Re­vival of the Wit­ti­est

Will & The stars Grace of on good times, their ground­break­ing se­ries and what’s in store for its re­turn

Chattanooga Times Free Press - Parade - - TABLE - By Amy Spencer

When Will & Grace ended in 2006 af­ter eight suc­cess­ful sea­sons, the cre­ators broke down the set and even of­fered pieces of it as sou­venirs to the four main cast mem­bers, Eric McCor­mack, Debra Mess­ing, Sean Hayes and Me­gan Mul­lally.

Lit­tle did they know they’d need much of that set back again to be­gin pro­duc­tion for this month’s re­vival of Will & Grace, re­turn­ing Sept. 28 on NBC.

Dur­ing its run, W&G earned 16 Em­mys, in­clud­ing wins for each of its four stars—McCor­mack play­ing but­tonedup lawyer Will Tru­man; Mess­ing as neu­rotic in­te­rior de­signer Grace Adler, with Mul­lally play­ing her wealthy and wildly booz­ing as­sis­tant, Karen Walker; and Hayes as strug­gling ac­tor Jack McFarland—mak­ing it one of only three sit­coms to ever achieve the honor. At its close, 18 mil­lion view­ers tuned in to the fi­nale to say good­bye.

While the cast had a hard time bid­ding farewell too, some felt the break was nec­es­sary af­ter eight straight years on the TV tread­mill. “I needed a minute,” ad­mits Hayes, 47. “I just didn’t know a minute would be 11 years! But I think we all feel like there’s more to say.”

Af­ter more than a decade per­form­ing

apart, the Will & Grace cast came to­gether last fall to film a spe­cial mini-episode en­cour­ag­ing view­ers to vote in the Novem­ber elec­tion. When the re­union episode be­came such a smash, NBC gave a green light to the full se­ries—which has al­ready been re­newed for an ad­di­tional sea­son.

Nos­tal­gia Rules

The se­ries’ re­vival comes at a time when other hit shows and fan fa­vorites from the 1990s and early 2000s have been pop­ping back up, like The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Gil­more Girls. And Roseanne will be back on ABC in 2018. McCor­mack, 54, isn’t sur­prised that tele­vi­sion view­ers are look­ing for­ward to hark­ing back.

“Nos­tal­gia is part of what we do,” he says. “One of the big­gest pieces of the ’70s was the ’50s, from Amer­i­can Graf­fiti to Happy Days.”

But while the new Will & Grace is a throw­back to the good old days, it will be drop­ping the char­ac­ters into upto-date cur­rent events, smart­phones in hand. “Ob­vi­ously, it’s 2017. There are lots of In­sta­gram and Twit­ter jokes to be made,” McCor­mack says.

The cre­ators have pro­vided a few other hints about what view­ers can ex­pect in this new sea­son: Will and Grace will be liv­ing to­gether again; Jack will be hawk­ing his new brand of act­ing called “Jack­t­ing”; fan-fa­vorite char­ac­ter Rosario (Shel­ley Mor­ri­son) won’t be back, but singer Harry Con­nick Jr. will; and the time-trav­el­ing for­ward they all did in the fi­nale? It never hap­pened.

In­stead, the char­ac­ters will pick up 11 years af­ter they left off. McCor­mack is ex­cited to see the char­ac­ters show­ing their age. “It’s not the same as a com­edy of a bunch of 24-year-olds sit­ting around and yakking,” he says. “I think it’ll be richer, hon­estly.”

And when it comes to the core of the show, they’ll be do­ing the same rich dance of char­ac­ter-driven com­edy and zippy di­a­logue that spun them into TV his­tory in the first place—one that they all knew felt spe­cial from the start.

Mess­ing, 49, re­mem­bers read­ing the orig­i­nal W&G script af­ter wrap­ping an­other show, the sci-fi TV se­ries Prey, which she had been do­ing at the time. “I read it in bed,” she says. “I re­mem­ber be­ing half­way through it and sit­ting up and be­ing like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is re­ally some­thing.’ ”

McCor­mack had been do­ing so many dra­mas up un­til then—“I could have had a ca­reer car­ry­ing guns and solv­ing crimes,” he says—be­fore get­ting his role on W&G.

Mul­lally, 58, au­di­tioned for the role of Grace, but got turned down. “They were like, ‘Next!’ ” she says, laugh­ing. Even af­ter re­turn­ing to read for the Karen role, she wor­ried whether she could make it her own. “I tried to make her just a lit­tle quirkier and added the ‘hon­eys,’ the tics and the laugh­ing.”

