Inspired by a popular Twitter account, Netflix's latest adult cartoon, Chicago Party Aunt, takes the Windy City to a whole new level. Superstore star and Second City alumna Lauren Ash plays the titular character, Diane Dunbrowski. She's the life of the party and never wants to grow up in a city known for drinking and carousing, among other things.
Drag icon RuPaul Charles voices hairdresser Gideon, Dunbrowski's co-worker at a salon called Borough. Chicago native Jill Talley plays conservative sister Bonnie, and brings an impressive background of voice work to the show as a main cast member for SpongeBob SquarePants and The Loud House, to name a few.
Rory O'Malley stars as Daniel, Diane's gay nephew. He's a Tony-nominated performer for The Book of Mormon; his other stage credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and Hamilton. He's no stranger to the world of animation, having previously appeared in South Park and Central Park before Chicago Party Aunt.
O'Malley's personal life reads like a page straight out of a storybook as he married his prince in 2014 and adopted a son, Jimmy, in 2019.
Windy City Times: Hi, Rory. You are originally from Cleveland, Ohio?
Rory O'Malley: That is correct. I grew up there.
WCT: Had you spent much time in Chicago in the past?
ROM: I have a lot of family living there right now. I was raised Irish Catholic with family everywhere, but I have two brothers-in-law and tons of cousins who live in Chicago. I had my college auditions at the Palmer House Hotel. I have been to Boystown several times and sang karaoke in that neighborhood. I love Chicago and I am glad to be a part of a show that is a love letter to the entire city.
WCT: Roscoe's Tavern is on the show.
ROM: Well, you can't have a show that takes place in Chicago with a gay character and not talk about Roscoe's.
WCT: How did you become a part of Chicago Party Aunt in the first place?
ROM: I auditioned. I have done voiceover work for years and knew the casting director Julie Ashton. I am so grateful that she had me come in for the audition. I saw in the audition room a bunch of actors that all identified as gay. Without being told, I knew they were trying to find a gay actor to play this role. That meant so much to me because I think it is important for gay actors to play gay roles. It was important to them and has made this an even better experience for me.
WCT: Do you have a favorite aunt in real life?
ROM: I have many aunts, so I don't think I can publicly declare one as a favorite. My mom was one of seven. I have a bunch of aunts that are related to me and many that aren't. I was raised by a pack of women who all took care of each other. My mom was a single mother, so she had a lot of help. The women worked nine to five jobs, then knew how to party on the weekends. They spent a lot of time at Irish pubs listening to the music there on Saturday afternoons.
WCT: Did you record the show at your home or in the studio?
ROM: I recorded it mostly at home. I did the first episode in the studio and then the pandemic hit. I recorded them in my garage that is converted into an office space and a laundry room.
The perfect spot is right by the washer and dryer. I just hung up a bunch of blankets from the ceiling to make it quiet. I would lock myself in there and my husband would watch my two-and-a-half-year-old son.
They sent me a microphone and I have recorded every episode over the computer talking with our director and other actors. I have learned to be a sound engineer, which is very difficult and I have a new respect for anyone that knows how to work a soundboard.
WCT: How was seeing yourself made into a cartoon?
ROM: It was amazing. I love voiceover work because it is a collaboration unlike any other. You are not just working with a director and a writer. You are working with artists that are drawing and creating everything about the character. It is a symbiotic relationship where I would see some of their work and then put it into my voice work. It is helpful to have so many people creating one character.
On a stage, it is just you on your own. Having so many people create Daniel was a dream.
WCT: Tell our readers about Daniel.
ROM: Daniel is a very sweet, bright, nervous, anxious, 18-year-old gay boy. He has always done the right thing and his parents are pretty strict. They are rule followers and want what's best for Daniel. He is about to go to Stanford after being accepted but realizes that he's always done what others have always wanted him to.
Luckily, he has Aunt Diane, who he decides to live with for a year and learn some lessons that he wouldn't learn from a professor, like keg stands and how to party.
He can come out of his shell and there is no better person to help him do that than his Aunt Diane.
WCT: [The] "Would you care to kiss?" line is so funny on the show.
ROM: I have played characters like Richie Cunningham. Anytime they did a pasty, white nerd, they call me. That is how Daniel is. I am so happy to portray a gay character who is a nerd, who isn't always great with a comeback or particularly snarky with his humor. He says dorky things all the time.
He is so sweet and really does love his aunt. He admires her for not caring about what anyone else thinks. He lets her push him to become better and expand his horizons.
WCT: Can we have some scenes with your character and RuPaul in the second season?
ROM: Yes. There is a Halloween episode where we cross paths, but there's much more in the future where Daniel and Gideon are together. It's because I demanded it. If RuPaul is in a show then I need to be in every scene with RuPaul!
It was really so I could get RuPaul to give me Drag Race spoilers. I was watching his show when I was making this one and I wanted to influence his decisions with the winner.
It is an embarrassment of riches to work with this cast and all of them are amazing, but RuPaul, come on, I was "gagged" as the kids say…
WCT: How different is your experience with Chicago Party Aunt compared with Central Park?
ROM: Central Park is such an awesome show. Because it is a musical, it is often about learning the songs. The songs are a big part of the story. When I go into a recording session I have to make sure I am warmed up and can hit certain notes. There is a different kind of preparation.
With Chicago Party Aunt I am just playing and having fun. Our showrunner Matt Craig is extraordinary and a great guy.
Our writers Chris Witaske, Katie Rich and Jon Barinholtz are friends. Going into a recording session with them is just like hanging out with your buddies. It is a little party and they are so kind to me. To have that creativity with me during the pandemic was a gift. I don't take it for granted at all.
WCT: The Hamilton fans are on a different level than some. Is there one particular story that sticks out for you about them?
ROM: I replaced Jonathan Groff when he left the show from the original Broadway company. One time I was signing autographs at the stage door and I hear, "Jonathan Groff was better and you suck!" I turn around and it was my husband heckling me. All the girls there were shocked and, of course, my husband thinks it's ridiculous for anyone to want my autograph. He wanted to make fun of me. That would be the worst, my husband.
WCT: Is there one musical that you would like to be in, but haven't yet?
ROM: Anything by Sondheim, like Sweeney Todd. I don't think they will let Richie Cunningham be in that musical, but maybe one day.
WCT: What are your future projects?
ROM: I am doing more Central Park episodes and I am doing Hamilton right now. I have a show tonight. We just opened a new company here in Los Angeles. We have been waiting a year and a half to finally open. I am so happy to be back and having audiences come in.
Oh, and my two-and-a-half-year-old keeps me busy.
WCT: Being locked down together must have been challenging.
ROM: Yes, this show kept me sane, because I had to take breaks from the toddler inside my house and be creative. This show means so much to me because of that.
WCT: Talk about Broadway Impact.
ROM: Broadway Impact is an organization I started with my Broadway buddy Gavin Creel. We worked with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to bring about marriage equality. This was before I was married. It was in response to Prop 8 when we did protests. We wanted to organize the Broadway community to make a change. It grew into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. We did letter writings in every state and then produced a play by Dustin Lance Black called 8. It was produced in Chicago and across the country. It became fundraisers for marriage equality.
I'm married now, but It wasn't all about me. It was amazing to be a part of something that worked. It shows you what artists are capable of when they use their influence to bring about positive change, especially in the gay community. When the gay community needs to take care of each other it does the right thing and comes together. I was proud to be a part of that!
Netflix.com streams Chicago Party Aunt starting Friday, Sept. 17, with eight episodes. The second half of episodes is expected to follow soon.