SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the Nov. 2 episode of “Will & Grace” entitled “Rosario’s Quinceanera.”
When “Will & Grace” creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan set out to revive their hit ’90s sitcom, they planned ways to bring back beloved characters in addition to the core four in the original 10 episode order NBC granted them. (The Peacock later increased the first season episode order to 16 and ordered a second season of 13 episodes.) While the show has found ways to work in everyone from Karen’s nemesis (Leslie Jordan) to Will and Grace’s key exes (Bobby Cannavale and Harry Connick Jr., respectively), one person who was unavailable was Shelley Morrison, who portrayed Karen’s long-suffering maid Rosario.
Although Morrison made a cameo in the original reunion video the gang made at the end of 2016 to encourage voting, she has formally retired from acting. As soon as Mutchnick and Kohan knew she couldn’t commit to a return for the revival, they felt the need to give the character a “proper send-off,” Kohan tells Variety.
“They were so rough with each other,” Mutchnick adds of Karen (Megan Mullally) and Rosario. “But the reason the audience responded to that was because it was clear that what was underneath that was a very deep bond.”
Here, Mutchnick and Kohan talk with Variety about saying good-bye to Rosario, how it may affect Karen long-term, and what other characters the show still has plans to honor.
Was there ever a question of whether you’d just write her out, possibly have her move back to El Salvador, rather than have her pass away?
Kohan: The character felt too much a part of the fabric of the show to just dismiss it with a line or two or an explanation. It felt like it merited more of a loving farewell.
Mutchnick: As Karen says in the show, “You were my everything,” and when you’re dealing with that as part of the make-up of this character’s belief system, you have to write to the heft of that.
And it gave the character of Karen a chance to show a much more vulnerable, sincere side.
Mutchnick: You can’t be as funny as Megan Mullally without having the inverse ability, and that’s just something you know if you work with actors that are very good: the best ones can easily do both very well. And Megan is just someone who’s displayed this one side, but as soon as we knew we had a chance to do something heavy, we knew we had the actress that could deliver the most dramatic episode we’ve ever done.
Kohan: There’s not a lot of vulnerabilities to that character [of Karen]. She’s a pretty tough cookie, and a lot of things just fall off her back. She’s tough, and she’s funny, and she’s blithe, and there’s not very often that heavy stuff happens to her that resonates, so this was an opportunity.
Mutchnick: We also very deliberately isolated the character of Karen throughout the episode. We really separated her off and transitioned her back to the church through Will, who is the most grounded force on the show. We felt like he would be the one to give her the path and the bridge to go deal with some of the feelings that she probably had. He was the right one to identify that and to give her the go-ahead.
What did it feel like when you were writing the episode and on the night of shooting?
Kohan: Megan came to Max’s office and videotaped her reading the monologue, and it made us cry then, it made us cry in rehearsal, and it made us cry when we were shooting it on the floor.
Mutchnick: What David’s referring to is he and I had just finished writing the eulogy – we had just taken our pass at that farewell. Oftentimes when we work on any given scene, we’ll just print that out, separate from the script, and it was just put on my desk, and Megan happened to walk into my office at the moment. I handed the script to her and said, “Read this.” And this tells you everything you need to know about Megan Mullally and her ability: she read that scene cold, never having seen it, and it was as good as on the night of the show when we filmed it because everything about the character comes so naturally to Megan and her abilities are so sharp.
How much did the speech change from that initial pass to when you shot it?
Mutchnick: Not really.
Kohan: I think not at all.
Mutchnick: We really have to acknowledge two other powerhouse talents that are a huge part of this show, and that is Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally, who wrote this script. We were working with the best words that could come out of our writing room. Jon and Tracy have been with us the entire [time] the show has existed, and they really showed what they’re all about in the episode. But to your question about what we changed, the thing that David and I are the most responsible for with that piece of writing is we pulled out all of the jokes. There were jokes that were in there, and we just took them all out.
Yet there was a lot of humor in the episode, much of it around the return of Minnie Driver. How did you decide to bring her back for this particular episode?
Kohan: In the history of the show, there was the relationship with Minnie’s character and the Walker household. Plus, we knew we wanted to find a way to bring her back and incorporate her into the new run of the show in general, and when this episode came about, it was a confluence of things. It was a week she was available, it was the fact that everybody wanted to bring her back, and it touched on her history.
How much will Rosario’s absence linger for Karen in future episodes?
Mutchnick: Not really. We knew this would be an opportunity to do something we haven’t done much of on the show, but you have to be very careful.
Kohan: We actually talked about an episode where she’s still grieving, and Jack is trying to get her out, and they pass by a pet store on the street and she’s convinced she hears Rosario speaking through this chihuahua and takes the chihuahua home and is arguing with her the way she was Rosie. But it’s almost like the idea of her in her grief over Rosario, we covered it.
Mutchnick: Yeah, it’s finite, and we wrapped it up. Rosario died, and Karen dealt with it. She brushes herself off and presses on. You’ve seen little bits of that in the history of the show in how she’s dealt with problems with her husband: she deals with it and then moves on. This is a big one, but because it did get so real and so heavy, it didn’t feel like something we could return to in a comic way.
And there is a line from Grace about how she dealt with things when her mother passed away. Will you be doing more with that, to give Debbie Reynolds a similar send-off?
Mutchnick: We are going to do more with that. The blessing and the curse of a show that’s been around as long as “Will & Grace,” we’ve written ourselves into a couple of corners, and that’s a good thing because in those corners are real rites of passage and moments in these characters’ lives. We’ve dealt with Rosario, and we do have to deal with the loss of Bobbi Adler, Grace’s mother on the show. We will be addressing that this year.
“Will & Grace” airs on NBC Thursdays at 9 p.m.