When we were first reintroduced to Karen Walker in the new series of ‘Will And Grace’, any fears we held that she’d have had some class of redemption in the last decade were immediately put to rest.
Now a close pal of the celeb couple she calls “Donny and Melania”, she’s still as boozy, heartless and utterly selfish as ever. So, why do we all still love her so much?
Megan Mullally, who plays the puzzlingly beloved sitcom character, attempts to shine some light on the matter...
Before you signed up for the new series of ‘Will And Grace’, did you have any stipulations about what you wanted or didn’t want for Karen Walker?
No, because the writers are so great. I’ve never really had to go to them and say ‘this isn’t working’ or ‘can you make this funnier or better?’. And that’s really a big part of why this is such a dream job.
Before ‘Will And Grace’, and then after ‘Will And Grace’, I did some other… shows [where] maybe the writing wasn’t quite as good or even remotely as good. And it’s not a good feeling. When you’re trying to make a purse out of a sow’s ear, as the expression goes, it’s painful. So to come back to ‘Will And Grace’ it’s like, ‘ahhh, I’m free again’.
You’re obviously very different to Karen in almost every way…
...does that make her a difficult character to play, especially as she’s usually so tough to empathise with?
No. I don’t know why I am able to play Karen because I am completely different from her in real life. Even getting into my hair and make-up and costume, I call it getting into my drag, because it is very much like what I would imagine preparing for a drag show to be like. I’m not a professional drag queen, but it’s that much of a change.
But in terms of her way of thinking, I don’t know why I understand that, or am able to make her even worse than she is on paper. Should I be worried?
Potentially. You’re right, though, Karen Walker is like the ultimate drag character
A hundred percent - and I’ve met drag queens who were dressed as Karen, and I’m like, ‘honey I… I feel it, I feel your pain. I know what you go through, because I go through it too’.
Karen is probably the show’s most popular character, yet she’s generally pretty unpleasant. Do you think she’s fundamentally a good person or a bad person?
I don’t think she’s either. I mean, she definitely has her dark side, but I don’t think she’s a good person or a bad person. I think she’s a person who believes that she’s performing a public service by completely running everybody else down.
Is she a socipoath? Maybe. But I think she thinks she’s doing good, and the thing I love the most about Karen is that she can go to a very childlike state of joy at the drop of a hat. And I think that’s the quality that makes her lovable rather than being as despicable as she should be on paper.
This is the thing, she does do some pretty terrible things, what is it that you think makes her so popular with people?
She only does terrible things. I think it’s that! She’s just like a kid. She’s just happy as a clam, nothing gets her down. She’s just a happy-go-lucky, horrible, terrible sociopath.
But in the new series she does have her emotional moments, such as Rosario’s funeral scene. What were those like to film?
I was very grateful for that. I was just overwhelmed that they had written that, it was such a beautiful script for me, and for all the characters, for everybody!
As an actor, I didn’t get to show a more dramatic or serious side very often, and I felt like I wanted to rise to the occasion and rise to the level of the writing. I didn’t want to let them down.
And also in real life, we were losing the actress Shelley Morrison, who played Rosario, because she retired from acting. So there was a very real component of missing her, and thinking back on all the fun times that we had working together. And also there were the fictional characters who were losing each other. So, it was an unusual situation.
A lot of people have noticed that the new series is much more political. Do you think that’s a fair comment, or was the show always this driven by social issues?
I think it’s probably a fair comment. I know for a fact, that the goal of the writers is that the show is still first and foremost a comedy and successful in making people laugh. So that’s the first priority.
But I think it’s just a reflection of the times that every show is just going much further and deeper, and we’re part of that. We’re part of the present day, and had we tried to stay in the past, I don’t think we could have succeeded.
Especially in times like we’re currently living through, do you think it’s important that TV and film should hold up a mirror to what’s going on in the world?
Yeah. But more than that, for our show in particular, everybody wants to laugh right now. And there are so many scripted shows right now.
In the United States there are almost 500 scripted shows, but most of them are dramas. And then the few comedies that are out there - I mean there are a lot of great ones, but they’re more kind of cerebral… they’re more kind of, you watch the show and go, ‘god that’s really funny...‘, but you’re not necessarily laughing out loud. So I would equate our show more to something like ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Bob’s Burgers’ than I would a live-action show. It’s the right kind of show at the right time.
And Karen is obviously quite a vocal Trump supporter. What’s that like to play?
Well, it’s interesting because, of course, Karen is a good friend of ‘Donny and Melania’. And she thinks [Trump] is fantastic and brilliant.
So naturally 99% of the very barbed aspersions that are cast on Trump [on the show] are coming from Karen indirectly, because she’s saying something that she thinks if fantastic, but is actually a giant slam. But the character of Karen believes it to be a beautiful quality. It’s clever the way they’ve done that.
‘Will And Grace’ at this point has a huge legacy, what’s the aspect of being part of the show you’re most proud of?
Well. Ellen [Degeneres] paved the way for us to have gay characters [on screen], and she was the sacrificial lamb in many ways, and I think the writers of ‘Will And Grace’ were… very clever to not politicise the issue. There are four characters, two of them are gay, but that was just a quality, it was just an aspect of each character.
Will is a lawyer and he likes to cook and he’s gay, and he’s fastidious about his appearance and the same with Jack, they weren’t like hitting you over the head with it, it was just part of their lives which is how it is in real life! Gay people don’t go round, like, ‘I’M GAAAAAY AND GAYNESS IS ALL’, it’s just a part of people’s existence.
And I think that helped to get audiences on board, who might otherwise have been put off, it allowed people’s minds to open and people’s judgements to slip away without them noticing. I guess, if the show then helped to broaden people’s horizons and lower people’s defences about LGBTQIA people and issues, then that’s what I’m most proud of.
‘Will And Grace’ airs every Friday night at 10pm on Channel 5.