'Will & Grace's' Debra Messing, Eric McCormack on Clinton-themed reunion and a possible revival
"The core of our skit was to just get involved, make your voice heard and vote," that's how Debra Messing describes the nine-minute Hillary Clinton-themed Will & Grace reunion video that went viral Monday.
According to Messing (Grace) and Eric McCormack (Will), the idea of the video came from Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick and was prompted by a need to move the show's original sets from Emerson College, where they have been housed for the past 10 years since the NBC Emmy darling concluded its eight-season run.
Below, Messing and McCormack talk about getting the gang back together with stars Sean Hayes (Jack) and Megan Mullally (Karen) joining the surprise production as a voice for the undecided, and Republican nominee Donald Trump, respectively, how it all came together and if they could revisit Will & Grace again.
Whose idea was it to do this? Walk us through how this all came together.
McCormack: It was entirely out of the blue. We knew 10 years ago, for reasons he never really explained, [co-creator] Max Mutchnick had the entire set — every detail of it, every book, box — moved across the country to his alma matter at Emerson College and that's where it's been sitting — behind glass, like at the Smithsonian Library — for 10 years. There was some deadline to give it back to him or he had to give it back to someone else so it was going to be transported across the country and that's when Max dreamed up this idea of a 10-year reunion for the election. It started with him, around early or mid-August. We all immediately said yes and then it became about finding a date. Then we miraculously did — a week ago today, last Tuesday, and we shot it Wednesday. Wednesday, by sheer coincidence, happened to be the 18th anniversary of the show premiering in 1998.
Messing: It was immediate, electric joy [when she got the call from Max]. I did not hesitate for a second. I said, "I'm in, just tell me where and when." I thought it was such an incredible idea. Will & Grace was always about being irreverent about whatever was going on in the world. With how unprecedented this election cycle has been, there's no perfect time than right now for the show to be on based on the kind of show it was and the kind of comedy we did. To find out that after 10.5 years of being away from it and be able to come back and have this reunion — and Max had the sets, which was so insane — so to do this homage sketch and revisit the characters and to have fun with what's been going on the election was heaven to me.
What was it like reuniting with everyone for the first time after 10 years?
McCormack: It was incredibly emotional. The show was always funny and fun. Rehearsals were funny, read-throughs — the very first one of the script — were always funny. Across the board, the network would always show up because they knew it was going to be funny right out of the gate. From moment one [of the reunion], there was a tremendous happiness — but also a real sadness — because we knew it was brief: it was going to be 24.5 hours and then we were going to be done. It wasn't just the four of us either; we had a lot of our original writers and producers and crew there. There was a sense of, "This is incredible and it's all going to be over way too soon."
Messing: We had our costume fittings before we saw the set for the first time and we reunited in this empty dressing room, one by one. It was a love fest. We've kept in touch over the years but the four of us have not been in same room in 10 years. It was very emotional. The four of us were having this group hug and marveling at one another and the fact that we were all together and what we were about to do. When we walked on the set, it was a very intense moment. It was shocking to be back on that set with every little prop in place. It was surreal, exciting and certainly nostalgic. But there was a kind of shock: all of our mouths were wide open and we were slowly working our way around the set saying things like, "That painting is here!" It took us about five solid minutes on the set to finally get over the shock of it.
Who wrote the script for it?
McCormack: Max and David Kohan, who created the show; Gary Janetti, Bill Wrubel had a hand in it. Those were the four main writers. Then on the night we shot it, a lot of our original writers came out — Jhoni Marchinko, Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally. There was some rewriting on the day but as always, everyone contributed. But really, this was Max and David's baby.
McCormack: Jim Burrows! We never did episode that Jim Burrows didn't direct. The whole point of this was, "Wouldn't this be funny if it looked like any other episode of the show." There was talk of do we play their age? But what was the point? Everybody looks great. Other than talking about the election and the iPads we had at the beginning, it could be a show from 2004, you know?
Where did you shoot it?
McCormack: It was shot on the same lot we always shot on, but we had to be really secretive. Max wanted this to have a pop and not be leaked in any way. The script was called Hot Food and all communication about it was labeled that. The set was set up in the basement underneath stages 21 and 22 at CBS Radford Studios [in Studio City, Calif.] It's not an ideal place to shoot — there's a big pillar in middle and you couldn't get any other sets there — but for us and our clandestine [production], it was perfect. We had an audience of 100 and a lot of them had no idea what they were about to see. They were friends of friends and a lot of them were told that it was something Max wanted to show them and it was called Hot Food and that's all they knew. There were these floaters hiding set and when they were pulled out of the way, there the four of us were, in full costumes, standing on the original sets intact. It was a pretty awesome moment and pretty emotional.
So there was no laugh track?
McCormack: Nope,that's the crowd. In that crowd was my son, who was 3 when the show went off the air. He was on that set but doesn't remember it. He's 14 now and got to see what made me, me. That was pretty emotional for me.
What was it like filming with so many of the original writers, Burrows and crew members all there?
Messing: It was incredible and not something I ever thought could ever be possible. When we came in to shoot it, it happened so insanely fast. We were trying to remember these big monologues. We got the script the day before and then all the sudden, we looked up at the four cameras and saw these familiar faces that started with us 20 years ago. It was incredible. At the end, we were all relieved that we had pulled it off and that it was funny, special and an accomplishment. It was fun because it was our little secret; only our little family knew about it. Of course people were saying, "I wish this wouldn't end." All department heads said, "Why can't we pick this up in a week? Why aren't we doing this? This is what the country needs with all the craziness." There was a longing to keep the family together. But at the end of the day, it was like a family coming together for a wedding: family members from far and wide, having big party, hugging and saying goodbye and realizing that we shared something really special .
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What was it like getting back into these characters after 10 years?
