After her appearance in this summer’s “Instagram” movie Ingrid Goes West, a recurring role on TV Land’s Younger, and her cutting portrayal of Portia—an aspiring actress turned murder suspect on the beloved TBS comedy Search Party—you should really know the hilarious and outrageous Meredith Hagner by now. In Search Party, Hagner plays the tragicomic Portia with surprising vulnerability, somehow striking a balance between a typical twenty-something brunch pal of costars Alia Shawkat, John Early, and John Reynolds, and a manipulative narcissist who is obsessed with her own self-image and performativity of grief.
In a revealing scene from the show’s first season, the gang gathers around the dinner table of a Brooklyn cult of sorts—hosted by guest star Parker Posey—and are asked to reveal their feelings. Portia is moved to open up, warbling to the party guests, “I think that you don’t have to be one kind of woman. I think I should be able to get my nails painted and also be smart. A lot of people don’t really think I’m that smart, and I think that’s frustrating because I think I’m my own kind of smart.” It’s a sign that Portia is more than just the ditzy sidekick of the bunch.
After searching and finding Chantal Winterbottom—the missing college acquaintance who no one was really friends with in the first place—the gang’s journey shifts from millennial Nancy Drew shenanigans to surreal Hitchcock thriller status in Search Party‘s second season, which premiered Sunday night. “It was fun exploring Portia’s dark side,” said Hagner. “The funniest things are actually really sad. There’s so much in Portia that is me and my experience. In season one you start to watch her come into her own and have these moments of, ‘Hey, I’m not a doormat.’ In season two she gets cracked open like an egg by these experiences.”
Because Portia and her friends commit an actual crime in this season’s opening episode, the stakes grow as the episodes unfold. The gang’s dependence on their self-obsessed mode of existence is still satirized, but it remains a paranoiac force with which they must all reckon. In an upcoming scene in the darker season 2, Portia’s journey as an actress is tested when she is manipulated by a sleazy director played by Jay Duplass. “Do you have your phone on you, by any chance?” he asks. He proceeds to invade Portia’s privacy and manipulate her relationship to her frenemies and the digital world.
The scene shows Portia as a character who, at times, can be quite misguided. “I have such empathy for her and I love her so much as a character and as a person, even though she’s an amalgamation of all actresses I’ve known including myself,” Hagner said.
In person and out of character, Hagner is still a delightful comic presence; she can often be found improvising impressions of Valerie Cherish from HBO’s The Comeback with screen partner John Early in between takes on set of Search Party. And, sure, she checks her Instagram every five seconds and gossips at brunch like the millennial she portrays, but the actress is not the outright narcissist she plays onscreen. Here, Hagner explains her techniques and tactics for pulling off some of her own social media detective work, and what Portia would do if she ever got a taste of Instagram fame.
In season one, your Search Party character becomes unwittingly involved in the search for a missing college friend. In one episode Portia uses her internet-savvy to blackmail a deserving suspect. Do you do any Instagram sleuthing?
If anyone says they don’t do Instagram stalking, they’re lying. Everyone does, right? I love to Instagram stalk; I’ll go down such a deep well of someone I knew from high school, then I see the tagged photos and I’m looking at their dog walker, and now I’m looking at their aunt. I go so deep down a well, but I think everyone does, right? Or maybe not, and this is a moment where I need to have an intervention.
I follow every step of hers. We do the same thing. Me and Kim, we get confused all the time.
How’d you choose your @?
It was a nickname. My nickname was “weasel” and then @merediththeweasel felt very natural. Because someone was like, “You remind me of a weasel.”
What was your first post on Instagram?
I love looking at people’s first posts because you can tell a lot about them. It’s so cringey! I’m on vacation in Aruba with my family, and I’m like doing a backflip into the water. It’s cool because it’s genuine, I’m not trying to be sarcastic!
We all used so many filters back then. They were much simpler times, right?
I know! Also, I’m so sarcastic with my humor that it’s actually refreshing to know that at one point I would post something and be genuine about it. Just having a great time!
How many times a day do you check your Instagram?
I’m really trying to reduce the amount of time I check my Instagram! I think it’s upwards of 2 million times that I check my phone.
How many times do you post?
Once every few days, but I check 2 million times.
How do you think your Search Party character, Portia, would handle Instagram fame?
Portia would live for Instagram fame! If she could have one true success in life, I think if it was Instagram fame she could die happy. Truly.
Do you have a go-to selfie tip?
I don’t know how to do selfies so that they’re attractive, so I don’t have any tips. Whenever I take them, I’m never happy. So I do a lot from a low angle so that you can get like four chins, but I have a good side! I do a lot of left-sided photos.
What pisses you off on social media?
I honestly think that the mean people on social media are despicable! I’m sure someone will write someone mean, like, “she looks like something from the bottom of the drain.” Those people are doing the worst thing you can do on Instagram.
What’s the best #TBT you’ve ever posted?
Now there’s the whole Nick Kroll #puberme thing, which is totally amazing, but I posted one a long time ago of me when I was 16, and it is horrifying. When actors are like, “I went through a really awkward phase!” and they’re, like, perfect? No, I really did.
Name three of your favorite Instagram accounts to follow.
I like to follow niche people in documentaries. Did you ever see The Queen of Versailles? I love Jackie Siegel’s Instagram. It’s terrific, I highly recommend following her, it’s very funny. I like watching documentaries and then following people from those documentaries on Instagram. It’s authentic. Tommy Buckett, who does my hair in addition to a lot of people’s hair, has a very funny Instagram. My boyfriend’s Instagram is funny! It’s private, but it’s very “dad humor.”
How do you unplug?
It’s weird, we do live in a time where it’s unacceptable for people to unplug. For social media, I just will not check it, but it’s really hard. I put my phone on airplane mode!
Getting to Know Search Party’s Meredith Hagner in One Minute: