Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture Film & TV

Debra Messing was initially reluctant to accept ‘Will & Grace’ role

The show was the first prime-time TV series on U.S. terrestrial TV to star openly gay lead characters

By Steve Brown

Debra Messing was initially reluctant to take on the role as Grace Adler in Will & Grace.

The iconic 90s sitcom made history as the first prime-time TV series on US terrestrial TV to star openly gay lead characters – that being Eric McCormack’s portrayal of Will Truman – and the show went on to run for eight seasons before it was revived with the original cast, incluidng Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes, returning last year.

But Messing revealed that she was initially reluctant to accept the role of Grace because at the time, women at the centre of the show were never the fun characters and she wanted to be one of the funny people.

In an interview with Pop Sugar, Messing said: “I was doing a TV show on ABC called Prey, and I had finished, and I was exhausted.

“And I had told my agents, ‘Don’t call me for three months. I’m going to sleep for three months.’ And the next day, they called and said, ‘We have a script that you need to read.’

“And I said, ‘Nope. I am going to sleep.’ And they said, ‘Stay in bed. We will messenger it to you.’

“And so I read it in bed, and I was like, ‘Oh, boy. This is something.’ And I recognised how unusual it is to see four distinctly-written characters in the pilot of a show. But I still was tired.

“And so I met Max and Dave, the showrunners, and they were like, ‘We want you.’ And then I went home. I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ And then they were like, ‘What do we need to do?’

“And I said, ‘I need to know how you envision this show in season three and season four,” because you’re too young to remember this, but at that time, there was a trend going on at NBC that had women as the centre of a show, but they were not the funny people.

“So, there was Suddenly Susan. There was Caroline in the City. So there were these pretty, attractive women, and then they had the goofy people around them. And I said, ‘I won’t be happy doing that. I need to be one of the funny people also.’

“And so I said, ‘I need to tell you my concerns.’ And also, I came from New York and had a lot of gay friends, and I was like, ‘How are you going to do this? Are you going to do it in a different way than has ever been done before?’

“And so they came over with a bottle of vodka [laugh], and spent three hours answering all my questions, and left. And they said, ‘So?’ And I said, ‘I still don’t know.’

“And then Eric flew down from Canada — he was filming Lonesome Dove at the time — and we went to Jim Burrows’s house.

“And I went in, and all of the big-wigs from NBC were there. And they were like, ‘Just read together.’ And we read together, and it just was immediately easy and fun.

“And Jimmy walked me to the car, and he’s like, ‘You got to do the show.’ And I was like, ‘Jimmy, I don’t know.’

“And he was like, ‘You’re never going to find a script like this again. You got to do the show.’ And so I was like, ‘When Jim Burrows tells you you got to do a show, you got to do a show’.”

Luckily Messing accepted the role as the rest was history and the hit revived show is set to return for a second – or tenth season – this October.