For eight years, ‘Will And Grace’ fans were always guaranteed a laugh from their on-screen gay best friend, Jack McFarland, whenever they tuned in.
Whether he was taking his Cher doll to dinner, dishing out advice to his long-suffering acting students or just slating his best pal Will, Jack was always there to put a smile on our faces.
More than a decade after the divisive ‘Will And Grace’ finale, the show is back on our screens, which means (hooray!) so is Jack, a little older and, believe it or not, ever so slightly wiser.
Actor Sean Hayes tells HuffPost UK about what’s different with his character this time around...
Before you signed up for the new series of ‘Will And Grace’, did you have any conditions or stipulations about your character?
No, I always leave that up to the writers. I actually like being surprised.
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Yes, I can throw my opinion in the ring about what Jack should and shouldn’t do, but ultimately I feel safe in the hands of the creators to make those decisions, and I just feel fortunate to say the words and tell the story that’s been given to me.
Jack is an outrageous character, are there ever moments you read a script and say ‘that is too much’ or ‘he wouldn’t say that’?
There’s a fine line with this show called ‘Will And Grace’ between reality and outer space. And they ride that line so brilliantly in every single we’ve ever done.
So, if it ever just gets just a little insane, I’ll say “this is maaaybe a little insane”, and they’ll pull it back or they’ll ask me to pull it back in my performance. So it’s always right there, we always try to achieve that in every single episode.
What do you think about the way the LGBT+ community is represented in the new series, particularly in comparison with the first run?
I think what’s great about ‘Will And Grace’ is that it has two characters that are gay, but it’s the fifth most interesting thing about them. Which I love.
Will’s a lawyer, he was in love with this person, he has a best friend, Grace, and another best friend, Jack, and oh, by the way, he’s gay. And Jack, even though he wears it on his sleeve, it’s also the fifth most interesting thing about him - he’s looking for a job, he’s doing 50 thousand other things.
So, I think now the show is different in that we don’t have to focus on coming out stories, all of that feels so old - in the best way! We’ve progressed so far, for the most part, I know we have a lot of work to do still, that the stories can be told about the humanness of being gay, just like any other human.
Jack’s been quite a divisive character among gay men, some people see themselves in him and others think he plays up to stereotypes. What would you say to someone who was in the latter camp?
I think that’s probably more about that person, than the character I’m playing.
It’s probably the insecurities, and other troubles somebody’s going through, that they don’t enjoy the character in that way that is intended. But, you know... I play Jack. And I am gay. So, the part of me that is Jack, if that’s a stereotype, or you want to call it a stereotype, fine. But... that’s who I am.
I actually know lots and lots and lots of gay people, and there are many facets of different gay people just as there are many facets of different straight people. So, you can’t say, I don’t know, “Tom Hanks is a stereotypical straight man”. He plays a lot of different roles. We all do.
Will and Jack in the reboot are in their 40s now. Do you feel proud to be playing a type of gay character that’s not often represented on screen?
Yeah! I love that the characters are older. I hadn’t seen that on TV, just like I hadn’t seen ‘Will And Grace’ on TV before.
So, to me, even though it’s an extension of the show, it feels like a window into a whole new show, about the older generation and the groundwork we’ve laid for the gay community - the characters. But I love that! I love that kind of twist on it, and I love that the show and the characters are self-aware enough to call ourselves out on our age and where we’re at in our lives.
A lot of people have picked up on the fact that the reboot is more issue-driven and political than the original series, do you think that’s a fair point?
The show is the same show it’s always been. Which means, the show has always been socially conscious, and has commented on politics, sex, religion, pop culture, anything that’s relevant in the moment. That’s what the show’s known for.
The characters are living in the same world as the viewers are, so of course they’re going to comment on anything that’s going on in the world. So, if people call that “political”, I think that’s just an umbrella for “relevancy”.
Do you think it’s important that shows like ‘Will And Grace’ do pass comment on more serious topics?
I don’t know that it’s “important”, I think that it’s just a by-product of the nature of our show. I don’t think it should ever be the intention, the intention is always to make people laugh. But through storytelling and clever storytelling, you are given the opportunity on a rare show like this where it feels organic to shine a light on a topical issue, you know?
But I don’t think the writers go in with the attitude of “aha! I’m going to show them”. Because that wouldn’t come across in a light, fun entertaining way, that would be a drama.
On a lighter note, what is your favourite thing to do as Jack?
I love when Jack is given a job where he has to be a leader of something or be in charge of something, because he is not capable. But I love when Jack plays the part of someone in authority, because he clearly doesn’t have the skillset for a leadership role, which I enjoy.
Jack is best known as a comedy character, but he has had his serious moments over the years. What are those like to play?
In the previous seasons, I kind of shied away from the more “dramatic” side of Jack, because I didn’t want him to go to a place that felt uncomfortable to the audience. But now that he’s older, I embrace a few more of those moments, because I think it’s important to the character and to the show that he is real. That he’s not just one-level.
What would you like to see Jack get up to next season?
Part of me would like to see Jack settle down and be in a committed relationship. I know that closes the door on other funny story areas, but maybe it might open other funny story areas up.
The show has got such a legacy, what is the aspect of ‘Will And Grace’ that you’re most proud of?
Oh gosh. I got the job and I was excited to have the job as an actor, just to be working! I didn’t know the by-product would be this kind of blind education to America, through the use of comedy, about gay lifestyle and how normal it is to be gay.
So I think I’m most proud that people without a voice in the middle of the country in places that are maybe not as accepting as other places, to give a voice to those kids, and to give parents the vocabulary that they otherwise wouldn’t have, had they not watched the show, to deal with a child who is gay, and be more accepting and open as we’re working more towards [the future].
‘Will And Grace’ airs on Friday nights at 10pm on Channel 5 in the UK.