Alcoholic and lactose intolerant, Meredith Palmer is definitely an interesting character. And while she might not be the best employee in the world, she is definitely fun at parties. Fearlessly tackling the role is Kate Flannery, who was nice enough to sit down and talk to us.
We know you are originally from Philadelphia. What was your childhood like? Where do you call home now?
Well, I call L.A. home, but I still go back to Philadelphia a couple times a year. I grew up in Ardmore, but my parents have since moved to Wynnewood – the next town over. My family owns a bar. I have five sisters and a brother; there are a few that are still back in the Philadelphia area.
How exactly did you get into acting, and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
I wanted to get into acting when I was a kid, but my parents were not very cooperative. They wanted me to wait. My senior year of high school, I got into Riverfront Dinner Theater, I actually got to do a show there. I was doing Bye Bye Birdie. Then I went to college and studied acting in college. I went for two years to Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Virginia, and then I transferred to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
You are a former member of Second City’s National Tour Co. and an original member of Chicago’s Annoyance Theater. What were those experiences like for you?
After college, I went to Chicago and I actually went to study at Second City and then I got hired by them with the touring company and the Annoyance Theater. We were doing this show called The Real Live Brady Bunch that went kind of everywhere. I did the tour of that. We came to New York and out to L.A. It was a really great few years, doing that show.
We actually came across an essay you wrote for a site called Fresh Yarn that talked about your time with The Real Live Brady Bunch. In the article, you mentioned that on that tour, you hooked up with a pop star. For anyone out there who hasn’t read the essay, can you please elaborate on that.
I don’t really want to talk about it, but I guess I want to say that it was just one of those very strange things – I went into the situation a boy and I came out a man. (Laughs.) A person doesn’t get the least bit involved, a person doesn’t have dinner with Davey Jones without realizing he does not belong to anyone. He belongs to the world. He could have had dinner with any woman in the world, but he chose to eat with me … sometimes. It was just a couple of weeks. It was a very quick learning experience, let me say.
What can you tell us about your musical group, The Lampshades?
I originally developed The Lampshades when I was in Chicago with a guy named Scot Robinson and Dave Adler was our piano player. I guess we did it for almost two years there, but we were doing other shows at the same time, so it wasn’t our main focus or anything. And then, we didn’t live in the same city together for a long time, then found ourselves both living in L.A. about six years ago and we decided to do it again. We really kind of rolled up our sleeves and worked more on the levels of the show that we thought it needed. It’s kind of been this really great labor of love.
It’s been musically interesting, but also a great opportunity to not only do our weekly show, which we’ve been doing for four years at the Improv Olympic Theater in Hollywood, but also we will gig out and host stand-up nights and we’ve done a lot of charity events and some private parties. It’s a very portable show, so it’s been really, really great for us. We’ve gotten around a lot doing it and we’ve met a lot of people because of it.
It’s basically a dying lounge act. You get to know who we are through the course of the act – kind of what we don’t say. We’re in this unrequited love situation that’s very tortured. It’s very silly and funny and dumb.
How tough is it to break into the business? How many auditions did you go to before you landed a role?
I’ve done theater for years. The TV and film stuff came very slowly. Although I will say that in high school, I was an extra in the movie Taps. I missed my senior prom because I was an extra in Eddie and the Cruisers. If you’re from Philadelphia, there are just a few movies that come through there. I really enjoy theater and I’ve had some great experiences off-Broadway and just touring at the Kennedy Center and a lot of different cities. But, I will say that the TV is very, very specific and as much as I loved to be in New York, for me, I felt like I really have to be in L.A. to pursue that kind of work. And it takes time – it’s been a long struggle in a lot of ways. And now I’m an overnight success.
I guess when I moved back here about seven years ago from New York, I was going out a little bit more, I had a little bit better of an agent. I had booked a recurring character on Boomtown, but unfortunately, I only got to do one episode, and then the show was canceled.
