Debra Messing has only been in the Broadway play “Birthday Candles” since March, but in some ways, she feels more deeply connected to her character Ernestine than she felt to the leading role she played for more than a decade in NBC’s long-running hit “Will & Grace.”
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“I lived with Grace 11 years, and already my experience of Ernestine is far more satisfying than Grace,” Messing revealed on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety’s theater podcast. That satisfaction is due in part to the the demands of the role in “Birthday Candles,” which requires Ernestine to age 90 years onstage — from 17 to 107 — over the course of the show’s 90-minute run time. “Because [Ernestine] goes through so much, it forces me to consider things that I normally am not asked to consider when it’s just one role that is based in one moment in time,” Messing explained. “So I feel it. I feel it very deeply.”
Messing also talked through all the ways that performing for a live studio audience, as she did for “Will & Grace,” is similar to appearing on Broadway — and all the ways in which the two are very different. For one thing, the fast pace of her work on “Will & Grace,” in which cuts and rewrites were made on the fly and each week brought a new episode, is “like improv in a way,” she said. “I would say in 25% of what you see on television, we’re saying those lines for the first time. … You experience it in your body in a completely different way than when you are really living and growing and expanding in a part [as you do in the theater].”
Of screen acting in general, she noted, “It feels less like art to me, and it feels more like a craft. Like a certain skill set.”
Also on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Messing teased that she has “some insight” into the new stage musical adaptation of NBC’s fan-favorite Broadway drama “Smash.” She wouldn’t reveal anything other than to say that she’s not involved, but she did share her thoughts on why the TV show, which ran two seasons, was so short-lived.
“I don’t think it ever really works to fire the person who created the show after a year and bring someone on who had nothing to do with the show to run it,” she said. “It made it feel like two different shows in two different years. … I think that that was the reason why it failed.”
Still, Messing said she remains as ardently devoted as “Smash” as the show’s biggest fans — no matter how much grief her character got for her trademark scarves. “I will always defend her scarves!” she declared.
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.