Interview of the week: Debra Messing

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  Oct. 3, 2002 at 5:53 PM
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"Will & Grace" is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV sit-coms in America, but the actress who plays neurotic interior designer living Grace Adler admits she initially had doubts about whether the country would embrace a gay-themed show.

"I didn't know if America was ready," explains 34-year-old Debra Messing.

"And 'Ellen' had just gone off the air and this had four distinct characters with a strong comic voice, but I didn't know if people would even give it a chance because of 'Ellen...' I just felt in my heart that if the critics would just watch the first two episodes that it would have a life. If you just watch it and be open to it, then it would have a life.

Ellen DeGeneres' namesake sit-com was canceled in 1998, shortly after she announced she was gay. "Will & Grace" debuted the same year and has amassed numerous Emmy Award nominations in recent years. It is currently in its fifth season.

In addition to starring in one of TV's hottest shows, Messing also appeared in two feature films last year. She played Richard Gere's doomed wife in "The Mothman Prophecies" and Woody Allen's ditzy, ambitious girlfriend in the hilarious comedy, "Hollywood Ending."

Asked if she enjoys the transition between film and television work, the perky, auburn-haired beauty insists she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I have always had the goal of changing mediums and changing genres as often as possible that's how I'm happiest. Each medium flexes another muscle and fulfills me in a completely different way," the Brooklyn native notes. "I'd really love to do film and do the show and do plays as well."

Messing's first big Hollywood break was a small role in the 1995 romantic drama, "A Walk in the Clouds" opposite Keanu Reeves. That job led to a lead role on the short-lived sit-com, "Ned and Stacy." The actress says that studying acting at New York University graduate school taught her the importance of taking risks and being versatile.

She jokes that studying acting 70 hours a week for three years can make an actor feel as though she could play anything.

"It makes you courageous," she says. "You have this fierce belief that you have skills... and that there will be a place for you somewhere eventually."

Despite her years of hard work and dedication, Messing confesses she never dreamed she would be as successful as she is today.

"I don't think I ever believed that this would ever happen for me like this because even now I can't believe I was the girlfriend," she exclaims.

"I grew up watching his movies and there's always the girlfriend and I played the girlfriend and I can't believe I'm sitting here and I'm talking about the fact that I was the girlfriend. I think that on some level when you are studying to be an actor you can't let your mind go there because you can't control it. You can't control good fortune and good luck and you can't start out saying, 'I'm going to be in a Woody Allen film or I'm going to work with Richard Gere in this.' You can't do that because you have no control. All you can do is decide what your passion is.

"It was very clear from a young age my passion was acting and that it was something I had to do. My goal was to be a working actor. That was it... Theatre was my first love and will always be my first love. So, I was like, I don't care where I'm doing it. If I get to do 'Hedda Gabler' in Kansas, at least I'm doing it. I'm doing what I love... and what I believe I was destined to do."

So, what was it like to work with celebrated writer/director/actor Woody Allen?

"Any man who is smart and talented and stands by what he believes in are always sexy," Messing says. "The thing that was very unexpected about meeting (Allen) is that he has a very strong presence to him. It's visceral and he's incredibly playful and goofy and generous. I think he is aware that actors can be intimidated by him and so he went out of his way... in my experience, to put me at ease."

"Will & Grace" is now in its fifth season. "The Mothman Prophecies" and "Hollywood Ending" are available on video now.

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