McCormack: These are roles that we live with for the rest of our lives and we have nothing but gratitude but all of us have had to prove ourselves in other ways. I've had to take roles that on purpose were not Will-like, so that someone like The Hollywood Reporter would write, "McCormack shows great range; no Will Truman here." That's the kind of our life now, at least for me, that I've had to do. So it's always a strange feeling because I have nothing but pride and love in the role and the show. It felt good to not have to play that game and for one or two days just exhale and think that I get to be Will again. It's just like riding a gay bicycle: you just get right back on. (Laughing.) It was very easy. At the table read, it sounded like any other Wednesday 15 years ago at the table read. I remember looking up at everyone and there were tears in their eyes with everyone laughing so hard but it was also, "Aw, man, that was a really joyous time in our lives."
Messing: It was like a switch being pulled back and it felt like we just had a two-week hiatus. The ease with which we slipped right back into play mode with one another was crazy. After eight years together, we had a shorthand and it was completely intact. There was something really thrilling about that; to know that that role will forever be ingrained in our bones and we'll have that connection forever. It's an intangible chemistry and it was really fun to experience that again. This election cycle has been very stressful for the whole country; I really needed to laugh out loud and have big belly laughs again. There was something really healing about it.
Any fun anecdotes from filming?
McCormack: The very first interview that the four of us every did on the set — in 1998 — was Donny and Marie, who still had their show at the time. Donny had all these notes on blue cards and just before the camera rolled, he threw his notes into a decorative box on Will's coffee table. Eight years later, we were shooting the finale and trying to take it in and I remembered that moment and looked in the box and Donny's notes were still there. Cut to 10 years after that, the sets were moved from Emerson College and I got to the set, looked in the box and Donny Osmond's cheat sheet is still in that box, 18 years later.
The video ends with a "Vote Honey" banner. What is that?
McCormack: I don't think you have to look too hard to figure out our politics but in general, Will & Grace — there was always four very different characters on that show and Max's idea of allowing Karen — as outrageous and insane as she is — to be the voice of Donald Trump and to allow Jack to be the voice of the undecided and millennials, perhaps, that don't get how they can contribute and why their vote counts. All of that mattered, so Vote Honey — the Honey is supposed to be Karen's voice. The vote is the important thing. Just go and vote. We hope if you're watching us that you'll figure the rest of it out.
The reunion seemed so effortless for everyone to get back into these characters. Did you talk about doing an ongoing revival at all? Is that something you would be interested in doing for a network or streaming outlet?
McCormack: There is no official talk. A lot of that started the past 36 hours on the internet, which can create its own crazy expectations. We had a great time. It's a never say never type of situation. But at this point, there is no talk. Maybe [he'd be interested in doing it]. I think you'll find that we'll all give that answer. The whole eight years was lightning in a bottle. You want to be careful that you don't mess too much with that bottle. We knew when Max said, "This is what it is: it's 10 minutes for this purpose; I have the sets." We knew that was not going to mess with it; in fact, it would very much add and be exactly the way we'd want to reunite at this point. As for the future, everyone — from Max and David on down — is so protective of the show and how we ended it. We're very proud of the series finale and the story that told of the break that friendships sometimes take. So to play with that and change that story and change our own stories in life, I'm sure we would all be open to talking about it.
Messing: The whole thing started and was over in two days. Everyone went back to their lives; I got back on a plane and went to New York and we didn't have time to really talk about it. Now that it's live, everyone has been asking: are we really coming back? Could we really come back? My response, which I've learned in the last five years, is I never say never anymore. Everything has changed so much in the TV industry; there have been reboots. Now there are platforms where you can do six or 10 episodes. I don't believe we would ever come back to network [TV] again. I think that the logistics of all of our lives, there would just be way too many things to hammer out. But for something shorter-lived and maybe having the limitations of being on network TV lifted may give us a fun, fresh opportunity because we could be really, really naughty! (Laughing.)
What didn't make cut?
McCormack: We shot 20 pages — about twice as much as what is on the internet right now. Max wanted to make sure the initial impact wasn't too long and made its impact. I'd love for the rest of it to be released. It was all really funny; some of it was political and some of what he cut wasn't political but was just a great mini-episode of the show that all took place in the apartment. It brought back memories of trusting each other.
Messing: There were hilarious things cut. The whole thing was 23 minutes long. I posted a picture of the four of us where I attack Jack and everyone is trying to pull me off him and Karen says, "I want in!" and starts rubbing up inappropriately against Will's back. It was one of those really classic sitcom funny physical comedy moments that was super fun. Rosario (Shelley Morrison) came in and she and Karen did their screaming at each other at the same time for 30 seconds and then kiss afterward. They were our greatest hits and it was only because of time that they were cut out. There were gems everywhere.
Any plans to release the full version?
Messing: That's a question for Max; I have no idea. I left there and I'm in Ohio now campaigning for Hillary Clinton. The whole thing happened and it's just been like fireworks went off and then we all had to get back to life and we haven't really talked much about it other than the excitement about the response that we're getting. We made people laugh and they were really happy to see the four characters again. I just really wanted to make people laugh, that's what it came down to for me.
What are you doing next?
McCormack: I'm doing Travelers for Netflix in December. I'm hoping that's one everybody binges over the holiday. Right now I'm in Vancouver shooting a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas romantic comedy movie with Kristin Davis and Shirley MacLaine. We're shooting on the streets of Vancouver and when they yell cut, Shirley and I ran to the television to try and catch the debate [last night]. It's one of those moments you remember.
Messing: Right now everything is on hold because I'm working full time for the Hillary Clinton campaign until Election Day. I have some things in development that I won't go into detail yet but do have ABC's Dirty Dancing movie event coming during sweeps.Check out more from the cast in the gallery below!
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