Fifth lead — or a fifth wheel? Cress Williams was originally in the ‘Will and Grace’ cast

Actor Cress Williams sits for a photo portrait in porkpie hat, vest and tie.
Actor Cress Williams in 2018.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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Will and Grace and Jack and Karen and ... Cress?

Nearly 25 after the “Will & Grace” pilot premiered on NBC, two of the show’s lead actors revealed the script was originally written to have five main characters.

On the debut episode of their recap podcast “Just Jack & Will,” actors Sean Hayes and Eric McCormack discussed what happened to the unnamed fifth friend.

“So there were five characters as regulars, and the fifth was my partner in my small law firm,” said McCormack, who played Will Truman, a gay attorney in New York City.


Hayes, who played flamboyant friend Jack MacFarland, described the character as “the opposite of Jack.”

“Straight guy, I think written probably as Jewish, and yet in the end it was Cress Williams,” McCormack said.

Williams, who at the time was a recurring cast member on the Fox sitcom “Living Single,” would go on to star in a variety of other television shows, including “ER,” “Hart of Dixie” and “Black Lightning.”

If he had remained on “Will & Grace,” he would have been the only Black character among the show’s main cast.

But it never happened because director James Burrows said there were too many leads in the pilot and Williams’ character ended up being written out of the show. McCormack said a similar thing happened when his character was written out of the pilot for “The Jenny McCarthy Show.”

“I felt so terrible, it was nothing he did or didn’t do,” McCormack said. “It just didn’t fit what the show was supposed to be.”


“Will & Grace” also starred Debra Messing as interior designer Grace Adler and Megan Mullally as Karen Walker, a wealthy socialite.

The show aired for eight seasons from 1998 to 2006 and later was rebooted from 2017 to 2020. Each of the four lead cast members won an Emmy for their performances during the original run.