Hayes had only bit parts on his act­ing ré­sumé un­til he was hired to play Jack, and he spent his first days ex­pect­ing to

be fired. “To hold on to the job was just a suc­cess in and of it­self for me!” he says.

Out of the Closet

The show de­buted the same year Ellen DeGeneres’ sit­com Ellen ended—one sea­son af­ter Ellen’s char­ac­ter fa­mously came out as gay. The char­ac­ters of Will and Jack, on the other hand, were out of the closet from the first episode, al­ready proud and com­fort­able in their lives. Hayes saw their roles as “let­ting peo­ple peer into the lives of gay peo­ple—which are ex­actly the same and as bor­ing as straight peo­ple.”

Still, “I think the mere ex­is­tence of Jack pushed the en­ve­lope for a lot of peo­ple,” says Hayes, who points out that the show got its share of hate let­ters. “My fam­ily wrote so many of them,” he adds, laugh­ing.

Though the show pushed the en­ve­lope ev­ery week, its prime-time net­work spot meant it could go only so far. Over on ca­ble’s HBO, Sex and the City could bare it all. “We had to use dou­ble en­ten­dres while, ba­si­cally, they just used sin­gle en­ten­dres,” McCor­mack says.

“Our first goal was mak­ing peo­ple laugh,” says Mess­ing. One of her fa­vorite episodes was when her wa­ter bra ex­ploded in an art gallery. “That was just so fun to shoot, I can’t even put words to it,” she says. “It felt like an homage to I Love Lucy.”

McCor­mack loved the scene when Will’s for­mer school bully, who had be­gun work­ing at his of­fice, catches Will putting lo­tion on his hands. “He says, ‘Were you lo­tion­ing?’ and I put my hands on my desk and I slip and smash my face on the desk. It’s my fa­vorite piece of phys­i­cal com­edy ever.”

Mul­lally’s fa­vorite is when Jack quits caf­feine and Karen quits al­co­hol—and their with­drawal leads them to a manic slap fest.

Guests Ga­lore

The more pop­u­lar the sit­com be­came, the big­ger the guest stars who rolled through its re­volv­ing door, in­clud­ing Matt Da­mon, Cher, Gene Wilder, Michael Dou­glas, El­ton John, Madonna and film leg­end Deb­bie Reynolds, who had a re­cur­ring role as Grace’s mother. “She had a chro­mo­some that would not al­low her to stop per­form­ing,” says Mess­ing. “Whether it was for the cus­to­dian walk­ing by or the craft ser­vices woman giv­ing her soup, she would en­ter­tain them. She would sing, she would tell jokes.” And not nec­es­sar­ily clean jokes. “She had a dirty mouth,” says Mess­ing, laugh­ing. “You were con­vinced she was gonna moon peo­ple any sec­ond—she was out­ra­geous! And that’s why we loved her.”

But the great­est sign of suc­cess for the cast was the in­flu­ence the show had

be­yond the screen. “I don’t think any of us—even the cre­ators of the show—ever re­ally thought, This show is gonna make

a real im­pact, make a dif­fer­ence,” says Mul­lally. “It’s mind-blow­ing.” In 2012, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den de­clared his en­dorse­ment for equal mar­riage rights for gay cit­i­zens, cit­ing the show as a ma­jor shift in the cul­tural tide.

And the cast hopes they’ll con­tinue to hit the hot but­tons with the new sea­son. “When we were on the show, we dealt with LGB—les­bians, gays and bi­sex­u­als,” says Mess­ing. “I’d like to fin­ish the rest of the al­pha­bet now.”

‘I don’t think any of us—even the cre­ators of the show— ever re­ally thought, This show is gonna make a real im­pact, make a dif­fer­ence.’ - Me­gan Mul­lally

‘Our first goal was mak­ing peo­ple laugh.’ - Debra Mess­ing

‘Ob­vi­ously, it’s 2017. There are lots of In­sta­gram and Twit­ter jokes to be made.’ Erick McCor­mack

‘I think the mere ex­is­tence of Jack pushed the en­ve­lope for a lot of peo­ple.’ - Sean Hayes

The late Deb­bie Reynolds (sec­ond from left) was a cast fa­vorite in her re­cur­ring guest role as Grace’s mother, Bobbi.

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