It’s a rare treat to be able to sit down over a burger and fries with the iconic Debra Messing, the ever-appealing actress from classic sitcom Will & Grace (whose long-awaited revival returns to NBC this Thursday). Watching Messing act always took us back to our favorite classic Hollywood screwball comedies, so it’s no surprise the actress grew up drawing inspiration from comedic greats like Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn and Lucille Ball.
The one thing all these women have in common (besides being unbelievably talented and hilarious), is that they continuously dared to be different, which is exactly what Messing has always done and encourages other women to do and to embrace. Our favorite redhead took us through her insecurities, ignoring internet trolling and the great relief that comes with embracing your whole package…
Laura Kosann: From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day? You can have whatever you want!
Debra Messing: Whatever I want? If I could eat whatever I wanted, I would have Eggs Benedict with home fries, many many cups of gourmet coffee, and toast with butter. Then, a snack of a green juice to clear my palate and get ready for the next gorge. For lunch, I would go with John’s pizza and then I’d go to Serendipity and have a hot brownie sundae a la mode. I would drink lots and lots of water. For dinner, I would have homemade pasta, Gemelli with pink vodka sauce and a fresh Italian baguette with butter with very delicious Chianti.
LK: Growing up, did you like to cook?
DM: No, and I still don’t know how to cook. I’m very good at salad; I can do eggs scrambled, and I can do pasta – I get by! I can heat up things that are frozen, but that’s pretty much it. I know what my limitations are.
LK: And what about your mom, did she cook? What did she make that you loved?
DM: She did! I loved her breaded chicken cutlets, which I thought at the time were incredibly sophisticated and very fancy because of the breading. She made this…it’s going to sound awful: baked bean casserole. It was baked beans with layers of bacon over the top and then she would add ketchup and three other ingredients. It sounds, I know, so disgusting but on barbecue day? When you’re having hot dogs and hamburgers in the summer in New England, there’s nothing better; people would beg my Mom to make it.
LK: Are you excited about the Will & Grace revival? Are you nervous at all?
DM: So, so excited and you know what? I’m not nervous. We’re on our fifth episode now, and it has been just absolute pure joy. Every day, I get to go to work and laugh big belly laughs. It’s been something that I needed; it’s been a tough year or two. It’s play, and I really think that what we are doing is just as good as, if not better, than the first time around. If people don’t like it, I’m not concerned with that. I want to be doing something that is feeding me creatively and that I can stand behind. This is that a hundred times over. I’m very excited for people to see it.
LK: What was your first reaction to hearing they wanted to revive it?
DM: It has gone through so many iterations in essentially twenty-four hours; it has moved so fast. When they asked “would you consider doing just a short little run,” the four of us sat down and were like “okay, would we do this?” We really talked it out, and we really considered it, and we decided that it would be a good thing for all of us — to laugh again, to do what Will & Grace always did, which is comment on politics and what’s happening in the world currently. Obviously, the world is a different place now, so there’s a lot to comment on and make jokes about. Then, we read the first episode around the table, and the president of the network was there, and he said “I want to pick it up for ten more episodes, and I want next season as well.” That’s when we all just looked at each other in shock. How do you make that kind of commitment? You don’t even know how it’s going to feel; we hadn’t even acted on our feet together again. It was a leap of faith. It felt like no time had passed during our table read, though, and that gave us the confidence. We believe there are still stories to be told, especially since our characters are now eleven years older.
LK: How would you respond to people questioning a revival due to the fact that it’s such a different world now? Or that certain things – for example, the portrayal of homosexuality – may be dated?
DM: I don’t know how we can be dated if we are addressing where we are in this current moment in 2017. When we were on the air, all we covered was LGB and that was it. And now there’s T, I, A, etc., and gender fluidity. There’s a lot more to celebrate now, and a lot more is being discussed culturally. So, we’re excited to finish up the alphabet and address the things that are really pressing now. It’s not about going back and trying to live in that nostalgic time. We are entering 2017.
LK: When you act as Grace, do you draw inspiration from old movies and old television shows?
