Megan Mullally had been acting professionally since the early ’80s but it wasn’t until “Will & Grace” premiered in 1998 that she found her breakout role on camera. Groundbreaking at the time, the series really took off in season two, landing 11 Emmy noms and wins for Mullally, co-star Sean Hayes and best comedy series. Mullally was nominated six more times, winning again for the final season in 2006.
What stands out about that first nomination?
[My husband] Nick [Offerman] and I met just a few months before the Emmys. We met in April of 2000 and we weren’t really an official couple until June or July. His family has a fishing trip they go on every year in Minnesota so he had invited me to go and meet his whole family. There was like no cell phone service at the time, people were using those giant cordless phones that looked like a brick. You had to go to the end of the dock to get any reception even on that. I got a phone call, I took this giant phone and walked out to the end of the dock, it was my publicist at the time. He said, “So, mother you got an Emmy nomination.” I said, “Emme the plus sized model? She has an award show and I’m nominated? I’m not that fat.” He’s like, “No dumbass, an Emmy — the Emmys!” I said, “Oh my god that’s a lot better.”
Since I was at the lake my publicist called my mom, she’s 94 now, but during “Will & Grace” she turned into “Swifty” Lazar. She read Entertainment Weekly every week to see what our ratings were. He told her I was nominated for an Emmy and she immediately shot back, “Who else is in the category?” He read the names and my mom said, “Oh God no, not [Jennifer] Aniston!” That’s a direct quote. This is 16 years ago, she was 78 at the time, living in the same house she’s lived in since I was 6 years old in Oklahoma City.
What do you remember about the night?
That was the first time Nick, we hadn’t really been together for that long, went [anywhere like that]. We got a seat for my mom. Her seat was about 18 rows back. Nick and I were on the second or third row. I remember Michael J. Fox sitting right across the aisle from me. I may or may not have had a couple of dates with him in like 1985. I was like, “Oh how the times have changed Michael J. Fox.”
Chris Rock was the presenter, I couldn’t even believe that Chris Rock was the presenter. I didn’t expect to win. People always say that. I kind of expected to win. Here’s the thing that makes me mad when people say they don’t expect to win: What do you expect to happen? There’s only five people, you have to sort of expect to win. People get up and say, “I didn’t prepare a speech because I didn’t think I would win.” Well, that’s dumb.
I did have a speech prepared, but it morphed slightly because the whole thing was so surreal. It really was that kind of weird slow motion. It’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened, really. How old was I? 41 years old? I had been watching the Emmys since I was probably 5 years old. Those shows when you’re a kid, it all seems like such a big big deal and only special certain people would win one of these big things like a Tony or an Emmy or an Oscar. And I didn’t consider myself to be one of those people.
I also had this dress on that was a nightmare. I had this stylist who was out of her tree. For some reason, I don’t know why this is, but you can ask anybody, never is a dress ready for an award show any more than 10 minutes before you’re supposed to get in the car. Now I go out and buy my own clothes. We had this stupid dress, Donna Karan supposedly had drawn this sketch for me; well, she didn’t have anything to do with it. Nobody could make this dress, it was made of this fabric nobody could sew. My whole right boob was about to fall out almost the entire time. I looked like an old hooker on her last good night out.
How did Nick handle his first award show?
It was probably Nick’s first time wearing long pants or something, I got him out of the overalls for the first time. The first time we went out to dinner he was wearing overalls and he tucked his napkin into the bib. He’d never been anywhere and I hadn’t either really, we weren’t too far apart in that. We went through all of that together. I’m waiting for Nick to win an Emmy. I think he should. It’s kind of crazy — not even nominated for Ron Swanson [on “Parks and Recreation”]. Can you f—ing believe that?
It’s crazy how much that show was overlooked.
The times have changed. I remember going in on Fridays [during “Will & Grace”] and Jim Burrows would say, “Oh, honey the ratings last night were bad, we only got 16 million.” People were like “Oh man, we’re tanking.” “Parks and Rec” got only what fraction of that audience? And it 100% the best half hour show in television for every season, it’s just crazy. I don’t know about the Emmy voters.
There was a year that Frances Conroy was nominated for best actress for “Six Feet Under” and Patricia Arquette was also nominated for what was that show?
Yes, aptly titled. And Patricia Arquette f—ing won over Frances Conroy! I was backstage in a wheelchair because I had sprained my ankle. I just thought, “Nothing in life makes sense to me anymore.” That was the turning point, the end of my innocence.
What’s the craziest part of going to these shows?
One year at the SAG Awards, somebody practically knocked me over and it was Helen Mirren. She was like, “Oh my God is it really you? I’m your biggest fan.” I was like, “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be home reading Shakespeare or something?” The unexpected things, like being taken backstage to present and you’re in a holding room with just you and Meryl Streep. One time I was leaving an afterparty and Nick had gone out to the valet, so I was in this little breezeway, it was pretty small and it was me and Mick Jagger, very much not making any kind of conversation whatsoever. He was pretending he was alone and I was thinking, “F–k, that’s Mick Jagger!”
How do you look back on the Emmy experience now?
The best thing about winning an Emmy or having something like that happen is not the impact it has on you, it’s the impact it has on the people who love you and have known you your whole life. That’s what I took away — how happy my mom was, and how excited my friends I grew up with were. We got home, it was still in the days of answering machines, and I played my messages, it was literally rooms full of people screaming. You couldn’t even make out any words. People called me right as my name was announced. People in Oklahoma City had a party, I have friends I’ve known since first grade. A friend of mine from Broadway was like, “Oh my gosh you won, you f—ing won!” The disbelief and excitement. Everybody’s in a f—ing frenzy, that’s what so great about it. That’s what I love the most. Everybody else is so excited.
A lot of the awards I won after that, people didn’t even bother to pick up the phone or email. That first time people are like “Wait, something really big happened to someone we know. She must have some talent because other people say so.”