By Greg Archer
Originally published on Advocate.com October 10 2008 12:00 AM ET
If Debra Messing
isn’t already asking herself the following question,
others might be for her: How in the world do you bounce back
into television after the series you previously
starred in redefined how gays were portrayed on
television and became one of the hottest sitcoms of the
decade? With a little will and a hell of a lot grace,
No doubt Messing,
who nabbed an Emmy for her role as Grace Adler on
NBC’s Will & Grace, is up the
challenge with The Starter Wife. The new show
unspools tonight on USA Network.
Based on last
summer’s popular miniseries, it marks
Messing’s official return to weekly television.
She reprises her role as Molly Kagan, the tossed-aside
wife of a nefarious Hollywood titan. As Molly struggles to
redefine herself as a budding writer and suddenly single
mom, she leans on best friend Rodney, once again
played by Chris Diamantopoulos (He’s the
straight-hunk-playing-gay to watch out for this fall).
Judy Davis is
also back -- she nabbed an Emmy for her role as boozing
Joan in the miniseries.
Messing says there’s plenty to adore in Molly, an
endearing, looking-for-a-twist-of-fate character
everybody can relate to. Truth be told, if
there’s anybody who can win people over --again --
it’s Messing. Likened to Lucille Ball when
Will & Grace premiered a decade ago,
she has managed to emerge as a latter-day Carol
Burnett (for the physical comedy) by way of Mary Tyler Moore
(a good girl looking to create more good) with traces
of Penny Marshall (stellar comedic timing à la
Advocate.com:Molly is a great character. So how choosy were you
after Will & Grace ended and why did you
land on this character?Debra Messing: I told everybody in my life that
I wasn’t going to look at a script for six months
after Will & Grace because I needed to mourn and
let it go, give it the time it was due. And then my agent,
three months into that, handed me six hours of scripts
for [The Starter Wife] miniseries. I couldn’t
deny the writing. For me, it’s always the
writing. I related to Molly. Obviously she was very
very far away from Grace, which was interesting to me.
But she’s funny too. I loved that the humor was satirical in regard
to how Hollywood is revealed -- less
sophisticated and deep values. There was something
incredibly traumatic about the crisis Molly was going
through -- being stripped of her identity, being
stripped of an entire community, and having to start
all over again. It didn’t occur to me until halfway
through the [miniseries] shoot in Australia that, in a way,
I was going through a similar type of milestone with
the end of Will & Grace. Molly had a 10-year
marriage; I had eight years on Will &
Grace, and even though we chose to end Will
& Grace, it was in my eyes a very
traumatic ending, and my identity was very much tied up in
that show and that role.
So what really stands out for you in that process
of decompressing, of letting go of Will & Grace? Oh, boy! I think it was actually ... me
just getting in touch with my creative hunger. I felt
creatively that we had done everything that we could
possibly do on Will & Grace, and we were
very proud of it. But we were starting to repeat, so I
wasn’t feeling inspired or challenged. I was
going elsewhere and doing movies on the side. Then,
when I had time to ask, "OK, what muscles do I want to
flex?" suddenly I was paralyzed with the freedom to choose
... because I wasn’t really in tune with any of
those feelings. Up until that point, I wasn’t
really able to indulge them. I realized that, for me, I
needed to go away. I went to a little cabin with my family
in Cape Cod, where it was completely quiet. There was
no TV, no cell phones. It was in the middle of the
woods on a lake, and after spending a significant
amount of time there, the little voice inside of me began to
speak again on what I was excited about, about what I
was looking to do down the road, which at the time was
doing another play.
You gave yourself space. That’s good. Yeah, well, because there is so much chatter, so
much noise. And I think with the BlackBerries and the
iPhones, we communicate constantly and we are expected
accomplish 10 times as much in a day than 10 years ago, and
as a result there really is no breathing room or thinking
What is the best thing about playing Molly, now
that you’re doing it in a series? I love that she doesn’t have the answers.
