Sharon Stone and Debra Messing bond over feminism and keeping the wolves at bay.
This season marked a return of sorts for both Sharon Stone and Debra Messing — for Stone, it was her chance to take center stage again, with her role in Steven Soderbergh’s enigmatic HBO mystery “Mosaic.” And Messing stepped back into the role that first made her famous, with NBC’S reboot of hit comedy “Will & Grace.” The two actresses talked with Variety about why comedy is harder than drama, battling stereotypes and what makes them each laugh.
Sharon Stone: Dying is easy, comedy is hard. I think about this because I’m starting to do more comedy. It’s been a long time since I did comedy, but you’re really like the Lucille Ball of our generation. You are just the apex of comedy. Is comedy hard for you?
Debra Messing: I think comedy is hard because it’s musical. I think that if something is brilliantly written then the music just comes off the page. But if it’s not brilliantly written then I think it’s much scarier to do than a drama that perhaps may not be brilliantly written. Because I think in a drama you can find things in character and you can find things on the fly and I think with comedy if it’s a broader comedy there’s an expectation. And there’s a goal, it’s to make people laugh. And you’re either going to do it or you’re not.
Stone: I’m really obsessed with “Will and Grace.” And now with this comeback show, it’s better. The original show was magnificent, but the show now, because everyone is more full in what they are. You’re more Jewish, they’re more gay.
Messing: She’s more evil.
Stone: Yes. And yet she’s also more compassionate. Everybody’s more of all the things that they are.
Messing: Well, aren’t we all as we
age? Stone: Yes.
Messing: And it’s funny you say that because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if the characters that we all met as 30 year olds, if that kind of energy and the music that was played back then was going to be expected by the audience to replicate it or if they would be disappointed if it wasn’t a pure replication of it. And it was like,“well, we’re 11 years older. We are who we are now and these characters have grown 11 years.”
Stone: And the world has grown and opened up.
Messing: And gotten scarier.
Stone: Yes, because there’s a lot of resistance to all that growth.
Messing: So it felt almost freeing in a way because everything is so different. It felt like on some level there was nothing to lose. And we were coming back on our terms. We literally sat down and were like,“do we want to do this?” And it was a real conversation about this is something we built and we protected and it was a legacy, and we can’t just come back just because it’s offered to us. There has to be a reason and there has to be a collective understanding of what we’re trying to do. And it was after that conversation that we realized, “You know what, we all want the same thing. And we have the support from the network.”
Stone: This thing you wanted to bring forward, do you want to discuss what it is?
Messing: I was concerned that we would be censored, frankly. You know that we weren’t going to be able to be what we always were. And from its inception, the DNA of “Will and Grace,” it was always provocative, it was always pushing boundaries, it was always talking about what’s happening right now in politics and in pop culture. And obviously, back then we were making jokes about Bush and then Obama and now it’s a very decisive, chaotic, confusing time in our country and it’s ripe for “Will and Grace” obviously because every day there is something that is being pushed or pulled.
Stone: It’s wonderful with Megan Mullally’s character constantly bringing in that stuff. I liked the episode where she wanted to buy the cake for the party for Donald Trump. And your character had to come to terms with,“if I can get the cake made for the gay couple, and if that’s the thing, if we’re standing up for those rights, we do have to stand up for everybody’s rights, whether I like it or not.”
Messing: The thing that was driving me was I was feeling scared and I was feeling like I didn’t know what I could do to make people feel like things were going to be OK. And to make myself feel like things were going to be OK. And it really is a selfish thing, by going to work I get to laugh every single day.
Stone: I don’t think that’s a selfish thing to do the thing you love and that you’re good at. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do in life. But we get programmed to toe the line and we forget that discipline is freedom. And if you really are disciplined to the thing that you are meant to be, it should be joyful.
Messing: But you also know that it’s not always joyful.
Stone: No, it’s a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of discipline, it’s a lot of incredibly long hours. It’s a lot of
eating off paper plates from a trailer in the dirt. People think that what we do is so glamorous. But the hours are incredibly long. We don’t work eight hours — we’re just getting started when eight hours happens. Messing: 16 hours! And with “Mosaic,” you were in Utah.
Stone: And we worked. Steven Soderbergh is, I think without any exaggeration, a genius. From “Sex, Lies and Videotape” on up. But we didn’t get all the script, we got the pieces we were in. Which is little bit intense. But then it was,“you’re going to shoot 20 to 30 pages a day.” And he doesn’t light and he shoots himself. Now there’s a lot of great things in that. I thought,“well, if we’re not lighting I’m not going to wear a bunch of makeup.” Because I’m going to look like I’ve fallen in my makeup. So let’s keep it down to just a little bit of light base and some Chapstick and call it a day. And I have a great ability to find my own light. Just get in it, as all women learn to do. I would just get to the set quickly so when we are blocking the scene I could find a chair where there was some light. And it was actually quite wonderful because in the first five days you think,“i am going to die.” It’s so exhausting and it’s so challenging. But once you get your rhythm you get it. And of course we’re not new to this.
Messing: We know how to take care of ourselves in those situations.
Stone: And do the work before we
get there so that we can handle it.
Messing: I need you to talk about the scene in the attic when you find out the truth from your fiance. That scene was breathtaking and painful to watch. How long did you work on that scene?
Stone: I think when you have faced betrayal, you have to work through a process that is forgiving the unforgivable. Which teaches you, “I believe.” To stand and not keep getting re-hooked into it. And that takes a lot of practice because you have this innate hook that you have to just feel and resist. And that takes a lot of feminine wisdom and a lot of knowing that being a mother, being a woman is bigger than this hook. I think playing this scene is allowing yourself to feel that feeling again of that unimaginable thing that the love that you believed isn’t there. And it’s so shocking when it just isn’t there that it destroys you. It doesn’t just destroy the love, it just destroys you. And I don’t think that people don’t want to admit that. But it destroys, it wipes you out in a second. It breaks your trust in yourself.
Messing: I sat back and I felt like, I don’t think I’ve seen on camera someone go ride that wave and be allowed to ride every part of it through the end.
Stone: This is the thing about Steven Soderbergh, and I do think it comes down to the not lighting and that he’s shooting it. Because so many people are so concerned about how you look. We need to do it again because you didn’t have your chin up and you look like you have two chins or …
Messing: There’s a shadow from
Stone: … and you don’t look pretty when you did that. And because he is interested in capturing the breaking, the unattractiveness. It’s all OK to see the real truth of what happens and he goes with you when it’s
“IF YOU REALLY ARE DISCIPLINED TO THE THING THAT YOU ARE MEANT TO BE, IT SHOULD BE JOYFUL.”— Sharon Stone