Exit Interview: Kate Flannery

Booze has long been a friend to Kate Flannery — from her family’s bar, T.A. Flannery’s, in Center City, to those make-ends-meet bartending jobs in Hollywood, and now in her role as Meredith, the resident drunk on NBC’s The Office. The 43-year-old actress is pleased to report that she’s not really an alcoholic. She’s also thrilled that her workplace only pretends to be crazy, unlike one that Exit Interview is all too familiar with.

Have you drawn inspiration for Meredith from folks you knew back in Philly? Absolutely. Philadelphia is not afraid of drinkers. I feel like I’ve worked with a lot of Merediths. As a bartender and a waitress, I’ve served a lot of Merediths.

Did you really keep your waitressing gig throughout the show’s first season? Yeah. The day I left, my boss said, “We were going to get you a cake, but you’ll be back.” I’ve been a customer, but I have not picked up that extra shift.

When you visit your family’s bar, do you live up to your character’s image and get really bombed? [laughs] I feel like such a disappointment because I’m not really a big drinker anymore. I’m too old to do that. But I’ve had my days.

You’re never drunk on the show? No. But the last time I did the 10! show, they gave me a real drink at 10 o’clock in the morning. I thought it was a joke and took a big swig. Only in Philadelphia.

You also did the NBC 10 “Fit Fest” at the Convention Center, which sounds like a comic-book convention but instead of nerds, there are senior citizens. And the underprivileged. But I was so happy to sign autographs with Cherie Bank and Terry Ruggles, these reporters I grew up watching. But I was also with Lainie Kazan and the guy who lost 135 pounds on The Biggest Loser. It was like some weird new vaudeville. I have to say, people smelled like booze at the Fit Fest. I felt so comfortable.

Do fans pester you with outrageous stories from their own jobs? People tell me they have a Meredith in their office. Or they’re the Meredith in the office and they want me to high-five them. [laughs] I’m like, “Go for it, honey! Good luck with that hangover!”

I have a couple ideas for story lines that are ripped right out of an office I’m very familiar with. Here’s one: The boss character starts working out and insists that everyone check out his “guns,” which leads him to take off his shirt frequently. [laughs heartily] Wow! That’s great. I’d be happy to relay that, with your permission. That’s amazing.

Here’s another: To boost staff morale, the boss institutes an office “tackling policy,” which ends abruptly when his petite female assistant takes him out and injures him. [more laughter] Oh my God. You are living in Scranton!

In the episodes when you flashed your “tatas,” as Meredith would say, did you use a tatas double? No double, baby. My parents were so proud. I waited until five minutes before it aired to tell my Dad, because if I gave him time, he would freak out.

Did he handle it well? Surprisingly, yes. Although he wrote me a letter: “Dear Kate. Stop taking your shirt off. Love, Dad.” There was a stamp of the pope on it. I actually spoke at Archbishop Carroll’s career day. It was such an honor. One of the kids made a “best of” reel, and thank God, they didn’t show me topless.

What could they show? Boozing? Your monologue about your vagina? It was all boozing. They actually asked if I could let everyone know that my success is based on going to Catholic school.

“My role as a loathsome, drunk exhibitionist is all thanks to my Catholic education.” Right! But so much of being a performer and hanging in there depends on faith and your attitude. People don’t want to work with the bitter. I’ve seen it. I’ve been that person.

And I’m sure learning to hide a stash of alcohol in your desk began in Catholic school. [laughs] I did steal Cold Duck [sparkling wine] going to the Mann Music Center to see Hall & Oates in 1982. … Man, I have to write down those [story] ideas. The whole fitness thing with the guns — my God! That is so dead on! Oh my God. Just between you and me — is this your Philly Mag boss?

Yes. We’re convinced your writers are watching us on hidden cameras. Has someone taken a crap on his carpet yet?

Not yet. God bless you. That’s insane.