Out of the four main Will & Grace cast members, the titular pair were the reserved ones: openly gay lawyer Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and his (straight-identifying) interior designer best friend Grace Adler (Debra Messing). Rounding out the crew: brash, outrageous, and over-the-top Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) and fame-hungry Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes). One of the first network series to regularly feature homosexual characters, Will & Grace was a top-rated hit for most of its 1998-2006 run on NBC, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series and more trophies for all four members of the main cast. The series remained so beloved that it returned to TV in 2017 for a successful, three-season reboot.
On-screen, Will & Grace featured a tight, comically crackling ensemble of hilarious performers. Without the cameras rolling, however, the actors in this hit sitcom experienced some searing drama, both personally and professionally (and sometimes, it would seem, with one another). Here are some of the more scandalous and audacious moments in the lives of the cast of Will & Grace.
Death threats kept Sean Hayes in the closet while he was on Will & Grace
When Will & Grace premiered in 1998, it was downright revolutionary that a major broadcast network would air a primetime show in which two of its four main characters (Will Truman and Jack McFarland) were openly gay men. Will & Grace hitting television was a watershed moment in cultural representation, but not everybody thought that was a good thing, and they weren’t afraid to let the cast of Will & Grace know it. « We would get death threats to the show and I was scared, » Sean Hayes (Jack) told The Guardian in 2018. « I didn’t have the tools at such a young age to deal with the ramifications of coming out as gay in a huge public way. »
And so, Hayes stayed guarded about his personal life. According to Advocate, Hayes refused to publicly reveal his preferences out of both fear and not wanting to hurt his chances of landing heterosexual character parts in other projects. Hayes didn’t publicly come out as a gay man until 2010, four years after Will & Grace wrapped its initial run.
Debra Messing blew up her marriage
In December 2011, People dropped a bombshell about the personal life of Will & Grace star Debra Messing. Just eight days after announcing her separation from Daniel Zelman, her spouse of ten years (and partner of 20 years), a source who worked on the NBC drama Smash said that Messing was dating her co-star, Will Chase … who had also just separated from his spouse. Did Chase pursue Messing immediately after she was free from the bonds of marriage? Hardly — the source told People that the couple had been an item for about six weeks.
In June 2012, Messing told Ladies Home Journal (via Us Weekly) that the demise of her relationship with Zelman was extremely difficult. « I think the idea of a partner for life is incredibly romantic. But now we’re living to 100. A hundred years ago people were dying at age 37. Till death do us part was a much different deal. » Well, that at least explains her mindset. She went on to explain to LHJ that she was excited for « a new chapter in my personal life. I’m walking a path I’ve never walked before. But I’m optimistic. » Nevertheless, Messing and Chase split in October 2014.
Joey killed this would-be Will & Grace spinoff
Nearly every popular NBC sitcom in the late ’80s and early ’90s begat a spinoff. The Cosby Show led to A Different World, Cheers led to Frasier, and Friends led to Joey. A notable omission from that list: Will & Grace. Despite a big world of colorful characters, the hit comedy never got an offshoot. The reason? The last entry on that list.
According to a 2010 Megan Mullally interview with Digital Spy, there were plans for a spinoff centering on her character, boozy rich lady Karen Walker. It was supposed to enter production in 2006, right after the original run of Will & Grace wrapped up, but then NBC got cold feet. « I was going to do a spinoff but then they spun off a character from Friends, Joey, that did not go go very well, » Mullally said, referring to the middlingly-received, two-season sitcom Joey, which starred Matt Le Blanc as his Friends character living in Los Angeles. « They decided they wanted me to host a talk show instead, » Mullally added. That program, The Megan Mullally Show, « also didn’t go particularly well, » the actress quipped. Unfortunately, she wasn’t kidding — according to Today, the show lasted « less than five months. »
Eric McCormack and Megan Mullally lost some big-time gigs outside of Will & Grace
Eric McCormack had appeared in many TV shows in the ’80s and ’90s, but Will & Grace was certainly his big break. That’s extra lucky, because he landed the role of lawyer Will Truman not long after he lost out on a major role he really needed. In the 1997 pilot season, McCormack « got the male lead on The Jenny McCarthy Show, » the actor told The AV Club. « And we shot the pilot, and it was a guaranteed go, » with NBC committing to a full season. Then McCormack « got a call saying they cut the character, that I was off the show. » He was devastated, especially because he needed the money to pay for his wedding.
Megan Mullally didn’t use her real voice for her Emmy-winning portrayal of Karen Walker, instead adopting a high-pitched tone which suited the character. It’s not a technique she uses for other characters, which is why she thinks she lost a high-profile voice-acting gig. On a 2004 episode of The Wayne Brady Show (via UPI), Mullally said that Disney/Pixar approached her for a role in Finding Nemo. She of course accepted the gig, especially after studio representatives told her she could speak in whatever way she deemed fit. But when she hit the recording booth to lay down her lines, the filmmakers suggested she speak « a little higher. » Mullally says she refused, and then she got the axe.
