Messing Around at Paley Center
May 5, 2008 5:00 PM
The Paley Center for Media hosted an evening with actress Debra Messing on May 1 in Beverly Hills. Ms. Messing spoke about her acting career, the return of USA Network’s miniseries “The Starter Wife” as a full series and a certain scene that never made it onto NBC’s “Will & Grace.”
Ms. Messing said she grew up with TV, watching funny women including Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman. She aspired to be a Broadway triple threat; although she was admitted to a conservatory to study performing arts, her mother insisted she attend a liberal arts school. She did, graduating from Brandeis University.
After appearing in some New York theater productions, including being the first Harper in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Ms. Messing went to Los Angeles to work on Fox’s “Ned and Stacy” and ABC’s “Prey.” She made a brief return to New York theater and then was approached by her agents with a script for “Will & Grace.” Ms. Messing said she hesitated at first, but a bottle of vodka and a lime later, she was on board.
Ms. Messing played the role of Grace for eight seasons, and says she enjoyed the role because Grace was “so messy in every way.” She recalled one particular moment when she was filming a scene that involved her walking away toward a balcony, and she began fanning her behind, much to the audience’s enjoyment. Director James Burrows, however, found it too crass for the series. “What? Grace can’t fart?” she asked.
Ms. Messing recalled Mr. Burrows’ directing method, which included listening to the actors instead of watching them. There was a musicality to the comedy, and if “you don’t hear the music, you’re lost,” she said.
After “Will & Grace” wrapped for good in 2006, Ms. Messing said, she wanted to rest for six months, but three months into her hiatus she was approached with the script for “The Starter Wife.” She hesitated at first, but after receiving the miniseries’ entire script, she said yes. She says she signed on after feeling she can “bring something special to this [role] that anybody [else] can’t.”
“The Starter Wife” follows the life of Molly Kagan, a recent Hollywood divorcée trying to start her life over. Ms. Messing’s performance in the series earned her Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations.
“Starter Wife” returns to USA later this year as a series, with Ms. Messing as star and executive producer.