ABOVE: Debra Messing and Eric McCormack have always been the heart of the show, portraying an enduring cornerstone of the LGBT community: a gay man and his straight, female best friend.
The actors had just wrapped up the flurry of a photo shoot. For hours, the studio space was filled with the lively bustle of publicists, producers, makeup artists, assistants, photographers, and editors. The Will & Grace stars were still dressed in their attire from the shoot. The men wore suits without ties, in the favored style of Barack Obama. Messing glimmered in a dress of red, orange, black, and purple. Mullally chose a black dress with a dramatic frill. A trim McCormack had just snagged a piece of cake from the studio’s own kitchen, remarking how he “can’t believe” he was eating dessert at a photo shoot for The Advocate.
It was more than nostalgia that had convinced these actors to resume their iconic roles. The joyful response to the election video was key. And there were other issues to consider. “Lighting!” joked McCormack. “Money!” said Mullally. Mutchnick laughed. “I never thought we should have stopped the first time,” Mullally declared in a serious tone.
“Look at all the things you’ve got to do over these years that have been wonderful. And now we’re coming back!” Messing acknowledged. “Good point,” Mullally conceded, whose interim productions included 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers, and G.B.F.
There was also the election.
“Because of what was happening in our country and what has happened since the election, it felt necessary and urgent to me,” said Messing. Earlier this year, the actor-activist gave a fiery speech at the GLAAD Media Awards, urging Ivanka Trump to advocate for marginalized people. “It’s not enough to simply say that women’s issues are important to you. It’s time to do something,” she told the first daughter.
So, is Will & Grace part of the Resistance?
“Yeah!” declared Mullally and Messing in unison.
“We shot that election video thinking, hilarious, because Hillary’s going to win, so who cares?” Mullally said. “It’s just an extra thing we were doing just for fun. And who could have known Donald Trump would win?”
“It’s funny, though, to think that these characters leading normal lives like any other human being would be considered resisting. What are we resisting? If resistance is happiness, then we’re the Resistance,” Hayes said.
“The sad and crazy part is this should all be de rigueur by now,” said McCormack, marveling at how a series with queer leads can still be revolutionary in 2017. In today’s climate, he said Will & Grace “feels more necessary than ever.”
“Just the very act of doing this feels like we’re resisting, taking a chance on America again and seeing if they’re going to show up,” McCormack added. He referenced the challenges of a new media landscape, where a clip of a laughing Chewbacca-masked mom accrued millions more views than their election video.
But the cast is hopeful that America will show up — and that the progress Will & Grace helped usher into the country’s culture will not be rolled back.
“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. And people — many, many people — around the world have reached a certain degree of enlightenment and continued to grow and evolve. That can’t be stopped,” Mullally declared.
“White men in the government, you’re on your way out,” said Mullally, pointing out how white men account for a declining percentage of the U.S. population. “So here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”
The cast bursts out laughing. “That has to be in there,” Messing nudged.
Will & Grace had its own role to play in helping society reach “a certain degree of enlightenment.” From 1998 to 2006, the sitcom broadcasted queer characters during another conservative period: 9/11, the Iraq War, and the majority of the George W. Bush administration. Every episode was directed by James Burrows, who is also returning for the reboot.
Former vice president Joe Biden, while announcing his support for marriage equality on NBC’s Meet the Press in 2012, had his own assessment of this impact. “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public [on LGBT issues] than almost anything anybody has ever done so far,” he said.
For the cast of Will & Grace, Biden’s statement was “a moment of validation,” Messing said. “I just was gobsmacked. Besides the birth of my son, I think that was the proudest moment of my life.”
Mullally called it a “moment of clarity” for the actors, who in 1998 couldn’t conceive of their ability to move the needle for social change, let alone marriage equality. Hayes agreed: “That [statement] makes you realize, I was involved in something bigger than any of us,” he said.
Mutchnick and Kohan were “proud” that Biden would credit Will & Grace with changing hearts and minds about gay people. “If the show had anything to do with that, it’s incredibly gratifying,” Kohan said.
Afterward, the cocreators sent a Will & Grace box set to Biden with a note: “We assume you already have this, so you should take your old set, give it to the president, and you should keep this new set,” it read, recounted Mutchnick. At the time, President Obama had yet to “evolve” to support same-sex marriage. That phrasing and timing still rankles Mutchnick.
“I’ve always found the statement of ‘evolving’ on the issue to be totally homophobic,” he said. “I think it’s as bad as any insult you can make to a minority. Could you imagine if I ever said to the president of the United States that I was evolving on race issues?”