It was over, Will & Grace was over. It had enjoyed eight seasons and made stars of actors Eric McCormack (as Will Truman), Debra Messing (as Grace Adler), Megan Mullally (as Karen Walker), and Sean Hayes (as Jack McFarland). But back on May 18, 2006, it all came to an end.
Yet during the last presidential race, the decision was made to shoot a 10-minute, mini-reunion episode designed to get people out there to vote. Well, people went absolutely nuts for it. Rumors began that the show would be coming back to NBC with a reboot, and it has. And not only is it back, but it’s already been renewed for a second season. Interestingly, the cast is about as stunned as everybody else that they’re back, as they share in the following interview.
Sean Hayes: We all kind of felt, “Wow, this is it. This is the end.” It was sad, but it seemed like it was the right time. We never knew this would happen, where we’re coming back, so the end was very emotional. We were all crying, as one does at the death of anything, but to be resurrected is another gift. That never happens. It’s the opportunity to almost relive your childhood. Not your childhood, but your young-hood. And who gets that opportunity?
Debra Messing: We had decided collectively, ahead of time, that we wanted it to end after Season 8 because we wanted to give the writers time to really think about how to wrap it up. We wanted to do it justice. None of us saw this revival coming. But back then, it was a very powerful, emotional night. We felt such pride. And we felt it was time to step away, wake up our creative muscles, and use them in a different way.
Megan Mullally: I never dreamed that we would be back doing Will & Grace because that just doesn’t happen. You do a show and it ends. You do a series finale where you can — send everyone to prison, or it was all a dream or whatever it is — and it’s over. Forever. You grieve that loss, and then you move on. I never dreamed it would happen, although I always felt that somehow the character of Karen was living in a parallel universe. She was just being horrible somewhere in another dimension.
Eric McCormack: Being back feels completely surreal because it feels strange and not at all strange at the same time. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that almost all of the faces are the same. If [director] James Burrows, or if someone had changed their appearance entirely, if we lost key players, it wouldn't work, but it feels like yesterday. That is still unsettling for us, in a great way, but it’s completely bananas. And Will was surprisingly easy to jump back into. He’s my Id. Since Will & Grace ended, I’ve been doing dramas; hour-long single camera straight characters. On my Netflix series [Travelers] I’m playing such a contained character. It was like a Jack in the Box and getting back on this set was like doing that. Except it was a Will in the Box, I suppose.
Debra Messing: It is very surreal. I didn’t realize there was going to be a huge crowd there for the announcement of the revival. The mayor showing up and making it “Will & Grace Day.” I think we literally just looked at each other and were, like, “What is happening?" It’s just extraordinary the good will and the love that is coming at us from many, many different places. It’s so gratifying and we just hope we can make everybody laugh as hard as we did before or more.
Megan Mullally: It’s just the craziest thing because the weirdest thing about this is that it doesn't feel weird. It feels like, “Of course we’re here doing Will & Grace. Naturally.” It doesn’t feel like we ever left. It feels like maybe we took a hiatus week or were away for the weekend. Some of that is, of course, because we have all the same people, including the same camera guys, hair and makeup teams, same wardrobe, same set designer, same set decorator, same everything. So that helps with the illusion of time not having passed. We just look around once a day and we’re, like, “Hey, guys, just doing another episode of Will & Grace. No big deal.”
Sean Hayes: You don’t know if, when a show is over, people still care about it, where it stands. There’s just so much product out there. But then, on the first tape night with the audience’s energy and the awesome screaming, it’s, like, “Wow, people still really enjoy the show and want more of it,” and we’re so thrilled to supply that. The energy that you feel from the audience every single tape night reminds you of how special the show is.
Debra Messing: There really is nothing that compares to the experience of a live taping. It’s joyful and it’s raucous. It’s electric. So it felt really good being back. The first time we walked out and the audience went insane and we heard our music... every one of us started to cry.
Eric McCormack: Those 200 people in the studio audience are a character in this show every week. If you ever want to get a drink in me and have someone say the word “laugh track” to me, I get very upset. We don’t have a laugh track. We have people and they love it. It was fantastic to be in front of them again. When I say them, what I mean is an audience of people that never thought they’d see their show live; never thought it would exist again. It felt like when that band that broke up gets back together for that one tour and you can’t wait to see them. But you’re also, like, “Please, can they still play? Can they still sing? Are they going to sound good? Are they going to look really old?” It was like they heard the band from their youth and they loved it. For us, we felt like rock stars and we had so much fun. The material is so good. These writers are on fire. I’m excited and proud of what we’re producing.
Megan Mullally: As long as the writing is at the same level, which it is, that’s the jumping-off point. We’ve got the writing, so that’s the solid base and we’ve got the characters. We’ve also had 11 more years of life experience, and worked for 11 years on other jobs, and learned little things here and there along the way in other climates, with other actors and other shows. You bring all of that together, with the base that you’ve got and it’s a pretty good recipe.
Sean Hayes: I think ultimately the show is written from an honest point of view and people connect to that. They can probably see themselves in everyday life through these characters, at least part of their lives or part of their friends’ lives. I think they like the escapism of watching friends that they actually are familiar with and grew up with be together again.
Debra Messing: I think people love the show, because they know they’re going to laugh out loud at some point in this 22-minute story. That’s the kind of comedy that lives within the universe of Will & Grace. It’s big, it’s broad, it’s silly and it’s vaudevillian at times, but I don’t think you can overestimate the healing power of laughter. Ultimately, I think that’s why people come to the show.
Megan Mullally: So we’ve come back after 11 years and we shot our very first episode of the revival. In the studio, they have a video screen and the audience is there, and they’re just wound up like a dollar watch. They’re playing this big sizzle reel of “Here comes the new Will & Grace." It gets to the end of it, the lights just bang on and the screen goes up. We’re all standing there and the audience just starts screaming. We get done shooting the first scene of this go-around, and it’s all very electric, and there were so many laughs from the audience. I looked over, and Jimmy Burrows, our director, was crying. Eric went over to him and said, “Jimmy, are you alright?” He goes, “Yeah. I just haven’t heard laughs like this in 11 years.”
Will & Grace returns to NBC on Thursday, Sept. 28!