In addition to Boomtown, you’ve been on everything from The Bernie Mac Show to Saturday Night Live. Which show was your favorite and why?
I loved doing the voice on SNL. We actually did that at Capitol Records, which is this great building in Hollywood, it kind of looks like a stack of records. I got to go there because I was living here. Robert Smigel, who I’ve kind of known for years – I was up for SNL back in 1991, I had lunch with Lorne Michaels, there was some interest from them but it didn’t get further than that. Robert had remembered that I had done a Lucy character for my SNL audition and also when I tested for Dana Carvey, which is a show that Steve Carrell actually booked, I didn’t book it, but I came close to it. Anyway, it was really fun just to go to Capitol Records and all of the sudden, Robert Smigel’s voice is in my head – they direct you while you are doing the voice. It was really cool.
Was he very particular about the way he wanted it done?
Yes. He was very particular, but he was like, “I know you can do it.” He’s a great director and a great writer and very funny. It was such an honor for him to ask me to do that, I can’t even tell you.
I got to see him a little bit in New York because I was in a band with one of the guys from They Might Be Giants and Robert used to come to the shows sometimes. The band was called Mono Puff. I got to do some recording with them.
How did you land the role of Meredith on The Office, and how was the character explained to you initially?
The character was initially explained to me as divorced, with a hysterectomy, lactose intolerant, blue collar, no makeup. That was pretty much in the breakdown. I remember getting there and seeing some other actresses that I knew from Second City and I thought they’re going to get it, I’m not going to get it. Then, by the time I got home, I got a call from the casting director to go to another place and do it again as soon as I could get there. And they had me do it again; they had me do it just a little bit more deadpan. By the time I got home from that, I found out I got it. I didn’t even realize it was going to be a regular thing. I thought it was going to be just one episode.
From there, did the character develop over time?
The defining episode for them and for me was the birthday episode where Michael is planning a birthday party that’s really inappropriately early because he’s determined to have a surprise party for somebody at work and he’s working on the card and just trying to figure out how to really have the best greeting on the card. He’s trying to figure out who Meredith is because he barely knows her, but he’s trying to act like they are really good buddies. He ends up ordering an ice cream cake and she can’t eat it. He’s bringing up her divorce and her hysterectomy and some of it ended up getting cut, but it was really, really dark. It was the most depressing party, and he ends up making her cry. I think that was the most fleshed out the character was when I came on board.
This season, it’s been the drinking and the toplessness and all that insanity has actually been creeping up all season. But, some of it got cut in the beginning of the season. So it really didn’t come to the forefront until the Christmas episode.
Would you say that she has a drinking problem?
As a matter of fact, I would. Maybe it’s not a problem for her. It could be a problem for other people because she’s taking off her shirt.
How would you describe the character now that it’s been fleshed out more? How do you see Meredith?
I think Meredith is a dark horse. She’s the person that works across from you that sometimes you don’t know what to say to them. You see them everyday, but you don’t really know what’s going on in their head. And sometimes, it’s almost like you can’t say anything right in front of her. And I think she feels that way too.
Do you think you are similar to the character at all? Can you relate to her?
Are you asking me if I have a drinking problem? (Laughs.) My dad owned a bar, so I know drinkers, man. I’ve worked in restaurants long enough to know that whole thing. I can relate to it on that level. I don’t think there are any Irish people on the planet that don’t have an alcoholic in their family somewhere. It’s a familiar beast.
When the show first started did you have any idea it would turn into such a big hit? When did you first get the sense that this show could really take off?
I knew it was going to be good. I remember I went to visit Greg Daniels while they were in the editing stages, before it aired, and we had lunch one day and he showed me some of my stuff that was finished, which is so great and such a rare thing. Most executive producers don’t let you in on the process of that, especially if you’re not a top five actor on that show. Greg is so generous and so great. I remember sitting in the office with him and seeing an actual episode and I was blown away.
It’s so smart and so clever. The whole use of the camera being another character. There’s such an exchange with the camera. It’s so different from any other comedy that way.
