Eric McCormack

Will & Grace first premiered in 1998. For eight seasons, the sitcom blended hilarity and irreverence as it depicted the lives of lawyer Will, played by Eric McCormack, his roommate and best friend, Grace, and their friends, socialite Karen and struggling actor Jack. Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan reassembled the cast in 2016 for a ten-minute election video that ran online before the first Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debate. To the delight of fans, the look, feel and chemistry of the characters were exactly the same. The favorable reaction convinced NBC to bring the series back in 2017. McCormack talks about the show, its impact and the craft of comedy.

***Image***WS: When Will & Grace returned, it was as if no time had passed at all since the show’s last season in 2006. How did you keep the show so true to what it was?
MCCORMACK: We really had one choice to make, which is, do we pick up where we left off, which would mean that Will and Grace would have children in their teens, or do we just forget that? Max [Mutchnick, co-creator and executive producer] said, I don’t want to do the kids. And we said, Great! Because then it wouldn’t be—I don’t know what it would be—but it would not be the Will & Grace that we’d always done. And that’s what worked. We had the benefit of shooting the political video for Hillary [Clinton]. Doing it, as Sean Hayes calls it, was like a proof of concept. This can work again, but the way it was going to work was by doing it exactly the same.

WS: Are there certain subjects that can be addressed in middle age that were more difficult to deal with when the characters were younger?
MCCORMACK: There are a few. Certainly, we can have fun with older people and technology. Will and Jack didn’t have Grindr at their disposal all those years ago. So there’s that fun. Also, it’s one thing if you’re 35 and trying to find the man of your dreams, but if you’re 55 and you’ve had several men of your dreams and are choosing right now, as Will was when we started, that’s a different thing. We can show Will as a silver fox enjoying that status. You have to take advantage of that politically, too, because when Ben Platt came on as the young millennial gay man who didn’t really have any sense of his history, Will took the chance to lecture him and go, Hey, ya know, there were some battles won and lost to get us here, and that’s a great use of the show. I was really proud of that because I thought, we can be silly, silly, silly, but we can also, once in a while, use our status as one of the original gay platforms.

WS: Will & Grace is entertainment, but it interweaves serious subject matter. Does that come from the writers or the cast?
MCCORMACK: It’s definitely all from the writers, but Max particularly was frustrated as we headed into the election a few years ago, and he didn’t have these characters as mouthpieces. He knew Karen would be a Republican, and we’d be fighting hard for our side. The arguments that we could have with her and the arguments that we could pose to America from our characters’ points of view were just too rich to not mine.

WS: How has the show been able to push the envelope so much, especially since broadcast networks are not known for being particularly in favor of risk?
MCCORMACK: I think networks are starting to figure out that they have to play the new game because that’s what audiences are expecting. There’s that expression when talking about the cost of a film; you might say, “adjusted for today’s prices.” Well, we have to adjust Will & Grace for today’s sensibility. You can’t be your parents’ gay show. We have to be right now. Luckily, Bob Greenblatt, who was running NBC at the time, very much was the one responsible for seeing that ten-minute video and saying, Yes, let’s reboot this. He told Max and David [Kohan, co-creator and executive producer], Push it; write the show you need to write.

WS: You’ve acted in comedies and drama. Are they equally challenging, or is comedy more difficult to get right than drama?
MCCORMACK: They’re definitely their own challenges, but I find that comedy is changing rapidly. Every year, there are new faces of comedy. Seth Rogen changes things and then suddenly there’s somebody else that’s making Seth Rogen movies look ten years old. What we’re doing feels like I Love Lucy a little bit. We have our subject matter, which helps, but luckily, we have some younger writers who have come in. What’s difficult with comedy is just currency. And more than ever, a joke that we might write has already been said on Twitter before we can get it onto paper. It’s very hard to be current in comedy these days, whereas I think with drama you have to be cutting-edge, but you’re not racing against the clock.

WS: Are you working on other projects?
MCCORMACK: I’m writing a drama now with a writer that I’m excited about that we’ll try to sell.