Nancy and Beth (Megan Mullally, Stephanie Hunt)
Monday, May 8
U Street Music Hall
1115 U St., N.W.
Megan Mullally cemented her legacy as the boozing and wise-cracking Karen Walker on the hit sitcom, “Will & Grace.” She later would go on to play opposite her husband Nick Offerman as his character’s ex-wife on “Parks and Recreation.” Since then, Mullally has started a side passion project with fellow actress Stephanie Hunt (“Friday Night Lights”), known as Nancy and Beth.
Bonded by a mutual love for quirk and music, the duo’s self-titled album is an eclectic mix of cover songs from rapper Gucci Mane’s “I Don’t Love Her” to the country classic, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones. Mullally and Hunt bare it all on the cover art, appearing naked with the album’s title lettering strategically placed.
Mullally spoke with the Blade on the eagerly awaited “Will & Grace” reboot (a limited, 12-episode run with the original cast and crew on NBC is expected to air this fall), dropping her clothes for an album cover and the struggle to be taken seriously as an actress pursuing music.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Where did the name Nancy and Beth come from?
MEGAN MULLALLY: Nick, Stephanie and I had sat around at dinner one night and bounced around a bunch of band names and none of them seemed exactly right, but I wrote them all down. When I got back to Los Angeles I made a list of those, and a few others that I thought of, and I had thought of Nancy and Beth. For some reason it just seemed like the perfect name. I don’t know why. I stuck it in the middle of the list without any comment. I emailed the list to Stephanie and she emailed back right away, “Nancy and Beth.” I thought, well there you have it. That would be a good way of describing our entire vibe together. We’re completely on the same page. We have a real synchronous sort of affinity for each other.
BLADE: On the album cover, the both of you are naked. How did that concept come about?
MULLALLY: We’re both modest people. I don’t think Nick has ever seen me naked, for example. I’m not someone who rips my clothes off and goes galavanting about. I’m the opposite of that. I know Stephanie is too. I was in a very relaxed state one day and that image, exactly the way the album cover ended up being, came into my mind. Even though I didn’t want to take my clothes off necessarily, and I knew that Stephanie didn’t either, I pitched it to her and she was like, “Yeah we should do that.” It’s hard for me to put into words why I feel that’s the right record cover. It has something to do with bringing everything down to its most basic, elemental level. It’s the most stripped down, pure state. It’s two humans on the planet and we tried to keep it as absolutely neutral as possible. Except on the back cover art you see that we don’t mean it just as taking ourselves seriously, we also mean that there is humor included. I don’t think either one of us are very analytical people, we’re more instinctual.
BLADE: The music video for the single “Please, Mr. Jailer” has a quirky vibe paired with a classic song. Is that the vibe of the album?
MULLALLY: Yeah, it is. There’s only 10 songs on the record.They’re all a very eclectic mix from every genre, every era. Originally for the video there’s one rap song on the record by an artist named Gucci Mane. Initially I thought that should be the video because the track came out pretty well. It’s pretty funny. It’s not a comedy band at all, but that track has a lot going for it. So I sent it out to a bunch of people I know who are really good directors and said, “Hey do you want to direct our music video?” and for whatever reason everybody said no, mostly for scheduling reasons. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to get in a situation with a music video where we were going to have to sell our house and move into a tent so I thought, “Well I’ll just direct the music video.” And I thought we shouldn’t do that track because it’s an anomaly, it’s the only rap/hip-hop song on the record. We should do “Please, Mr. Jailer” which is more representative of our record as a whole and the spirit of the band. So I thought, I’ll just direct it and I’ll shoot it on my phone.
My pilates teacher, who is a really good friend of mine, I was talking to her about it and I realized that her husband is a really great VP, editor and director. So I thought, “Maybe I’ll just get Alex to come over and take some pictures or hold my phone.” Then I thought, “Wait, why don’t I just have Alex shoot it?” It was just really simple. We had a really easy shoot. It was just me, Stephanie, Alex and his assistant and hair and makeup. There was no other crew. It was all just very chill. I think it came out really well and I’m excited about it. The music video is more reflective of the tone of the album cover. So I think there’s an enigmatic quality that pulls you in that’s not necessarily reflected in our live show. Our live show we have facial expressions and every song is choreographed full-on. The video is different from the live show but I think the video is reflective of a weirdness that is inherent in my and Stephanie’s take on music.
BLADE: Lots of actors have musical side projects. Did you ever fear that the public wouldn’t take you seriously when you embarked on Nancy and Beth?
MULLALLY: Oh, I know they won’t. Nobody gives a shit if an actor does music. If a musician wants to act, people are like, “Oh my god. Amazing, brilliant.” If an actor reveals that they also have a musical side people are like, “Please, take your childish musical aspirations elsewhere.”
Well the fact of the matter is that I, and probably many other actors who also would like to express themselves musically, that was my start. I was into music way before I even thought about acting. I was in a ballet company. I was a serious ballet dancer for years also. I have done three musicals on Broadway and two of them were before “Will & Grace.” So two of them were before I was ever known as an actress on television. I think I’ve said that I came out the womb in a top hat and tap shoes. I’ve always loved music. Music has been the driving force in my creative life. It’s just that the public at large has no idea. They have not seen me in a Broadway musical. They don’t know anything about me being a singer. I’ve done a lot of concert singing. Singing is really my first, or maybe my best, thing. People don’t know that and that’s not their fault. It’s just the way it is. I don’t expect to ever sell one ticket, one record or anything. So each ticket or record that gets sold, I’m like, “Great. Bonus.”
BLADE: The last time you were on tour with Nancy and Beth your husband came along. Is he coming along this time?
MULLALLY: He is. Sometimes he’ll make an appearance during the show so we’ll see what happens. He’s our roadie.
BLADE: Fans are super excited for the “Will & Grace” reboot. Was it easy to slip back into the role of Karen Walker after so long?
MULLALLY: Frighteningly easy. I never doubted that it would be, but I also never thought there would be any reason for it to be. It never crossed any of our minds that the show would come back as the same exact show on the same exact network because that’s never happened before.
Although I did feel Karen was living a happy existence in some kind of alternative universe. It never occurred to me that universe would then be on NBC. It’s very exciting. I think the weirdest thing about the whole reboot is the fact that it doesn’t feel weird. It seems totally normal like we were just here two days ago, we went away for the weekend and we came back on a Monday. We’ve only had like two photoshoots and we’ve already just been like, “Hey” when we walk in like no time has gone by. We just had a photoshoot and I walked in and Eric (McCormack) and Sean (Hayes) were sitting there and I was like, “Hey guys” as I was heading to my dressing room. I came back and was like, “Wait a minute. No crazy casual, ‘Hey guys.’” This is great, we’re doing this. It’s crazy. It’s pretty fun. We’re already back to total, full-time groping, humping and laughing hysterically. It’s bizarre, nothing has changed.
BLADE: You’ve performed in D.C. before with your husband. What about D.C. makes it different from other cities you’ve performed in?
MULLALLY: I love D.C. as a city. I love performing there, the audiences there are great. I have a good friend who lives in D.C. She just organized this huge benefit for D.C. Public Libraries and they had two stages, music going all night, speakers, art installations. She sent me some stuff about it afterwards and one of the articles that was written about it had said how great it was that you live in a city where reading and libraries and that aspect of the culture, as well as all other aspects, are celebrated and all go hand in hand. I think that’s why D.C. is a great city for us to perform. I find our band entertaining across the board for all different kinds of audiences but at the same time its an eclectic band. I think the fact that we’re able to entertain everyone equally is a bonus so D.C. is a great city for that.