I don’t know how I landed here, but I am so lucky. We came back to work in August last year. First, we thought we were just back for six, and then they ordered seven more, then nine more. It kept going. We just wrapped a few weeks ago.
Do you have a favorite episode so far? If so, why is it your favorite?
I love the Christmas episode, but there’s so many. The thing I love about the Christmas episode it that I feel like it’s getting so packed with stuff, it’s so great. There are so many levels. I also like Booze Cruise – I know I’m mentioning both that I’m topless in – but there was a scene in particular with Jim and Pam on top of the boat that was just so full of pauses and this energy. I really think they fleshed out their relationship so well in that awkwardness and that sense of unrequited love.
That scene definitely goes on for longer than you’d think, too.
Yes, I can’t believe how long the silence was. It was one of the gustiest things I’ve seen on TV in years.
Speaking of the Booze Cruise, we have a slightly personal question for you – do you think Meredith and Capt’n Jack have a future together?
You know, I write about that on my MySpace page. “No, he hasn’t called and yes she had a good time and no she isn’t getting any younger.” I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get the great Rob Riggle to come back and play Capt’n Jack, but I think whatever port in a storm. I think there will be many weird male encounters. I don’t think it’s restricted to the captain of the booze cruise.
We know you can’t give too much away, but are there more quality “Meredith moments” in store for us this season?
There’s a couple. We’ll see what makes it on. The season closer, there’s a fun little thing. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a casino night going on. It could be dealer’s choice, that’s all I’m going to say.
How excited were you to hear that The Office has been picked up for a third season?
I really feel like I have to pinch myself. This is the greatest job. Everyone is so talented, but also so normal and so nice, which is very unusual. It feels like there’s room for all of us to shine. That’s very rare on a show.
How often do you get recognized in public?
It’s happening more often, usually when I have absolutely no makeup on and I look like hell. I don’t know if you noticed, but they don’t give me a lot of makeup on the show. Last season, I thought it was only going to be a week, but it ended up being five weeks for me. I was working in a restaurant in Beverly Hills part time and I started to get recognized there when the show first aired. It was so bizarre. This guy said, “Excuse me, miss. Are you lactose intolerant?”
I said, “Yes I am. Thank you for not bringing up my hysterectomy.”
What goals do you have set for yourself? Where would you like to see your career go, and who in Hollywood would you like to work with some day?
There are so many people. People I came up the ranks with that I’d love to work with again. Hopefully, this show is going to go for a while, but my friend is the creator of Desperate Housewives, Marc Cherry. I’d love to work with him. I know Adam McKay, who is the director of Anchorman. There are a lot of really smart, funny people that I’d love to work with again at some point.
Actually, I used to wait on JJ Abrams, who is the creator of Alias and Lost and I’d love to work with him. He was just a customer, but I’d like to work with him. They used to write episodes of Alias at the place that I worked. He would come in with some of his staff and they’d sit at a table and they’d just basically order something to drink, it would be late night so they’d have sodas and stuff. It was really interesting watching that process. He was always really supportive of when I was doing The Lampshades. I actually got to audition for an Alias episode. It was really nice of him to send me in – send the waitress in.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
Well, you’ve already mentioned the Fresh Yarn story, that’s kind of new to the wire. The other thing that I’ll say is that I was teaching little kids and I’m actually going to start again at the Los Angeles Drama Club, which was started by two friends of mine who are moms, they started this for their kids. It’s five and six year olds doing Shakespeare. I’m the music director there.
That sounds like a daunting task, trying to get kids to do Shakespeare.
You’d be surprised. In some ways, they don’t judge it as much as adults. They dive right in.
We’ve got one last thing for you here. We’re going to do a word association. We’ll just throw out a name and tell us the first thing that comes to your mind.
My home state.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, April 2006. The Office is on NBC Thursday nights at 9:30 PM. You can find out more information about Kate Flannery by visiting the The Lampshades site or by reading her MySpace blog.