Emmy winner Debra Messing says her upcoming Broadway debut -- in John Patrick Shanley's new play, "Outside Mullingar" -- is like "coming home."
Few fans may realize that before Hollywood -- on TV's "Smash," "The Starter Wife" and eight acclaimed seasons on "Will & Grace" -- and before various film roles ("The Wedding Date"), Messing started out in New York, attending NYU's grad school for acting and appearing in several Off-Broadway plays (plus a notable workshop version of "Angels in America: Perestroika").
"Mullingar," a quirky family comedy, stars Messing as Rosemary, and acclaimed Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne as Anthony, neighbors on adjoining farms, each trapped caring for elderly parents and seemingly meant for each other -- save for one whopper of a secret hanging between them. The Manhattan Theatre Club production opens Thursday at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Messing, 45 and recently divorced, has one son, Roman. She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
I feared -- this being an Irish play -- it might be kinda gloomy. But there are lots of laughs.
It's based on his real family. It's incredible to be working with him again. My very first job, I understudied his play "Four Dogs and a Bone." Coming full circle 20 years later, on my first Broadway show, feels ... cosmic to me. I was paralyzed with anxiety wondering how it was going to be after all these years. And it felt like a warm glove. And Brian O'Byrne, he is ... probably the most inventive and ferociously curious actor I've ever met.
Does he alter his line delivery a lot?
He never ever stops thinking, exploring, questioning, digging. It's inspiring and ... jaw-dropping to see.
What's it like having to do an Irish accent opposite a real Irishman?
I've never had to do an Irish accent before. It was the thing that most intimidated me about taking the role.
In the play, everyone's older than Rosemary, but she says, "I've been older than all o' yers since the day I was born." She's an old soul. Are you?
That's unique to Rosemary. She has a wisdom no one else has. She can view the world and everybody's destiny in a way that's deeper than most. I certainly don't feel I have any insight into anything coming down the pike.
You said you were anxious returning to theater. Is performing for a live studio audience significantly different?
Completely. The "Will & Grace" studio audience was like a party. They're all fans, thrilled to see the writers writing ... and rewriting. The actors messing up. It's an exciting, playful evening, and we're coming in and out of character all the time. Here, it's one story -- and you're gonna do it over and over and over. Part of the magic of theater is knowing that it's constantly growing. You can't have that if you work on a story for four days, then move on to the next episode.
So ... what was your fave thing about "Will & Grace?"
Laughing every day.
Your least favorite?
You didn't expect that, didja? The four of us went through an experience that was very unique. The show exploded in season two. And the paparazzi ... I had people jumping out from behind bushes yelling, "Debra!" It'd scare me so much I'd think they had a gun, and I'd drop to the ground. Or going grocery shopping at midnight and being followed through the aisles. For the first time, I felt unsafe. And watched ... by strangers. It's a terrible feeling. Everyone says it goes with the territory if you're a public person, but at the same time -- I have to be honest with you -- I had a really hard time with it. It was all of a sudden, and I was young. I'm older, wiser, I know what to expect now. ... I'm fine with it at public events -- that's work. But when I'm at the airport ... with my child ...
Yeah, that's ... creepy.
And "Smash" -- did playing a lyricist make you appreciate music more?
It was a fascinating character to step into. I was asked a lot if I'd tried to write music and ... it became clear I have absolutely no talent for any of that. So, if anything, I have an even greater admiration for the talented people who do that.
Any musicals in your future?
Never say never. But the whole idea of worrying if your voice is in perfect condition ... every single night ... and it's 13 degrees outside -- I blink and look ahead and all I see is me wrapped up in 17 scarves. And a portable humidifier. Acting like a crazy woman. And driving everyone around me crazy. That doesn't sound fun to me.