Kate Flannery on growing up in a bar and playing a drunk on 'The Office'
The world knows Kate Flannery for her brilliant performance as the drunken Meredith Palmer in the Emmy-award winning show The Office. As it turns out, the actress grew up in a Philadelphia bar. “You can’t pay for that kind of research,” she told me of her father’s Flannery’s Tavern.
Flannery was the perfect fit for the role on The Office, and the real-life booze connection was too much for me to pass up. So I called Flannery in her sober state of mind to learn about how her father packed heat behind the bar, and how one of her father’s regulars inspired Meredith’s butt-pinching habit.
Tell me about your father’s bar.
My dad took over the bar from his father; he grew up at the bar, too. I feel like we really only went on Sundays when it was closed. I would actually help clean.
What was the bar like?
There were always these characters at the bar. Some were a little down on their luck and Dad rented apartments above the bar, so he had these boarders at the bar. It was a tougher neighborhood.
Was there anyone there who you ended up modeling your Office character after?
There was one woman who used to drink at the bar and she was a riot. There was a train across the street from the bar and a bus line. The bus driver would wait for her to pay her tab before the last bus of the night would leave. He would always check on her.
I can envision the Meredith character making advances at your father’s bar. Would this woman grab the bartender on a regular basis?
Not to my knowledge, but I’m sure the fellas gave her the eye once in a while. My dad’s very Catholic, and he always had a firearm behind the bar. He would be the language police, so if someone said a four-letter word in front of a lady, he would make them apologize.
So he probably wouldn’t have stood for Meredith then?
No. She would have had to be pretty sneaky. It was always a treasure trove of characters when I would go in there with my dad, an eye full, an ear full, and some of these guys were so sweet. If they were down on their luck and they couldn’t pay the rent, my dad would let them work it off. We always had a lot of alcoholics cleaning up a shelf, or helping paint a wall, or cutting the grass, or something crazy.
So, Flannery Tavern was more than just a bar. It was a community center.
My dad was definitely much more of a social worker than a businessman. He was very compassionate to the alcoholic plight. He buried a lot of those customers. I can remember being at funerals where we were the only ones there, and there might be a niece, or a nephew, or one of the family members from the guy. It was just really interesting way of being of service because the pub really was a community. My dad, even though the neighborhood changed, didn’t want to give up on the people there. It was really his thinking.
In The Office, Meredith loved vodka. What’s your favorite drink?
It’s a tiki drink called the Nui Nui. It’s kind of like a Christmassy Mai Tai with cinnamon syrup, allspice liquor, a little vanilla syrup, and a spiced rum.
You’re a rum drinker, then?
I don’t drink it all the time, but every once in a while it’s really nice. I also like a Dark and Stormy.
Aside from boozing, what are you up to these days?
I did some indie movies this summer. One of them is actually going to Sundance, so I’m going to Sundance. I also have a comedy act called “The Lampshades,” and we’ve been playing quite a bit.
Do you stay in touch with the team from The Office?
We do. I just saw a bunch of people this past weekend. I feel like I’ve seen a bunch of Office people. I saw Ellie Kemper twice, I saw Ed Helms twice, all different days. I feel like it’s always like this. I’m always really happy when I see my Office friends.
Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey.