Eight years on a hit sitcom can give a gal some insight into the world of the Hollywood powerbroker.
“I’ve been privy to the rituals of how socializing is work, and work is socializing,” says Debra Messing, who starred on NBC’s Will & Grace. “I’ve been to the charity lunches with the ‘wives of,’ and seen how there are expectations of how to dress, how to do your hair, your makeup. It’s very similar to the expectations of a famous actress.”
So when Messing read the script for the USA miniseries The Starter Wife, she recognized those archetypes and appreciated the knowing, satiric eye of screenwriters Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon. “It’s sophisticated and a little subversive,” Messing says.
Based on the novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer (who is married to Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer), Starter Wife chronicles the travails of Molly Kagan, the discarded first spouse of a Hollywood studio head, as she struggles to maintain her dignity in a town without pity. Messing calls her role in the six-hour miniseries the most demanding of her career, in part because one month into the four-month-long Australian shoot, she fell down a flight of stairs and sprained her back. Fitted with crutches, she was back on the set within an hour.
Directed by Jon Avnet, the miniseries costars Joe Mantegna and Judy Davis. A number of fantasy sequences (including parodies of Silence of the Lambs and Titanic) allowed Messing to flex her comic chops, such as one scene in which she poses as Davis’s floozy sister to get her out of rehab.
Most recently seen in Edward Burns’s Purple Violets and Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, Messing is always on the lookout for the next creative challenge. “It was a privilege to play one character for eight years,” she says. “But one of the reasons we as actors get into this is because we’re kind of gypsies, and we love the thrill of going from character to character. For the immediate future, I feel like the gypsy in me is calling.”