Megan Mullally Strikes Gold with "Will & Grace"
With her Emmy award-winning role as the elegantly wasted Karen Walker on "Will & Grace," the popular television sitcom launched Megan Mullally’s career as a queer icon with a fanatic gay following around the world.
The Oklahoma native was preparing recently for the sixth season of one of NBC’s most popular Thursday night programs when she spoke with Arjan on the show’s set in Studio City, Calif., about its groundbreaking storylines, gay humor, her bisexuality and queer television.
"The fact that [Will & Grace] did not create controversy is partly because 'Ellen' had broken some ground already," Mullally says. "Another reason is that gay-bashing is built into the show. So if you’re some truck driver in North Dakota, you get to laugh at the expense of these guys right along with the guys themselves."
More than 100 episodes after "Will & Grace" first aired, the comedy series has paved the way for more openly gay characters on the small screen. Despite the show’s focus on gay topics, it enjoys a huge mainstream audience and was never the focus of political fury or subject to NBC censors.
When actor Ellen DeGeneres’ character Ellen Morgan came out as a lesbian in 1997 on "Ellen," it resulted in a media firestorm and speculation that the show was canceled because of its gay-related storylines. But the sitcom already had begun to lose viewers even before the character and the actor came out.
The episode on which the lesbian character acknowledged she was gay prompted more viewers to tune in, though not all of them continued to watch the sitcom. Eventually, "Ellen" was canceled, but the extent to which the gay storyline affected this is debatable.
Mullally believes what happened was rooted in the awkward way the character on "Ellen" came out of the closet.
"After the episode in which she came out, it was such a big deal that the show could not have a follow-up episode that was like ‘that crazy thing that happened when everybody went bowling,' " she says. "The show had to keep dealing with it, and that’s when the issue became politicized and everybody jumped on it.
"In 'Will & Grace,' Jack and Will happen to be gay, and viewers have known this from the start," Mullally says. "There was nothing to argue about."
Appearing on "Will & Grace" was Mullally’s big break in Tinsel Town. Before her ongoing stint on network television, she was an accomplished theater actress in musicals and plays in Chicago and New York City. But Mullally never expected to be a comedic actress.
"What I think I do is that I play a comedy as if it’s a drama. I play it high-stakes, and that makes it funnier," she says. "If you really invest in the character’s little details, then it makes that character much funnier."
Mullally says "Will & Grace" is often very farcical, like a musical comedy.
"It is paced really fast. There have been a lot of things that I discovered that I really like about playing that kind of comedy," she says. "A lot of the physical comedy is also really fun to do, but I also find it really fun to watch."
Mullally credits much of Karen’s distinct qualities to the show’s writers, even though she was able to add some of her own ideas to the character.
"I came up with Karen’s high-pitched voice, the body language and the 'honeys,'" she says. "But beyond that, the writers write all of our dialogue. I think it was early on when we pitched a couple of ideas to the writers. But overall the writing is so good that we don’t have to step in."
All the show’s lead actors: Erick McCormack (Will), Debra Messing (Grace), Sean Hayes (Jack) and Mullally have been recognized for their outstanding acting performances. Messing won an Emmy on Sept. 21, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has honored "Will & Grace" with three awards.
Over the years, many gay fans, among others, have questioned why the show is not called "Jack & Karen" to reflect the hilarity between the two satellite characters.
"Clearly, the center of the show remains the relationship between the gay guy and the straight girl," Mullally says. "I agree that Jack and Karen are the characters that people initially responded too. Now, Will and Grace’s characters are so much funnier and multi-faceted that in a way the gap has been narrowed."
Mullally is excited about having so many gay fans and has her own explanation for her popularity, which includes Karen’s distinct queer humor on the show.
"There are a lot of different sets of jokes you can do when its comes to queer humor. It has to do with being able to do more outrageous things," she says. "That is why I think Karen is so popular in the gay community — because she is so outrageous and outspoken. If you’re gay, you are in a repressed minority and you want to be able to speak up, and so you identify with strong personalities such as Karen."
