Grateful cast, creators ready for 'Will & Grace' return
As soon as Eric McCormack stepped into the old "Will & Grace" kitchen, he was Will Truman again. Debra Messing says she still feels like Grace Adler, but these days, she has to physically warm up before stepping into that persona. Megan Mullally said finding Karen again was "like riding a bike." For Sean Hayes, rediscovering Jack McFarland was "like waking up out of a coma, maybe — a Jack coma."
However they came back to their characters, all four actors say it's surreal that, 11 years after wrapping its award-winning run, "Will & Grace" is making an unprecedented return to prime time with its original cast, director and creative team. Inspired by a one-off, get-out-the-vote video ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the rebirth of "Will & Grace" begins Thursday. NBC has already ordered a second season.
"It's just nirvana," said James Burrows, who directed all 194 episodes during the show's original run from 1998 to 2006 and will helm all 29 of the new ones. "I'm quite elderly for this job, but it just invigorates me."
Like the series' stars, creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan never expected a "Will & Grace" revival. Once the finale aired, the set was shipped off to Emerson College, where it remained behind glass for a decade, and Mutchnick and Kohan moved onto other projects.
About a year ago, Mutchnick said NBC called and wanted the set back (he never found out why), and that got him thinking about the show again. The contentious campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was reaching a fever pitch, and Mutchnick came up with a sketch for the "Will & Grace" foursome.
Making that 2016 video was "the first time in 11 years that the four of us were in the same place at the same time," Messing said. "And within 20 minutes, we were fondling each other."
The 10-minute "Vote Honey" short quickly racked up millions of views, but a series revival still wasn't on anyone's mind.
"There was never ever a moment of intention to do this," Mutchnick said from his office on the Universal Studios lot. But when NBC chief Bob Greenblatt called a few weeks after "Vote Honey" with interest in a full "Will & Grace" season, there was no hesitation.
"The weirdest thing about all of this is that it doesn't feel weird," Mullally said. "It just seems like, 'Of course we're here.' And we just went away for the weekend and came back on a Monday. I mean, honestly, it's crazy."
She said it was also "freak happenstance" that all four actors were available, given that all have worked steadily since the show wrapped. Hayes and McCormack each have other full-time gigs — Hayes is a prolific TV producer and McCormack stars in the Netflix series "Traveler." Mullally was focusing on music and recording with her band, Nancy and Beth. And Messing lives with her son in New York, though "Will & Grace" shoots in Los Angeles.
She said producers have supported her weekly returns to New York for things like parent-teacher night.
Coming back to the show has been invigorating, Hayes said, because he was able to check his producer mentality at the door.
"You remember what a wonderful life being an actor is," he said. "As a producer, you're constantly thinking on so many different levels on everything: about money, the directing, the lighting, taking care of everybody's problems and building the machine that is a show... It's nice to not have to deal with any of that."
McCormack said shooting "Will & Grace" after working on "Traveler" is like having dessert after dinner.
"This feels like coming back to your parents' home and your bedroom is unchanged and you've still got your Queen posters on the wall and your stereo still works and you're allowed to be 16 again," he said.
His favorite part is being back in Will and Grace's apartment: "When I'm standing in that kitchen, I feel like Jean-Luc Picard in his chair."
Though politics may have inspired the series' return to NBC's prime-time schedule, the news moves too fast for the show to be of-the-moment topical. An early episode made a reference to Steve Bannon, who was out of the White House before the tape was even edited.
"Things that happened last week seem like they happened years ago," Kohan said.
Instead, Will, Grace, Jack and Karen will be dealing with the same kinds of issues the actors playing them are facing in real-life: The challenges of aging and embracing lives that may not have turned out quite as planned.
"They're not 30 anymore," Kohan said. "They're in their late 40s, and what does that mean? What do they want now that's different from 12 years ago when we went off the air?"
There are jokes about technology and dating, he said, and even explorations of mortality, noting that several actors who appeared in the original series have since died.
Other popular guest stars will be returning with the new season, though, including Bobby Cannavale, Harry Connick Jr., Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells.
The uniting energy among the "Will & Grace" team is one of gratitude. As Kohan said, "It's like people who win championships early in their career and think this is going to keep happening, and then it doesn't."
It's not just about the chance to reprise a hit. It's about recognizing that such opportunities are fleeting.
"I was so appreciative the first time around to have a job for eight years as an actor... and to have such a great job and work with great people and all of that," Mullally said. "But to have it then happen again, I mean, every part of it, every person seems very precious and seems to take on a new meaning... Another reason why this is so precious because you see how it comes and then it goes, but to have it come back is incredible."