Excited as she is about the new project, the 39-year-old is still reeling from the success of "The Starter Wife," the USA six-hour miniseries based on the best-seller by Gigi Levangie Grazer. The darkly comedic tale has received 10 Emmy nominations, including one for Messing for best actress in a movie or miniseries for her role as Molly Kagan, the wife of a movie producer who finds herself ostracized by the Hollywood community when her husband divorces her.
With "The Starter Wife" and now "The Women," you've had some really terrific post-"Will & Grace" projects.
I have just been really grateful there are projects out there that have really spectacular writing for women. The timing and all the elements fell into place for both projects, and it really was the writing in both cases that made me want to go ahead.
After "Will & Grace" ended its successful run last year, were you worried about what the future would hold?
Oh, absolutely. It is not an organic thing for an actor to be playing one role for a near decade. The reason why we become actors is that we can be gypsies and play different roles and keep changing. It is an unusual set of circumstances anyway, but then to be a part of something that becomes so quickly your home and your extended family. When it ends, it's incredibly confusing and disconcerting and very sad. But the timing was appropriate, though we were really, really proud of what we had done and how we had gone out. But I had told everyone in my life I was not going to work for at least six months because I felt I needed the dust to settle, so to speak. I needed the mourning process to have its due. I didn't want to dance as fast as I could. I wanted to wait for the impulse that told me I was hungry again to work.
But you ended up changing your best-laid plans.
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When the "The Starter Wife" showed up prior to that six-month mark, I was really predisposed to not like and not want to do it. But then I sat down and read the six hours over the course of a weekend, and I couldn't be denied. It was a struggle because I really wanted to say no because I had all of these plans that made sense to me. It wasn't until halfway through the shooting in Australia that I actually realized that this character, Molly Kagan, who on the surface is as far away from Debra as could humanly be, as well as from Grace, was going through a similar sort of massive transformation in her life as I was. There was a parallel experience happening. Hers was a divorce, and at 40 I was realizing my life as I have known it for the last 12 years is gone and now I have the ability to actually ask the question, "What do I want to do?" It was very emotional to go through. I felt compassion for Molly because at first she was paralyzed by it and she went through the same phases I did and, ultimately, it was empowering and celebratory to get to the end of it and realize we had both arrived. How privileged it is to have a second chance.
Even though "The Starter Wife" is comedic, Molly's story is rather sad. She's blacklisted from parties. She loses her friends.
That's what really appealed to me about it. First of all, the writing is just so honest. I felt it didn't shy away from the sadness and the darkness and the disappointment her circumstances required. I also appreciated the kind of humor that was utilized to take it away from tragic and pathetic, and that was sort of a more perverse comedy -- a whole other comedy than I had done before. My favorite thing I did in the entire six hours was in the first hour when my character steps on the scale and I take off my huge diamond ring and it goes down 2/10ths of a pound and I say, "I wonder how much an appendix weights?" It is a funny thing to say, but more the thing I loved about it: It was looking with lights on, without apology, at our culture and the demand that we put on women and our bodies, and that it is a very real thing. Especially as an actress that resonated with me, and I took sort of perverse joy in doing that scene.
You've won the Emmy for "Will & Grace" and been nominated several other times for the series. Is this nomination for "The Starter Wife" different for you? Do you still get a thrill being nominated?
To be honest, I was physically shaking when I found out I got the nomination, and I didn't stop shaking for about two hours because I was so overwhelmed and emotional about it and just ecstatic and grateful. I actually realized, after the fact, that in some ways it meant more to me than my prior nominations because with "Will & Grace" we were part of something that was very important politically and socio-politically. I think the show and the four of us represented more than just [a show] to make people laugh. So part of me felt like some of those nominations may have come in response to the whole of "Will & Grace," and that we as team were trying to accomplish more so than my specific contribution to it. I had never carried a piece before and done six hours and been in every scene. I really felt such an enormous sense of gratitude that all the hard work that was put in was acknowledged.