Megan Mullally’s survival tips for meeting your in-laws
The actress meets every mother’s nightmare in her new film, Why Him, so she offered EW a guide to wooing your honey’s parents.
In her new film Why Him? (out in theaters Friday), Megan Mullally — who is married to Nick Offerman in real life and Bryan Cranston on screen — meets every mother’s nightmare (played by James Franco). So EW asked her to share some tips on winning over your significant other’s parents, from what to wear to how to handle controversial conversation topics, whether or not to drink, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the movie, your daughter’s boyfriend (Franco) doesn’t exactly impress you and your husband (Cranston).
MEGAN MULLALLY: He’s absolutely, 100 percent wrong in every possible way. The only thing that’s right is that he really loves [our daughter], so that’s the best thing to get right. It’s just that everything else he does is wrong and he’s trying so hard to make a good impression, but his idea of how to do that is so completely foreign to the Flemings.
Let’s talk about meeting parents the right way. How should you dress?
You should definitely stay true to your own style. You shouldn’t try to be somebody you’re not, but I would err on the side of being a little more nicely turned out than just a T-shirt and flip-flops.
Should you go formal when addressing the in-laws?
Nick is 11 and a half years younger than I am, so his mom is only, like, 11 or 12 years older than me. I didn’t call her Mrs. Offerman because that would be weird because we’re, like, the same age, so I think I went straight to Cathy, but there’s a mom element and his parents are so great. They’re both great, but his father is definitely very sweet and paternal with me even though he’s like a year older [laughs]. No, he’s more than a year older. I would say if you’re the same age as your paramour, you should maybe do the Mr.-and-Mrs. thing.
Thoughts on bringing a gift?
I guess if you’re going over for dinner you could bring a bottle of wine or some flowers, but I wouldn’t do backflips. I think it’s weird. You haven’t even met them yet! It seems obsequious.
If a controversial subject comes up, should you approach it with caution or avoid it?
I wouldn’t be combative about anything, but I think you have to stand your ground and, again, you have to stay true to yourself and not back down and be like, “Oh my God, no, I love Trump!” At the same time, I think it’s probably better to sort of just gently skirt around it — especially at family gatherings, you don’t want to get into it — but I feel like if you’re one-on-one or two-on-one or in a smaller group, then there can be a discussion.
You can say, “Wow, I really don’t understand how you could, I don’t get it, why did you vote for so-and-so?” I think you can be honest; it’s better to. We’re not going to pretend and, of course, if somebody is trying to force their beliefs on you that’s a whole other thing, but I don’t have that in my personal experience. I have really, really nice in-laws.
What is the secret there? Just having nice in-laws?
Yeah, Nick’s just from this very Norman Rockwell-ish family. They’re very “American Gothic” and his parents are so kind and they’re not brash people; they’re very soft spoken, salt of the Earth. They’re good people and Nick has two sisters and a brother and they’re all really great. He’s got a really big extended family also. The first time I met his family it was overwhelming. It was the first Christmas when we were together and I went to his hometown and it was just me and 40 Offermans and Roberts.
Do you have any specific advice for approaching cultural differences? Do you study up or learn things naturally?
No, I’m not going to study up on anything. I grew up in Oklahoma and honestly there was a lot of crossover. They like to fish and my aunt and uncle used to take me fishing when I was younger. I fished at the beginning, but I don’t do it anymore because it kind of bums me out. I understand it, and I understand what’s kind of beautiful and relaxing about it, I just don’t want to actually catch a fish or have a fish die on my [watch].
In terms of the first Christmas when I met everybody, I went over to Nick’s grandfather’s house where they were having the big Christmas dinner and they have this tradition of this thing called oyster stew. It’s so gross that I almost died and everybody has to eat it because that’s the thing that they do and so the first year I had one sip and was like, “Mmm, delicious” and then after that I was just like, “You guys, that stuff is gross.” And they all know it’s gross and they think it’s hilarious, but they love it and they eat it.
How complimentary do you think somebody should be? You don’t want to go overboard, but that can help create a bond and get somebody on your side a little bit.
Definitely, but I feel like I’m like that with everybody. It’s nice to be generous with everybody and say “I love your dress,” “Your house is so cute,” whatever it is, so I think I’m the same way with my in-laws. That’s just a nice rule in general. It doesn’t hurt you to compliment somebody.
What about PDA?
I’m pretty PDA-ish, and I think Nick is too. Nick’s parents are very affectionate and really sweet with each other and his father is always saying how pretty Nick’s mom is and talking about this beautiful girl that he married and Nick is the same way with me. I think it’s so sweet, so Nick and I, we’re not [having] full-on make-out sessions right in front of his parents, but just hugging a lot or sitting next to each other and holding hands. I don’t understand that thing about no public displays of affection. I think that’s kind of a weird distancing mechanism.
How do you handle insults or rudeness? Do you brush it off, or address it head on?
I think I would brush it off in the moment. It’s never happened in my case with the Offermans, but if it was something really bad, something egregious, then later you could address it in an email or on the phone, or something like that…after some time has passed.
If you just started dating someone, you’ve been dating for like two months and you meet their parents and somebody says something then that’s just a red flag. I think you could be like, “Maybe this isn’t the right person for me.” If you’ve been together for six years and somebody says something then I think you’re within your rights to be like, “Wait a minute, what’s happening?”
Keep drinking to a minimum, or don’t drink at all?
I don’t think you have to not drink at all — unless you’re, like, 14, in eighth grade, and you’re meeting their parents, then I would not get s—faced. If you’re grown up, I don’t think you have to act like, “Oh, no, no, no, none for me.” Again, you should just be yourself, but not act like a jackass.
Are there any other tips or tricks that you’ve used to win over in-laws in the past, with Nick or previous relationships?
Outside of sexual favors? No, I don’t know. Nick is much better at that kind of thing than I am. It’s hard for me to be as ingratiating. I just try to be myself and have normal conversations and be curious and listen to what the other person is saying, just like any other interpersonal interaction.