The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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The Will & Grace Revival Isn't Just Nostalgia, It's Necessity

03 Will Grace

ABOVE: Having bi actor Megan Mullally and gay actor Sean Hayes portray characters audiences have known for years adds more than just authenticity to the show.

Now, the United States has a far more conservative administration, whom many fear will devolve LGBT rights. Would the cocreators send President Trump a box set, to change a heart and mind once again?

“I don’t think there’s a heart and a mind to win over in the White House right now,” Kohan said.

“I’m not looking forward to any attention from this president,” said Mutchnick, adding, “I don’t think it would be good for the show.” Trump has a history of hostile engagement with the media, including NBC. He regularly tweeted about the last season of The Apprentice, where he served as an executive producer. Trump also targeted Saturday Night Live, which regularly lampoons the president.

And Will & Grace, having aligned itself with Clinton in the campaign video, may stir far-right furor on social media, presidential or otherwise. The cast said they refuse to engage with trolls. “I just block them,” said Messing, who called engaging with them historically a “disappointing” and “dark” experience.

But according to its co-creators, Will & Grace does not have a political agenda. “We went out of our way to not get caught up in anything that was going on socially, politically, legally,” said Mutchnick of the show’s original run. The queer identities of the characters weren’t acts intended to change attitudes. Rather, they were “drawn from our lives and our situations and our experiences,” Kohan said.

“We didn’t want to write about ideas. We wanted to write about characters,” said Mutchnick. The cast also agreed that the show’s focus on characters was the secret to its magic.

“This show is about friendship. And I think first and foremost, this show is a comedy and it was successful in being a comedy,” stated Mullally. She said the characters’ sexuality “was one aspect of them as human beings. We never politicized the issue. It was just part of life.”

“We have chemistry. That’s just a fact, and you can’t force that and you can’t predict it,” Messing added. “And then you have the writing that found that brilliant, beautiful balance that kept it funny all the time, and made every one of these characters lovable.”

The actors traveled their own roads in raising LGBT visibility. In a 1999 interview with The Advocate, Mullally declared, “I consider myself bisexual, and my philosophy is, everyone innately is.” She and her husband, Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman, have been together for 17 years and often do very political, sexy, and progressive comedy together.

Hayes’ own ascent to an out icon was no crystal stair. Many in the LGBT community had been critical of Hayes for not coming out during Will & Grace’s original run. He first discussed his sexual orientation publicly in a 2010 interview with The Advocate, stating, “I am who I am. I was never in, as they say. Never.” Afterward, Hayes discussed how he regretted his silence, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2013, “I didn’t know how to handle the responsibility of speaking for the gay community. I always felt like I owed them a huge apology for coming out too late.”

Today, Hayes, who married his partner Scott Icenogle in 2014, reflects on the meaning of starting Will & Grace anew. For the first time, he will portray Jack as an out gay actor. “It makes me very proud to be part of something that helps the community and brings more light to the topic,” he said.

“I should have done it in 1998. I was too afraid,” said Hayes on coming out. “I’m out, proud now. And I was before, I just wasn’t out to the press.”

Mullally revealed she had her own strategy in circumnavigating questions about Hayes’ sexuality during Will & Grace’s original run. “People would always ask me if you were gay, and I’d be like, ‘Well, I had sex with him, so — We’re not really sure. I just know that he’s been inside me,” she said.

“Still trying to get out!” Hayes joked.

“I do feel like it should be the person’s choice to come out in their own time, for their own reasons,” Mullally said. “I didn’t like it when Sean was being pressured and badgered and belittled and criticized for not coming out. I didn’t think that was right.”

“Even in The Advocate, they were a little nasty,” Hayes said. Notably, The Advocate ran a fake Q&A before Will & Grace’s finale called “Sean Hayes: The Interview He Never Gave.” The piece spliced together quotations regarding Hayes’ identity from other sources, after repeated requests for an interview were denied.

“A lot of people want you to come out on their terms instead of individuals’s terms. But everybody’s different,” Hayes said.

Of course, the world has changed significantly since 1998. Messing said how “spectacular” it was to engage with a young generation that embraces LGBT peers. But Hayes cautioned against declaring victory. “It’s not so rosy for everybody, and we still have a ton of work to do, which is also why I’m very proud the show’s coming back even now,” he said. “I always wished it would go on forever, because it seems to be you have to constantly educate people about the normalcy of any diverse individual.”

“It means a lot to me,” Hayes said of being an out man on television. “It means a lot to me that I may not be a singular voice, but I’m proud to be part of that chorus of the gay community. I don’t have the DNA to be the spokesperson for any group of people. Nope. That’s the worst mistake anybody could have [made]. Because I just don’t have the makeup of standing on a soapbox.”

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