Scroll To Top

Messing Around

Messing Around


Forget Grace Adler (for a minute). Suddenly, Debra Messing wants to become everybody's favorite desperate ex-housewife with her big return to the small screen in The Starter Wife.

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, perhaps.

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.

Meanwhile, 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 a la The Women). 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 room.

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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Greg Archer