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Remote Controlled: ‘Will & Grace’ Cast Tackles Politics, LGBT Issues

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with “Will & Grace” costars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally about what to expect from the much-anticipated revival.

“We’re all really excited to have this second go around,” Messing said. “Things in our country have been chaotic and scary and sad and frustrating. When we all got together we were like, ‘We need to laugh again. I’m sure there are other people out there who feel like they need to laugh, too.'”

With the new season, creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan decided that the series finale didn’t exist, Mullally explained. “That was a series finale. This was in 2006 when, when a show’s over, it’s over forever, never to be seen again.”

The first scene in the revival, does however, address where the series left off. “You will find out that was a dream,” Messing revealed. “It’s Karen’s dream, which makes sense because she’s always intoxicated on something.”

Messing further explained the decision behind scrapping the original finale, which showed Will and Grace both having kids. “If you want it to be about the foursome and they have kids, then Will and Grace will just be bad parents,” she said. “We don’t want to see them being bad parents.”

The cast also discussed how their election special video — which turned out to be a catalyst in the revival — came together. The set had been at Emerson College in Boston (where Mutchnick and Kohan went to school) for 10 years. Right around the election, Mutchnick got a call saying there was a water leak and he had to take back the entire set. From there, they created a modern-day episode centered on the election.

Hayes said he was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reactions from fans. “I didn’t know they gave a s— anymore. We did it for the purpose of the cause,” he said. “That jump-started this whole conversation we’re having.”

In line with the election video, the revival will continue to address the current political and social landscape. “We’re not going to be an overtly political show all the time, but we are going to exist in that climate and we’ve always commented on things political or cultural in our way,” McCormack said. “I think it was the right thing to come back at the right time.”

And on that, Messing also spoke to the original series opening up conversations on gay culture. “What I’m looking forward to is just going further,” she said. “When we came on we really dealt with LGB. That was as far as we got,” she said. “I want to finish the whole alphabet.”

Much like the plot, the characters themselves pick up where they left off. Hayes shared that Jack is still the same character at his core, complete with “delusions of grandeur.” (“I think that’s what people like about him,” he added.) Though he doesn’t know what it fully entails, Hayes said, “Jack will be instructing on an educational level a new form of acting called Jackting.”

As for Messing’s Grace, she said, “The only thing I said is I want her to be a feminist, which I think she always was. Because of where we are, things are being pushed backwards on many levels on social policy and so I just wanted her to be an outspoken person when it comes to being a woman and women’s rights.”

And Karen? “Oh you know, best friends with Donnie and Melania down at Mar-a-Lago. Her usual hideousness, present day,” Mullalley joked.

In all, the cast will still remain true to their original identities, McCormack promised. “I don’t know what we would do with maturity,” he said. “Maturity isn’t funny. They’re all just as shallow and full of anxiety as ever.”

Even though the show premiered almost 20 years ago, Mullalley said it felt like no time had gone by when the cast got back together. “I keep saying, the weirdest thing about the entire experience is that it doesn’t feel weird at all. It’s like we just went away for the weekend,” she recalled. “I broke character after the first scene and said, ‘This is so f—ing crazy.'”

You can listen to this week’s podcast here:

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.

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