Scene Stealer Meredith Hagner Talks 'Search Party' Season 3 and 'Palm Springs' (Exclusive)

Meredith Hagner for Search Party. TBS/HBO Max
Meredith Hagner for Search Party. TBS/HBO Max

The actress opens up about the return of 'Search Party' on HBO Max, Portia's hair troubles and appearing in Andy Samberg’s new film.

After breaking out in 2017 as TV’s “Millennial It Girl,” Meredith Hagner makes good on the promise of her roles in everything from Search Party to Younger as the ultimate scene stealer with the return of the former on HBO Max after a three-year hiatus and the new Hulu film Palm Springs.

In Search Party, which is back with season 3, Hagner continues to play lovable narcissist Portia Davenport, who finds herself faced with the consequences of the accidental murder she and her friends covered up in season 1. With Dory (Alia Shawkat) and Drew (John Reynolds) on trial, Portia’s trust in the group, which also includes their self-absorbed bestie, Elliott (John Early), is tested as she’s forced to testify in court.  

“This season for me, as an actor, was the most demanding because you watch Portia in season 1 and she’s this kind of irreverent, narcissist millennial whose problems are pretty small considering. And then each season they just get bigger and bigger and bigger,” Hagner tells ET. “Playing someone who is such a deep people pleaser, who needs love and validation … and then having to be put on trial where she’s being pulled into so many different emotional directions, that for me was really exciting to play.”

While the “trial of the century” serves as the climax of the season, Portia’s journey to the courtroom was filled with many of her own trials and tribulations as she contemplated whether or not to flee New York City after the police zero in on them as suspects, found solace in a Christian group once the group leaves her behind, and became the target of Dory’s stalker and briefly kidnapped during Elliott’s would-be wedding day.  

When it comes to fleeing, Portia follows Elliott to the Hamptons where any really sound decision falls prey to fear. “That scene was so deeply funny because the idea that they would be like, ‘If we dye our hair black and just go to the center of a body of water, we’re safe,’” Hagner says, adding that the water was freezing and they were stuck in it for hours while filming the pair’s collective breakdown. 

John Early and Meredith Hagner in Search Party. HBO Max

While the scene called for Portia to dye her blonde locks black, the actress wore a wig. However, her hair wasn’t so lucky later in the season, when Portia is tied up in front of a cage of rats and covered in honey. Some takes of that scene featured actual honey being poured on her, while in others it was a shampoo that she says got everywhere. But for Hagner, the moment was truly a scary one -- and probably the most physically demanding moment of her time on the set of Search Party. “Suddenly my job is really easy to be believable in this moment because it was spooky,” she says. 

For as scary as that episode 8 moment was, it was also paired with the season’s funniest, when Portia is forced to keep singing Boyz II Men from the rafters as Elliott waits alone at the altar for his fiancé to walk down the aisle. For Hagner, who can actually sing in real life, it was a fun opportunity to play up Portia’s white girl tendencies by performing the song (on repeat) as “super inflected with white girl rifts that are so bad.”    

Looking back on season 3, Hagner says, “The response has been so great and I'm so proud.” And thankfully for fans, the show has already been renewed for season 4, which they’ve already filmed. When it comes to what’s next, the actress teases that Search Party “flips everything on its back to realize how they are now bonded through their trauma more than ever.” 

Meredith Hagner and Andy Samberg in Palm Springs. Hulu

In addition to Search Party, Hagner is also part of the ensemble cast of Palm Springs alongside stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as well as J.K Simmons, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin and Peter Gallagher. The Groundhog Day-like film tells the story of a chance encounter between Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) at a wedding in the California town. Hagner plays Nyles' girlfriend, Misty, who gets an unexpected amount of screen time thanks to the resetting of the film’s opening scene. 

While reading the script written by Andy Siara, she says she couldn’t put it down. “Everyone’s been a part of projects where the movie doesn’t end up living up to what the script was, but I think this just exceeded it,” she says, adding that her character was so much fun to play because she doesn't know she’s in the loop Nyles and Sarah are experiencing. 

When it came to filming her scenes over and over again, Hagner says she tried to give as much variation and let the creative team decide what to use in the final edit. “I probably did it a bajillion different ways,” she muses, noting that Misty is not that dissimilar from Portia. They’re both in this privileged world, “but obviously, this is a different take on it.”

Search Party season 3 is now streaming on HBO Max, while Palm Springs is available on Hulu and at select drive-ins nationwide.