Debra Messing on Bringing Back ‘Will & Grace’ After Trump’s Election: ‘We Have to Laugh Again’

Megan Mullally, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Sean Hayes'Will and Grace' TV show FYC event, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Jun 2018
John Salangsang/Variety/REX/Shut

According to the “Will & Grace” cast, there was no better time to bring back their hit NBC comedy than in 2017.

After going off the air in 2006 at the end of its eighth season, the show was rebooted on network TV this year following a viral video of the characters urging Americans to vote in the 2016 presidential election. While some thought it was a one-time reunion, Megan Mullally said she knew there was more to come, and it had to be now.

“It is all in the timing, it wouldn’t have happened a year before or a year after,” Mullally said at the show’s For Your Consideration event on Saturday. “It had to happen right that minute.”

Debra Messing agreed, saying that the current political climate had a lot to do with the decision to return. When discussing the reboot, she said, “We were talking about it thinking that the president was going to be Hillary Clinton, and so the imagination was ‘What kind of happy stories are we going to tell? We’re going to be able to tell stories about a woman president.’ I mean, it was all going ahead and then all of a sudden it wasn’t.”

After Trump was elected, Messing said the four stars reevaluated the future of the show, and were torn because “part of it was, ‘we’re so sad, how can we be funny?’ And then part of the whole thing was we have to be funny, we have to laugh again, and the idea, selfishly, was like ‘I need to laugh.'”

She added that the cast needed to have a purpose to come back, and required a promise from the network and producers that the show could “be what we always were, and I think that was the thing for me, which was provocative and topical. The world had changed, but the DNA of the show hadn’t changed, as long as we’re guaranteed we wouldn’t be asked for it to change.” After they were reassured of that, the cast signed on for the reboot.

The FYC panel, held at Harmony Gold in Los Angeles, also featured stars Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, and co-creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. The group reflected on the early days of the show, as well as first impressions of each other, favorite guest stars and the series’ cultural significance to gay representation on TV.

Hayes admitted that at the time, he didn’t really notice the groundbreaking impact of the show because as a gay man himself, he didn’t understand having to normalize the LGBTQ community.

“I didn’t understand why it was abnormal, I’m just me living my life, which is normal, and being surrounded by a bunch of loving and supportive people,” Hayes said. “Then I got the show and was around more supporting loving people, so I never knew it was a big thing to just portray a heightened version of myself in a show. I didn’t know it was newsworthy.”

Messing also reflected on working with the late Debbie Reynolds, who played her mother across several seasons of the show. She said was struck by what a professional she always was, taking her role on the show very seriously, as well as her off-camera personality.

“The thing that was so delightful about her was that she never stopped entertaining,” Messing remembered. “If she was just sitting there eating breakfast, she would go over to the craft services table and she would start singing, she would start dancing for anyone who was there. I was 30 and I was tired all the time, and she’s like ‘I’m 70 and after I’m done I’m going to go do my Vegas show and tour the country for 350 days out of the year and I’m going to sing and dance and tap also.’ And I was like ‘Wow, I suck.’ She was incredible.”

“Will & Grace” returns for its second season in the fall, and has already been renewed for a third.