Mullally, who married her longtime boyfriend, actor Nick Offerman, on the night before the Emmy Awards ceremony Sunday, never made a secret of her bisexuality.
"It is no big deal to me. I have always been attracted to women and I went on dates with women if they asked me and I thought they were interesting," she says. "It did not seem that different to me. I had made a pledge that if I ever would be in a relationship with a woman I would be really open about it.
"But then I met [Offerman] and now he is the apple of my eye," she says. "The lesson is not whether somebody is straight, gay or bisexual, the lesson is how you think about it. I feel that really everybody is innately bisexual but we’re acculturated differently."
Mullally, 44, and Offerman, 33, met three years ago while co-starring in a play in Los Angeles, Entertainment Weekly reported, and got engaged last year. She previously was married to talent agent Michael Katcher. This is Offerman’s first marriage.
The actress describes herself as an avid fan of queer television and says she tapes all the episodes of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy" and "Boy Meets Boy" on her Tivo.
Mullally believes that both shows are helping gays gain more acceptance because of the programs’ real-life depiction of some aspects of gay life.
She describes "Queer Eye" as "very touching and poignant because the straight guys are really open to it and, in the end, so happy, grateful and confident. It is a very interesting cultural study."
"Boy Meets Boy" is similar in that way, Mullally says. "Afterwards, all the straight guys admitted how similar gays are to them and that it is really about relationships with the same kind of emotional patterns," she says. "It is another step in the right direction without being political, but in the form of entertainment."
Mullally recently got the chance to meet some of her idols.
"We met the guys from 'Queer Eye' here yesterday, because they will make a guest appearance on another show, and they are really nice," she says. "They are really tiny people — tiny little-bitty people. It is so fascinating. Their jeans must be like a size 26. I am not kidding."
In Karen-like fashion, she says, "Some people say that Jack is too gay and that nobody is that flamboyant, but the blond guy [Carson Kressley] from the show even beats Jack. He is so funny."
Mullally realizes, though, that her adoration for the Fab Five has its limits.
"I’ve had a lot of gay men fall in love with me and vice versa," she says, "but you know, it can only go so far."
James of "Boy Meets Boy" Spills All
James Getzlaff, the handsome "Boy Meets Boy" star, was cruelly tricked by his producers who secretly included straight contestants in the gay dating show. Was it worth it for? Is he still with Wes? Did he know anyone was straight? And was there any behind-the-scenes action? James spills it all in a recent interview with PlanetOut. Some of the highlights:
James on the entire experience of the show:
"Of course, if I had a choice to do it again, I wouldn't. And if I were one of the producers creating the idea, I would have never put straight people in there."
James on the straight twist in the show:
"It added something that got a much larger audience to watch, and I have gotten quite a bit of positive response from those people."
James on the show's cruel producers:
"The last thing gays need is to have anyone think of us as a joke or to make fun of us just for entertainment."
James on plans to leave the show after the plot was revealed:
"Andra and I did talk about leaving. But we thought about it, and we knew the legal ramifications would be severe, and we're not super-wealthy people, and taking on a network for breach of contract would probably run into the millions and millions of dollars. Obviously, we were not going to be able to do that."
James on his current relationship with Wes:
"Wes lives in San Diego, and I live [in Los Angeles]. We don't see each other a lot. We talk on the phone. We e-mail. We do see each other when we can. We're trying."
James on behind-the-scenes action between the house mates:
"I know in our contracts, they really strictly forbade any kind of intimacy between anyone, but I knew that wouldn't stop interest. And actually, it happened."
James on his resentment against the straight guys in the show:
"When it comes to the straight guys, trying to understand why they would do something like this has been really difficult. These are strangers, who kind of just deceived me -- for reasons, yes, but the project is over, and I don't necessarily think that I want people like that in my life."