DM: I grew up watching I Love Lucy. I grew up in Rhode Island on four acres of land, in the woods, where I would run over next door to watch the ponies be born and literally, TV was everything to me. I learned what made me laugh by watching sitcoms. Inevitably, it was always the people who were physically comedic who made me laugh the most. So for me, it was Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Madeline Kahn. These women were the people, the artists, who shaped my taste. Now, we get to enter a world where that is not only still allowed but also expected. When we went off the air four-camera comedies, live comedy, sitcoms — they went out of mode. Single camera comedy became the thing everyone was doing. I love single camera comedies, because you get to delve deeper into the characters, but in the last few years, I definitely have missed being able to turn on the TV at home and laugh out loud. When all of a sudden we were presented with the opportunity to go back – and we can be broad, and do something like Noel Coward…it really feels like a gift.
LK: What’s one insecurity you’ve always had, and how did you overcome it?
DM: I had the insecurity growing up that I didn’t look like anyone else. I grew up in an Irish Italian community, and I was one of three Jews in the community. No one looked like me. At that time, the posters on my brother’s wall were Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Tiegs – definitely people who did not look like me. So I had decided early that I wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress. Then I saw Funny Girl. That movie made me realize that there is a place for people who are not conventionally “pretty,” in the Hollywood sense. It gave me the confidence to continue to study the craft that I loved so much. Certainly, when I came out to LA for my first TV show Ned & Stacey, I remember being really self-conscious about the camera catching my profile. Literally, I would move my body around so it would not catch my profile. It was clearly because I was being cruel to myself. I wasn’t loving myself or accepting myself, and I had decided that I didn’t belong there and was getting away with something. Then, Will & Grace came up. That first pilot, when they let me get my bridal veil caught in the door, it sort of opened the floodgates for physical comedy and that’s when I finally took a step back and said “I want to value myself for the things that are really important: Discipline, professionalism, artistry.” I felt like then I was on the right road. I started to let go of that ideal vision in my head. To this day, I get things on social media where people tell me how ugly my nose is and how I should get a nose job. But now, it literally does nothing to me. I love who I am, there is no one else like me, and that’s the same thing I tell my thirteen-year-old son – about not wanting to conform.
No one looked like me...So, I had decided early that I wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress. Then I saw Funny Girl.
LK: Is that the advice you’d give young girls, struggling with being self-confident?
DM: Absolutely! I remember being a teenager and just wanting to fit in and not wanting to stand out. So, I bought all the same clothes as everyone else, the clothes the popular kids were wearing. I think it’s a natural thing; adolescence is a very scary time. But once you get out in the world, when you’ve graduated college, you start to really know yourself. It’s time to take responsibility for your whole package. Because you can’t pick and choose what is or isn’t going to be a part of the package. The quicker young women realize that what makes them different is what makes them beautiful, what makes them different is what makes them unique, the less pain they’ll endure. They’ll just be happier.
LK: What are some of your beauty mainstays (morning and night), and regimens that you always do?
DM: My makeup artist currently (her name is Julie Hewitt), when I was working on The Women, made us all do a bowl of ice, a little bit of water, and a lot of Witch Hazel. She would saturate a washcloth with it, squeeze it out quickly, and put it up on your face for ten seconds. It’s so painful, it’s so cold, but it wakes you up right away. Your face turns bright red and all your circulation is moving, and now, my favorite part of my working day is to start makeup like that. At night, I am vigilant about making sure I get every speck of makeup off. I will not go to bed with anything on. I drink a lot of water – like a lot. And the more I drink water, the better my skin gets. And I’m a sleeper – I love to sleep. I sleep whenever I can, and I get facials regularly.
LK: If you could have a dinner party with any five people, living or dead, who would you have over and what would you serve?
DM: Christiane Amanpour, Charlotte Bronte, Michelle Obama, Gloria Steinem, and Grace Paley. I would cater it, like a feast for kings, like for Henry VIII, just tons of food and lots of wine. I’d put extra pillows on the chairs so people could just really chill out.
LK: If you could have a quote of the day, to sum up your mood and mode this month, what would it be?
DM: It would be: “Remember gratitude, and take it one hour at a time.”