Green light for red hair
DEBRA Messing might have been compared to another redhead with comic timing, Lucille Ball, but she confesses her signature red hair was forced on her.
‘‘I was doing the movie A Walk in the Clouds and they wanted my hair auburn, but they didn’t want to send me to a fancy salon,’’ the star of Will and Grace and The Starter Wife says.
‘‘I was in a motel in the Napa Valley and someone was pouring bleach on my head for 13 hours. And it never was even, and it ended up I was a titian red— it was awful,’’ she says, chuckling.
‘‘Then I got this Clairol commercial with the understanding that I would have to get a normal colour hair. But I had to keep my hair some colour red in case I had to go back and reshoot A Walk in the Clouds. Then all of a sudden everything I auditioned for, I got.’’
Four weeks earlier, as a brunette, Messing couldn’t get arrested. She continually lost out to the same two actors.
‘‘I would see them and say, ‘This time I’m going to be the one’. And it didn’t happen, and I was really depressed about it.’’
A casting director, who’d seen her many times, may have saved her career when she called Messing’s agent and reported that Messing was sabotaging herself in auditions.
‘‘She is wearing so much makeup that it’s like kabuki, and she looks 10 years older than she is,’’ the casting director said.
‘‘I was putting stage makeup on, that’s all I knew,’’ shrugs Messing, who starred for eight years on Will and Grace.
‘‘So between that and being forced to colour my hair red, all of a sudden everything changed.’’
It hadn’t been an easy road. Messing was first drawn to acting as a shy child.
‘‘I felt safer being somebody else than myself. I was sort of not in the ‘in’ social circles as a little girl and didn’t feel very good in my skin. The one place I felt like I could lie was on stage.’’
Though she longed to attend the High School of Performing Arts, her parents— a sales executive dad and a real estate and travel agent mum— insisted she have a ‘‘normal’’ childhood and study drama in college.
She went to Brandeis University and earned her master’s degree at NYU. It was there that she met her future husband, Daniel Zelman, cocreator and executive producer of Damages.
Once out of school she landed a job in Seattle, but Zelman was working in New York at the time. It was then she made an important discovery about herself.
‘‘I realised I’m not a gypsy. I can’t live out of a suitcase, so my whole master plan had to be thrown away. I came back and said to my agents, ‘OK, I’m not leaving town. I’m fully prepared to cater and be a cocktail waitress, whatever, until I’m cast in New York City’.’’
Finally she landed a job as an understudy in Three Dogs and a Bone for $330 a week before taxes. But at least she was a working actor.
She and Zelman have been together for 17 years. About their lasting relationship, she nods: ‘‘I think we’re lucky we met really young when we were both students and hopeful about the future and excited by the romance of the struggle then.’’