Is there an aspect of Roman that you relate to which allows you to give him that real quality?

Martin Starr: I suppose there’s some underlying part of me that feels that way. I think you naturally bring some part of yourself to everything that you do as an actor so that it feels authentic and real. But it wasn’t intentional. I think just kind of the way it’s been written and luckily, the writers that I’ve worked with have all been very good. 

Steven Prusakowski: What brought you to Party Down originally? How did you get involved with the series? Was there a pitch for Roman that they presented you with?

Martin Starr: That’s very nice of you to think that somebody pitched me the show. (laughs) Weirdly, they had already shot a pilot and then were recasting two roles from the pilot. I believe Rob Thomas might have paid for the initial pilot out of pocket. There were just some issues that came up and they had to recast two of the parts and one of those parts was Roman. My manager at the time called me and said, ‘Hey, they’re casting a show, and it says ‘Martin Starr type.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, but that’s me.’ Why don’t they just reach out to me? I would like to do this’ (Laughs) It’s weird to think that character was written with my voice in mind because that’s not a compliment for somebody to be like, ‘This is like you.’ This isn’t the kind of character that you want someone to say, ‘Hey, this really reminds me of you.’ I also don’t think that I had ever played a character like this. But maybe the quality of heart that I think is underlying the spite and the anger and the discontent that is naturally written into that character that you kind of see, eventually through those first two seasons and a bit in the third season now too, maybe that was the desire. I feel like in Freaks and Geeks, that is an underlying theme. And the character I played there is just this heart and wanting to be accepted. Maybe there’s something underlying it, but the broad strokes of that character, don’t feel like something – at least I hope that people don’t feel that are reminiscent of who I am as a person. I’m thankful that it turned out the way that it did though. Because, look at us now – 15 years and three seasons, just how TV should be. Oh, wait a second. (laughs) 

Steven Prusakowski: Totally natural. 

Martin Starr: At this rate, I think it would be like 2030 when we’ll be working on a new season. I do hope that we’re working on it before too long. It’s really just dependent on schedules and obviously, stars before we can get the production going.

Courtesy of Starz

Steven Prusakowski: Why do you think fans are so passionate about the series? What is it about this series that allows it to come back after such a long amount of time? I’m sure it has even a bigger following now – a much bigger following, actually, because it didn’t get canceled.

Martin Starr: (laughs) Yeah. I hope the following is at least a little bit bigger. Someone from Starz told us how few viewers they had for the finale of season two and it was jaw-droppingly low, how few people watch the show. (laughs) And we were like, ‘You decided to bring this back?’ I do think it especially struck a chord in the time that it’s been off the air because of streaming services, and the opportunity to view things in the ways that we view things now that it’s obviously different than it used to be. So through streamers and things we did build quite a following. It’s been 13 years that we’ve been off the air, and whenever I’ve done press for other other things I’ve been a part of Party Down seems to be somewhere in the questioning in a way that I haven’t experienced with anything else in my career. So there certainly is a hunger for it, a desire for it to come back. Luckily, that met up with Starz, and them wanting to bring it back. Hopefully we do get to do more, but at the very least, we’re very lucky to have gotten to come back and do this third season. And I don’t take that for granted at all.

Steven Prusakowski: It’s an amazing season. I’m so happy it happened and I’m alive to see it.

Martin Starr: (laughs) Yeah, you make it sound like the fourth by the time the fourth season comes out. You don’t have much time left, anymore.

Steven Prusakowski: I’ll be in bed ridden saying to my kids ‘Go watch a show I watch.’

Martin Starr: (laughs) I’ll be in a walker. It’ll be great. How I’ll serve food at that point. I have no idea, but…

Steven Prusakowski: It’ll probably be drones. (both laugh) Your chemistry with a lot of the characters is great, especially with Ryan’s character. It’s this great rivalry. And you mentioned improv. Do you get to improv any of that? Or is it all scripted? Or how does that work out?

Martin Starr: The majority of it is very well written and we don’t play around very much. If we do, generally we play around and then come back to the written line. Sometimes, especially in comedy, you say the same joke. By the second time it’s not as funny as it was the first time. Sometimes you can find something new in it. But oftentimes, it’s nice just to try something different and come back to it. So using improv in that way is invaluable for us, but the writing is so good, you’re not doing any good to the show by straying too much. But sometimes there is room to improvise and play. Obviously, this is a very talented group of people to do that with so we like to play in that way. It’s a lot like an improv summer camp at moments. But John Enbom is the reason that we all came back. Once you started reading those scripts, you knew that there was going to be something special here again. The vibe was back in his writing and I was hopeful that we could live up to our side of things. Well, I was hopeful that I could live up to what I had to do to play my part in Roman. But I had more faith in everyone else.

Courtesy of Starz

Steven Prusakowski: It paid off. It was really just an amazing season. Where do you see Roman in 10 years?

Martin Starr: God, hopefully, he’ll be somewhere up the ladder a little bit. But the odds are good that if this were to still be on in 10 years, that he would just be an even more sad version of the same guy. It’d be fun to watch him like, actually succeed in some way. We obviously do it a little bit in this season, but you can’t let anybody fully succeed or the underdog is lost. But, it would be fun to see one underdog that really doesn’t believe he can make it – or she can make it to find the success that she wants. It’s funny, too, that we introduced a new character this year, who is happy doing what she’s doing? Lucy (Zoe Chao) is, maybe the only person aside from Jane (Lynch) who just is happy no matter what – her character.  Zoe gets to play a character who’s the only one who’s like, ‘This is where I thrive.’ Whereas everybody else is like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing this to get by, but I want to be doing something else. And she’s like, ‘No, this is it, food. Getting to make weird things that people feel something about. That’s where I thrive,’ is such a beautiful juxtaposition to the rest of us, to see someone who’s like, happy in that realm.

Steven Prusakowski: Yeah, it’s an odd fit for the show, but it works because everyone else is just waiting for the next day to pass and waiting for that phone call or something positive to come their way. Not Zoe – she’s relishing it. You have played great characters in Spider-Man, Silicon Valley, Freaks and Geeks, Party Down. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your work, you always make me laugh.

Martin Starr: Thank you so much, Steven. Bye now.


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.

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