Chris Azzopardi | Q-Syndicate
“Will & Grace” star on real-life lesbian advances, James Franco’s pubes and Karen Walker’s return
Tip one back for Megan Mullally, who’s making a move to the big screen in “Why Him?” after a drove of indie roles, including gay-affirming mom Mrs. Van Camp in 2013’s “G.B.F.,” and a variety of TV stints.
But when it comes to the small screen, it was the 58-year-old actress’s eight-year role on the groundbreaking late ’90s NBC sitcom “Will & Grace” — as quippy, martini-swigging socialite Karen Walker — that changed Mullally’s life as much as it changed ours.
So, honey, sit back and catch up on all things Mullally. She has a lot to say about that time a female coworker attempted to seduce her, crushing on “the gayest person in the world,” witnessing “100 percent” of James Franco’s butt crack and the likelihood of a “Will & Grace” reboot.
(Chris Azzopardi | CA) There are a lot of gays who’d like to chat with you, so I feel very lucky.
(Megan Mullally | MM) I love it. You can say, “Oh my god, she was really boring.”
(CA) “Why Him?” centers on the awkward situation of bringing home someone your parents are likely to dislike. Have you ever brought a controversial boyfriend home to your parents?
(MM) My first boyfriend in college, Brad. My father was an arch-conservative and Brad subscribed to the communist newspaper, so that was not cute. [Laughs] My father wasn’t too thrilled about Brad.
(CA) You’re saying he had a “why him?” moment?
(MM) Yeah … and then some.
(CA) Having you and James Franco in a movie together is basically a match made in gay heaven. He has quite the gay resume.
(MM) That’s funny. I never thought about that! But yeah, totally.
(CA) I guess you didn’t have a chance to compare your queer credentials.
(MM) No, but I’m familiar with straight James, gay James, all of that. I mean, I know him. We got along very well, James and I. Maybe there was something in the air … the gays brought us together.
(CA) As someone I consider to be a guru of all things gay, were you able to determine what it is about James that appeals to the LGBT community?
(MM) I think because he kind of flirts with them. [Laughs] I mean, he’s very cute. That doesn’t hurt.
(CA) And in the movie, shirtless.
(MM) He’s also pantsless! His butt crack was 100 percent showing — and, like, a little bit of pubes.
(CA) What was it like shooting those scenes?
(MM) Um, it wasn’t horrible. I was actually a little embarrassed when I walked on the set the first time and was like, “Oh my. Wow. OK.” [Sings Bing Crosby] “Getting to know youuuuu.” So yeah, that happened.
(CA) You were raised in Oklahoma City. Before you became immersed in the gay community through living in West Hollywood and starring on “Will & Grace,” what was your introduction to it?
(MM) Oh, that’s funny. A couple of things: I did my first summer stock musical when I was 12. I also did another summer stock when I was 14 and I had the biggest crush on this guy named Tommy who was in the ensemble and played a small part. He was the cutest blonde boy in the world and I just could not understand why he didn’t really pay very much attention to me. [Laughs] We were really good friends, always hanging out. But I was very naïve. Later I was like, “Ohh, wait. Totally the gayest person in the world.”
Around that same era, there was a woman who was also somehow involved in this summer stock. She was gay and I used to go to her apartment and she would get me high. I remember one time I fell out of the chair, I got so high. I, like, hobbled over out of the chair and she thought it was hilarious. So yeah, she was gay and I thought, “Gosh, she really likes me,” and it dawned on me that she probably thought I was pretty cute, but she never made a pass at me.
Even later, when I was 20 or 21, I was doing this musical in Chicago. [Screenplay writer] Pat Resnick wrote the book to the musical and we were doing it in Woodstock before we moved it into downtown Chicago. There was one night she and the other writers in the musical were all running house together and we were having a party. They said, “Pat wants to talk to you — she’s upstairs.” I go upstairs, and I was just wandering down the hall and there’s this open doorway, and there was nothing in the room but a mattress on the floor and a red lightbulb and the light is on. So it’s a red light and she’s laying on the mattress and she wasn’t, you know, a knock-down, drag-out beauty or anything like that. She literally patted the mattress and was like, “Sit down.” She said, “Megan, have you ever kissed a woman before?” And I was like, “No.” And she said, “Do you want to?” And I said, “Nooo.”
(CA) But you have kissed a woman before, right?
(MM) I have. And I did like it. Maybe she tried to or something happened or I broke away. She just wasn’t the one for me. [Laughs] Later, when it happened, I thought it was quite cute. Different situation, different girl. Better.
(CA) There’s no denying the influence of “Will & Grace” on generations of LGBT people. For you, what does it mean to hear stories from LGBT people who saw themselves being represented on a barrier-breaking TV show that cultivated visibility?
(MM) Words can’t really describe what it means to me. All you really hope to do, if you’re a performer and if you’re not an asshole, if you’re coming from a really legitimate, sincere place, is to have a positive impact. So, to have been a part of a show that actually not only helped people come out to their parents, or to come out period, or to not feel like they were alone — much less in the larger view and maybe, possibly even contributing to an awareness and an acceptance that has resulted in all the strides that have been made, especially gay marriage. I’m not saying “Will & Grace” is responsible for gay marriage [laughs]; I’m saying that maybe there was an element that helped in some way.
