In recent years, it’s entirely possible you’re as familiar with Debra Messing’s political commentary on social media - where she regularly offers observations on everything from the ‘Time’s Up’ movement to the Trump administration - as her work as an actress.
Having now returned to the role that made her a household name in ‘Will And Grace’, Debra reveals why it was so important to her that her character discover feminism, and what subjects she’d like to see the show address in the future...
When the ‘Will And Grace’ reunion first aired, it had been more than 10 years since you’d all been together on screen. Did you have any stipulations for your character about the reboot?
Yes, there were two things that were important to me. Number one, I wanted Grace to be a feminist, I wanted that to be very clear. I felt like it made sense that she would, as she aged, find her voice, and I just wanted that to be present.
And the other thing, that was really more fundamental, was that we did the show that it always was. The show at its heart was a provocative show that addressed politics and pop culture and social trends in the moment, today.
And America is very different now than it was when we finished. In many ways, we’re worse off in terms of LGBT+ safety and Muslim safety and immigration, you know, there are so many social issues that are at risk right now.
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My stipulation was that if we’re going to be told by higher ups that we have to be gentle with the current administration, then I didn’t want to do the show. Because that wouldn’t be the show that we always were doing. And so when we were given assurances that we could do what we always did, I said, ‘I’m in!’.
There’s been a lot of talk about how political the new series is. Do you think that the reboot is more political and issue-driven than the original, or has it always been this way?
I think it’s more [political] now. I think when we first came on the air [in 1998] it was really all about having a gay man as a lead character for the first time on primetime television. And really getting a sense of a man who was smart and had a business life and had friends and who happened to be gay. So that was really where the focus was. And now gratefully, every TV show that you turn on, there is now a character that is LGBT+, so that’s not an issue anymore, although we have ways to go.
So I think now, especially because of the current administration, you know, we have branched out and we have addressed sexual harassment and immigration and women’s issues and feminist isuses, in addition to living within the LGBT+ culture.
Were there any concerns that tackling such strong subjects could be a turn-off for some viewers?
Not for me! *laughs* I guess my feeling was, our fans are so amazing that they would come and find us again, and we wanted to give them what they had always loved.
And you know, people who were not that way inclined would see very quickly that it wasn’t a show for them, and that they had every right to turn the channel and watch something. That’s the beauty of democracy. You have a choice.
You’re someone who’s very politically vocal away from the show, is there any issue you’d like to see addressed in the next series?
You haven’t seen all the episodes that we’ve done this season yet, and we’ve really touched on many different important issues.
I think it would be great if we could address race in a more direct way. And I think exploring gender equality, being a woman in our society, that, because it’s so relevant right now in our culture with the #MeToo [movement] and ‘Time’s Up’ initiative.
You mentioned how important it was for you that Grace be seen as a feminist this series, and when we’re reintroduced to the character, she’s an unmarried, single woman, still having fun and doing what she’s always done. Is that something you’re particularly proud of?
Yes I am! I thought it was incredibly important to have a woman that made a choice not to have a family. And who has a successful career and has friends who are essentially a family to her, where she has a very rich, fulfilling life. And that can be possible without being married, or being a mother.
That’s not to say that Grace won’t get married in the future, but I just really wanted to have a woman that could [be] a touchstone. A character touchstone where people could say, ‘look, she’s got her stuff together and she’s happy’.
And I am too! So I see myself reflected on television. Hey, I’m single. I have a son, and he’s awesome. But I’ve got a great job, I’ve got great friends, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
On a lighter note, what’s your favourite thing to do as Grace?
Oh, definitely the physical comedy. You know, getting pies in my face, having my hair out to here with brushes stuck in it, getting stuck in an 18ft water tank, having my water bra explode, anything that really pushes the boundary of broad comedy is my happy place.
I grew up watching ‘I Love Lucy’ and Carol Burnett, so there’s really nothing that I will say no to, if it’s going to make you laugh.
You’re a fan of the show as well as one of its stars, so how do the events of season nine compare to what you thought Grace would be doing in 2018?
Um, well, it’s tricky because we wrapped up season eight in the future. So there was never any sort of sitting back and imagining, because we were told what the future was.
So when we were told, ‘oh no, we’re making all that go away’, we were like, ‘what? Can you do that?!’ You know?! But I think where we are now, it all makes sense.
What was your reaction to the season eight ending suddenly being undone for the reboot?
At first I was shocked and was concerned that our fans would feel gypped or sort of tricked. But then, when it was explained to us by the head writers, it made complete sense to me.
The way they explained it was that if Will and Grace are parents, it’s going to become a show about Will and Grace being parents. And that’s not what people want to watch. And if you keep the kids out of the stories, then it’s just a show about Will and Grace being bad parents. And no one wants to watch that either.
So if you really want to come back to the core of ’Will And Grace’, you really had to have the four of them unencumbered, so to speak.
‘Will And Grace’ airs every Friday at 10pm on Channel 5.