She doesn’t know what’s going to make
her happy. She doesn’t know how she is going to be
self-sufficient. She doesn’t know if she ever is
going to love again or to share custody as a newly
divorced mother. Everything is unknown to her, and
that is really interesting to me.
You’re also on board as executive producer. It’s fascinating. If you’re a star
of a show, if you’re unhappy, people care, but
they don’t necessarily do something about it. Whereas
... if you are executive producer, if you’re
not happy with the trajectory of the show, then it has
to be addressed on some level. In the beginning I felt
that it was a security blanket, but immediately I got fully
entrenched in it. And it’s something I discovered
that I am good at -- looking at the larger picture and
keeping a keen eye out for detail, looking for ways to
strengthen the copy even when it’s not my own.
It’s sort of a left-brain, right-brain thing.
I’m sort of using it all right now. It’s
really exhausting but also very satisfying.
You and Chris Diamantopoulos work well off of each
other. How does that feel -- playing opposite another
gay character, especially since the last you did
it you struck gold? You know, it’s like that old sock
feeling. It just feels familiar. Chris is such an
extraordinary persona and dynamic actor that it was
incredibly important to me that he come back for the
series because the chemistry was there. And the
character he created was specific and relatable, and
he has some kinks about him and you could laugh at him.
Rodney is very different from Will, but it’s
not about trying to replicate that. We wanted to try
to show reality. It would not be a real representation of
Hollywood if there weren’t at least one gay character
in the core of the leading actors.
You and the other cast members of Will & Grace
were part of a cultural phenomenon. The series
presented gay characters in a way we had not seen
them portrayed on television before. Do you have any
thoughts on the shows that are on today and if you
feel there could be more representation of LGBT
characters on network TV? Well, for full disclosure, I don’t watch
a lot of prime-time shows on network TV, so it would
be unfair to say anything definitive, but I will say
there’s always room for more representation. There
can never be too much representation. I am more proud
of the effect the show Will & Grace had on the
community at large. And people’s awareness and
expansion. I’m more proud of all of that than
anything to do with the show. I do feel that for all of us
who have the privilege of working right now on TV and
having any kind of influence or any kind of say on the
context of a show, that we do what we can to make sure
lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender characters are
always represented in a way that is multifaceted as
the straight characters. That’s what
we’ve done with Chris’s character, Rodney.
From the beginning of the new episodes, he’s
fully involved in a love affair and it’s very
complicated because it’s with somebody who is
closeted, and it’s really dealt with head on.
And I’m really proud of it because it’s a
relationship that you really care about when you watch it.
You must have thoughts on gay marriage in California? Spectacular. I mean, years ago the cast of
Will & Grace did a PSA independent of
NBC, and that was when the gay marriage vote was
brought up and unfortunately thrown down, so this has
been something that I’ve been waiting to see. And
celebrate. It’s about time. I have friends that
have been together for 15 years, and they just got
married and it’s just fantastic. It’s
wonderful to be a part of when you are living in this
time when such massive change is occurring.
So what are you most amused by these days? Gosh -- not much right now. I am more perplexed
and concerned about the state of our country and the
upcoming election and very concerned about making sure
that Obama is elected, and honestly, I am very anxious these
days ... because I feel that this is the most important
election in my lifetime. So that’s really where
my head is when I’m not working and trying to
make people laugh.
Then you must also have thoughts on Senator
McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin? You know, I was just flabbergasted. Honestly.
She is clearly a very dynamic and powerful speaker and
has an amazing story -- very unique. But it’s a
... ugh ... tragedy ... that she is on the ticket! There are
so many other Republicans who are much more qualified
and much more responsible and much more educated on
foreign policy and the environment. I think
it’s reprehensible and terrifying that she could very
much be the person in charge of taking office.
I’m hoping that since it’s such an
absurd idea, that for the people who were on the fence with
Obama, it will clarify things for them.
Here’s to having an LGBT member on the ticket someday. Oh, absolutely!
So, what’s the best advice you’ve been
given about life? Trust your gut.
And what’s the most interesting thing
you’ve learned about yourself lately? That I am stronger than I thought I was.