Meredith Hagner knows what’s it’s like to kill a man… on TV. But when season three of her cult comedy Search Party lands on HBO Max this month, she’ll also know what it’s like to be put on trial for being an accessory to murder. After nearly three years, the TBS-housed series is finally holding its group of self-obsessed hipster murderers accountable for their actions… kind of.
Hagner plays Portia — a clueless soap actress, who comes to regret helping her friends stuff a dead body into a zebra-printed carryon in season three when she’s pulled into the media frenzy surrounding the case. Her reputation is ruined. Her friendships begin to crumble. Christianity comes for her. It’s all just a real mess. We chatted with Hagner, who will soon pop up in Andy Samberg’s upcoming Hulu romcom Palm Springs, about switching gears to a courtroom drama for season three of the show, her character’s mental breakdown, and the trick to playing a believable sex doll on screen.
It’s taken a couple of years, but season three is finally here.
I think it’s my favorite season so far. It just all gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
Every season has played with a different genre and this time, the group’s on trial. I’m a sucker for a good courtroom drama.
I’m with you. And this season is such a comment on our nation’s fascination with female villains. I know they were drawing some connections to the Amanda Knox case. I think we’re really fascinated by morality, especially in regard to women.
I think Dory, and even Portia to some degree, have it rough once this trial goes public but it’s interesting, I didn’t think of it in terms of gender before.
There’s deep misogyny. For Portia, her struggle is being like, “I will do anything to be perceived as a good girl.” She’s the product of this culture that taught her that’s what a good girl is and does. And I think even the juxtaposition of Dory [Alia Shawkat], what makes her good and bad simultaneously as a person, [is] as complex for Portia as it is everybody else. You’re like, how could a woman do this? And it’s like, well, a woman could be a sociopath.
Every character has had a meltdown in past seasons. Does Portia hit rock bottom this season?
I think Portia feels like she needs something to tell her that she’s good and redeemable. Her major motivation is love. I don’t feel like she feels worthy or good enough on some deep core level, which is how I think of her and how I play her. And so she overcompensates by being hyper-confident. When she’s been faced with being I’m part of this murder coverup, and then she has that relationship with Jay Duplass’ character — she just falls under people’s spells, she’s so good at giving people what they want while never looking at what she needs. And so for me, it’s just about playing that grey area, the psychology behind someone who’s only motivated by love and acceptance when they’re finding themselves villainized by society, right?
Her life is also put in danger by her newfound fame. There’s a hostage situation with a Twink that might be the funniest scene of the whole season. The comedy definitely gets darker this season. What’s it like filming those scenes?
That was a really hard day. This season was emotionally taxing. The stakes become so much higher. So for me, the humor becomes so much deeper and more twisted. That said, I loved singing at Elliott’s [John Early] wedding. That was one of my favorites because she’s just a narcissist with a heart of gold that chooses to see the world only through her lens.
Speaking of twisted humor, you’ve got a Quibi series with Anna Kendrick where you play a sex doll that’s come to life. It’s strangely genius.
I know! That’s a dream job. She’s like a nihilist sex doll. She represents the meanest voice we all have in our heads. We have this demon within all of us that we must, especially as women, shut down. I think how Anna’s character becomes friends with her, it’s just so complex and feminist and bizarre, and I’m so happy I got to be a part of it. I think it’s a wildly ahead of the curve feminine piece.
I guess the million-dollar question is: How do you play a sex doll?
I couldn’t move my body. I did every scene with Anna. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I couldn’t move any of my body, including my head. My whole performance was me doing every scene with her, with dots on my face. And if I moved at all, it ruined the take. It was the most challenging performance I’ve ever done, [but] I love that feeling of like, “Holy shit, am I going to be able to do this?”
That kind of weird, offbeat humor is definitely part of Search Party’s vibe, too. Is that something you’re drawn to, as an actor?
I am. I used to just do drama, I didn’t do comedy up until like six years ago. I started in improv many years ago, and then I wanted to be a serious actress. So I did Chekhov. I just thought comedy was less than. But a lot of the characters in comedy for women are these messy, complicated women. Ruth Gordon, for example, is an actress who I look at and I’m like, “I love her career.” And I’m getting this opportunity to play some of the same messy women. It’s so much more interesting to me than having to feel shackled by being likable all the time. So, I’m enjoying it.
‘Search Party’s third season lands over at HBO Max on June 25.