Will & Grace & Law & Order
According to a Los Angeles Superior Court filing from March 2009 (obtained by Access Hollywood via NBC Chicago), Debra Messing found herself in a legal mess over a 2007 car accident. On April 5, 2007, Adam Smith was driving on the 101 freeway near Encino, California, when Nshan Agazaryan abruptly changed lanes, smashing into Smith’s vehicle. Notice that neither of these drivers are Will & Grace star Debra Messing. However, according to the suit, she was the legal owner of the car driven by Agazaryan. Citing both property damage and personal injury, Smith wanted a payout of at least $25,000. It’s unclear what resolution, if any, came out of the case, making a strange story even stranger.
On April 23, 2003, Shelley Morrison — who portrayed Karen’s acerbic maid Rosario — was arrested for shoplifting $446 in costume jewelry from a department store. Her defense: She didn’t recall the event. « I remember going to the store, » Morrison told People, « and the next thing I remember is being surrounded by security guards outside and being taken to their office. » That’s where security officers discovered in her pockets « this horrible jewelry I would have never bought for myself or given as a gift. » Ultimately, Morrison was arrested and released after posting a $20,000 bond. The experience shook Morrison to the core — she reported losing her « spiritual core » and lost 30 pounds over the summer of 2003, shortly after pleading no contest and paying a $300 fine.
The real-life Jack sued over Will & Graces’ Jack
Many screenwriters base characters on people they’ve met, and that can be a big problem. In 2001, a California man named Jack Deamer filed a lawsuit (via People), claiming mistreatment after a Will & Grace creator based Sean Hayes’s, character, Jack McFarland, on him. In his filing, Deamer mentioned his long (and now former) friendship with show co-creator Max Mutchnick (above right), and how the TV bigwig used this real Jack as the inspiration for TV Jack. After he saw the Will & Grace pilot in 1998, Deamer says he felt « chagrined, embarrassed, and devastated » when he realized that the character based on him was depicted as « flamboyantly gay, constantly over the top, promiscuous, and irresponsible. »
In other words, Jack was a disparaging and « thinly veiled caricature. » According to the suit, Deamer asked Mutchnick to give the character a name other than Jack, to which Mutchnick offered an alternative: Let Jack stay Jack, and he’d buy Deamer a house and a car. Those gifts never came, so Deamer sued Mutchnick, as well as NBC. According to Variety, a judge « dismissed the network from the case » in 2002, and in 2003, Deamer and Mutchnick settled out of court « for an undisclosed sum. »
Did a Will & Grace cast fight lead to the end of the series?
The Will & Grace reboot was a full-fledged hit for NBC. High ratings earned it a second season, then an expansion of that season, and then a third season. Then came some weird news in July 2019: the upcoming batch of Will & Grace episodes would be the last ones. It’s a little perplexing when a network cancels a hit series, so what happened?
An off-screen feud (which played out on social media) between stars Debra Messing and Megan Mullally could be to blame. In August 2019, the Daily Mail reported that Messing and Mullally had unfollowed each other on Instagram. As if that wasn’t enough high school drama, Mullally later wrote (and then deleted) a tantalizingly mysterious post that read, « One of the best feelings is finally losing your attachment to somebody who isn’t good for you! » She could be talking about Messing, who a few weeks prior posted an Instagram call-to-action asking Emmy voters to consider Will & Grace. She tagged lots of accounts — those of co-stars Sean Hayes and Eric McCormack, co-creator Max Mutchnick, episode director James Burrows, NBC’s Will and Grace feed … but not Mullally’s.
And according to Radar Online, Messing shading Mullally is nothing new. Back in August 2017 — before the reboot premiered — the gossip site reported claims from a show insider that Messing was « not happy » because she believed that Mullally and co-star Sean Hayes were « hogging the spotlight. »
Will & Grace’s Karen Walker has nothing on Megan Mullally’s actual, wild family history
As do most people, Will & Grace star Megan Mullally has a long and involved family history with some dark chapters … or so some relatives had implied. « I didn’t know a lot of my family members, and from what I’ve heard on my father’s side, it’s just a catastrophe. It’s just one big clusterf***, » Mullally told Entertainment Tonight in advance of her appearance on the « celebrities learn about their lineage » TLC series Who Do You Think You Are?
Various historical documents confirmed a lot of the « legend and lore » Mullally had picked up over the years. Men on her father’s side « had problems with addiction, violent tendencies, adultery, » and her great-grandfather was such a « ne’er-do-well » that his wife, Mullally’s great-grandmother Elizabeth Venable, stepped in to support their eight children by purchasing seven properties in Macon County, Georgia, virtually unheard of for a woman in the late 1800s. Mullally learned that Venable was committed to a mental institution for seven years (her final days, it would turn out), which came immediately after her sons unsuccessfully tried to wrestle away ownership of her land. (And you thought your family was weird.)