Ask someone to define "Hollywood marriage" -- as in the working-actor-to-working-actor kind -- and chances are the answer you get won't contain words like "stable" or "secure" or "long-term" or "a good bet."
The longstanding truth is that there is something about the physical intimacy and emotional vulnerability required by the job of actor that, when combined with the big business deal-making and the grinding time demands made by the Hollywood-production machine, is generally not a recipe for real-life relationship happy endings.
All of which makes the ten years of marriage of stage and TV stars Megan Mullally (Will and Grace) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) something of a significant achievement. (Their tenth anniversary is Sept. 20.) Perhaps even more unusual is that the couple will be commemorating their decade-long romance by returning to where it all began -- to their longtime home theater company, the Evidence Room, to appear in the Odyssey Theatre co-production of playwright Sharr White's two-character drama Annapurna, which opens on Saturday.
To discover the secret of their success at both their craft and their enduring monogamy, LA Weekly recently met with the couple in the Odyssey's green room between rehearsals.
By now, both Mullally and Offerman's respective TV hits have made them more than just household names. Their faces and off-kilter comedic characterizations have been a staple on NBC for most of this century. Still, it comes as a surprise to see them in the flesh, sitting across a table and holding hands like Beauty and the Beast on a first date. Mullally, a petite and still strikingly delicate Irish beauty is primly turned out and practically vibrates with a kinetic enthusiasm, while Offerman, with his sleepy bulldog eyes and grizzled face -- today he sports a ragged, gray-flecked beard for his dissipated stage character -- looks like he might have spent the night sleeping behind the Odyssey dumpster.
What is quickly apparent, however, is just how comfortable and emotionally in-tune they are with each other; each endearingly self-deprecating and deferential to their mate even as they speak in the kind of couple's shorthand in which one steps in to seamlessly finish the other's thought.
Those thoughts are now about Annapurna and their return to working with director, Evidence Room Artistic Director and longtime friend Bart DeLorenzo. Offerman says that the decision to do the play came from their need to escape the devouring production and promotion commitments of their hectic television and film schedules. "All of which is really fun," he explains, "but ultimately just crams your calendar. And especially with TV and film work, I can't stress enough how much that fills your [time] with superfluous activities, namely like press junkets and phone interviews."
It was, adds Mullally, about devoting some precious time to themselves and their marriage. "We deliberately decided to do a play together," she says, "so we could like pull it back a little bit, because we're so burned out. And we really wanted to just have this time where we're focusing on the play and we don't have a lot of other things we have to do. And spend this kind of time together."
Making that time, it turns out, was no mean feat. Apart from Parks and Recreation, in which Mullally also has a recurring role as the ex-wife of Offerman's character Ron Swanson, the two also appear on the Adult Swim black-comedy series Childrens Hospital and in the last year have starred together in two independent features: the Offerman co-produced comedy Somebody Up There likes Me and the upcoming CBS Films release of the Donnie Darko-esque coming-of-age comedy The Kings of Summer. (May 31.)
Toss in recent side projects like Mullally's "sort of Andrews Sisters-for-now" retro pop duo (with Stephanie Hunt), Nancy & Beth, or Offerman's touring show American Ham, an evening of original humor and comic songs that he describes as "less educated, more foul-mouthed Garrison Keillor," or the pilot for the female-slapstick comedy series Two Idiots that Mullally and her writing partner Tina Kapousis just sold to IFC, and it's easy to understand why it took the couple nearly four months merely to find the two hours for a table reading of Annapurna with DeLorenzo and Odyssey Associate Artistic Director Beth Hogan.
Apart from being a showbiz harbor, however, the play also represents a departure in tone and style for both actors. Though laced with humor, Annapurna is a probing and naturalistic dramatic portrayal of the reunion between a dissipated, alcoholism-ravaged and dying poet and his two-decades-estranged ex-wife. It is, says Offerman, the kind of intensely focused and serious work that he hasn't done since his days on the Chicago stage in the '90s and that neither actor has had the opportunity to perform with each other until now.
As for working again with DeLorenzo -- a vet of numerous L.A. productions at venues such as the Geffen Playhouse and South Coast Rep -- they are unanimous in their praise for the director. "He has a mastery of theater knowledge that's encyclopedic," Offerman says. "And he brings his intelligence to bear on the work with such a generous enthusiasm that it's never a drag coming to rehearsal. It never seems like anything but fun."
Mullally agrees, adding that "none of his shows are ever by the numbers. Like he has some kind of an off-beat take on things. ... I think he just has a sense of theater that strangely a lot of theater directors don't necessarily have to that degree."
Perhaps part of their unbridled admiration stems from the fact that, in their cases, not only is DeLorenzo a frequent collaborator and something of an artistic mentor, he is also apparently a matchmaker. It was DeLorenzo's insistence that both Mullally and Offerman be cast in the Evidence Room's 2000 production of Charles L. Mee's The Berlin Circle (over director David Schweizer's objections) that led to the couple even meeting.
"I played this character based on [socialite] Pamela Harriman," Mullally recalls. "And Nick played a German soldier, so of course we'd fall in love in real life, right? And we had a lot of scenes together, and I thought that he was amazing. Not so much in the play, because when you're doing the scenes you can't really be as appreciative ... But like between scenes I thought, 'Oh, he's funny.' And then I thought, 'Wait a minute. Is he kind of sexy? What's happening?'" "The lights are often low backstage," Offerman quips.
What followed was a relatively whirlwind courtship ("I strung him along for a while," Mullally fondly remembers. "It was really fun.") that culminated in their top-secret, paparazzi-proofed backyard wedding in 2003 before a small gathering of very surprised but delighted family and close friends.
If their meeting was accidental, their conjugal happiness since has been anything but. "We have a rule that we never take a job that will keep us apart for more than two weeks at a time," Offerman notes. "So even in the middle of the craziness, we do a really good job of getting to see each other. That rule, I think, should be required of all Hollywood couples because it would have been really easy had we not had that rule to allow things to erode."
"And," Mullally adds, "we always spend time together at night. You know, we don't have kids. So we are able to devote that time to each other."
And whether or not their trod-boards-together, stay-together philosophy is a general prescriptive for what might be ailing other Hollywood couples, Mullally firmly believes their time on Annapurna will have a rich payout in the couple's artistic and personal lives. "I think this will be a marker of sorts for us," she asserts. " I do think it will deepen and strengthen our relationship even more."
Annapurna opens at the Odyssey Theatre on Saturday, April 20.