(CA) When accepting other roles, did you ever say to yourself, “If it’s not as good as Karen, I’m not taking it”?
(MM) Yeah, and it never is, but you have to work. I feel like I’m really lucky to have gotten a lot of the things that I’ve done since “Will & Grace.” I have “Why Him?,” but I also did four other indie movies this year that I really liked. Smaller parts. And just a lot of weird TV shows I’ve done: “Children’s Hospital” and “Party Down,” and Gayle on “Bob’s Burgers.” Obviously, “Parks and Rec.” That role was sort of tailor-made specifically for me, which was great and so fun to do. I mean, rarely is [a role] at the level of a character like Karen, although I think Tammy on “Parks and Rec” is one of those great characters, and Gayle on “Bob’s Burgers” is a great character too. I mean, you don’t always get an eight-year run at it, and that makes a big difference, too.
(CA) How many roles came your way that were just like Karen?
(MM) I got offered a few, but obviously, I didn’t take any of them. They were just a shadow of somebody trying to write something like that, but I never really took any of those parts. I’ve tried to pick things that I think are well written, basically, and hope that the people involved are really nice and good at their jobs.
(CA) In September, the “Will & Grace” cast reunited on-screen for the first time in 10 years for an election-themed episode that received more than 6 million views on YouTube. And then, recently, you tweeted a pic of yourself and fellow “Will & Grace” stars Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack and Debra Messing eating dessert. Is that what break looks like on the set of “Will & Grace” in 2016?
(MM) That was actually over at Sean Hayes’ house, but, I mean … what are you asking me? [Laughs]
(CA) I’m asking you if the show is coming back and if you’re working on new episodes.
(MM) Well, OK. All I can say is that there is a very good chance that that might happen. It’s not happening right this second. I mean, we’re not rehearsing or anything like that. But there is a very good chance that something is going to materialize.
(CA) My heart wants to jump out of my body right now.
(MM) I know. Mine too! But can’t really talk about it or say anything, because you know how it is.
(CA) How might a “Will & Grace” revival reflect the strides we’ve made in the LGBT community since the show’s original inception as well as the current political climate?
(MM) So speaking theoretically, in a completely made-up world where “Will & Grace” is coming back to NBC for 10 episodes — just in that made-up world — it couldn’t be a better time. [Laughs] I mean, it couldn’t possibly be better timing. I think more so now than even when we started! And who would have ever — I mean, it’s heinous that it’s because Donald Trump is the president-elect. That’s just a crazy sentence that nobody would have ever thought they’d utter. But having said that, at the same time, that just gives us carte blanche.
I think the first rule of any show — and again, we’re speaking hypothetically — is that it be funny and entertaining. I mean, it’s comedy. If you’re doing a comedy, the first rule is that there be good comedy in that comedy show, so that’s the jumping off point. Then, from there — the show was always very topical. For eight seasons, extremely topical — so much so that [director] Jim Burrows was always telling the writers, “Honey, it’s crazy topical — it’s not gonna stand the test of time.” But I just think that’s what the show is. It’s a very topical, current show. We had a gay marriage on “Will & Grace” in 2000/2001. And I was like, gay marriage?! I mean, it was just really early.
(CA) Are you saying it was impossible to even think of the concept of gay marriage at the time?
(MM) I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe it. You’re having two men get married to each other — that is such a great idea.” Because it was just not happening! It wasn’t something! It wasn’t like every weekend, “Oh no, I’m sorry, I have another gay marriage to go to this weekend.” [Laughs] People just weren’t getting gay-married as much at that point. And the whole thrust of that episode was that they were gonna have a wedding even though it wasn’t recognized by any officiant. There wasn’t any paperwork involved. They were gonna get married and honor their relationship and celebrate their love for each other. It was such a beautiful episode.
People watching it must’ve been like, “Huh? Two gay people are having a wedding?” It was early! And the thing is, we had a gay marriage on the show, but it still has to be funny, and so that was one of the episodes where Jack and Karen have one of those famous slap fights. There was still a lot of funny stuff going on.
(CA) You were 40 years old when you played Karen on “Will & Grace.” Considering the amount of flak Hollywood gets for being ageist, what does fame feel like in your 40s, when most actresses would say they’d least expect it?
(MM) Oh yeah, well, I don’t know because I think I’m a little anomalous in that I’ve always been a late bloomer in everything. I didn’t meet my husband [Nick Offerman] till I was 41, and I didn’t have that kind of career success till I was about that same age: 40, 41. A lot of things have come to me late in life, and it even applies to “Why Him?” I have gotten an actual part in a [major, big-screen] movie at the tender young age of 57! It’s all happening so fast! Hope I don’t get into drugs. [Laughs]
It’s just funny: I’ve always been a late bloomer, so that gives me eternal optimism, so I never feel like, “Oh, I’m gettin’ older; I guess everything is gonna stop.” I’m the opposite: “Oh, I’m just getting started.” I really feel like that and also, I don’t really feel very much like a grown up, which is kind of a problem. [Laughs]
(CA) I’m really starting to see the similarities between you and Karen Walker.
(MM) [Laughs] That’s the thing that I really love about Karen — she has the ability to be very childlike and have a lot of joy. I think she’s a big optimist too, quite frankly.
—Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).