It’s not as if Eric McCormack hadn’t been keeping busy since his now-iconic sitcom, “Will and Grace” ended its initial run in 2006.
The Emmy winner (and four-time nominee) racked up around 30 film, television and stage credits, including toplining several series. But when the clarion call of the 2018 reboot/revival/resurrection sounded, it was too much to resist. After all, it’s not often one gets to be part of something with actual cultural significance.
“I think if we’d come out of the gate in ’98 saying, ‘Yeah, we’re a “Must-See TV” sitcom, but we’re culturally important!’ I mean, it would have lasted six weeks,” McCormack said during an Emmy Contenders chat in the Los Angeles Times video studio.
“What we did was just fit into that scheme of things … we kind of snuck in and just did our thing and we were funny, and eventually it started to matter to people that we hadn’t caused a big stir one way or the other. That [gay characters] Jack and Will were just like other characters on television. And I think that was the subversive thing that we accomplished.”
Perhaps the show’s impact wasn’t the kind of “stir” visible on the surface, but more the agitation underneath that causes waves. The sitcom’s positive effect on the American public’s perception of LGBTQ people and issues has been praised by many, including former Vice President Joe Biden. The show is even honored in a display in the Smithsonian Institution.
McCormack says, “The number of generations that have come up to me just in the last 20 years and said, ‘This helped me’ … from guys who are in their 60s, to guys in their late 30s, to teens coming up who have said they’ve started watching the revival and said it’s made the dialogue easier with their parents, it’s kind of amazing.”
McCormack acknowledges that part of the charm of the 10-years-later series is that the characters don’t seem to have significantly changed. There’s more wear on the tires, but their relationships and foibles are largely the same. On the inside, however, evolution is occurring.
“That’s the advantage of characters who not only last for a while on television, but actually have aged,” he says. “Rather than the fear of ‘Oh, can these characters be funny in their [fake-coughs] late 40s ... the weight, the emotional weight that they’ve gained with each other and the lives that they’ve led – 10 years of which were off screen – I think brings the show a whole different level of sincerity and seriousness.”
One of the challenges in the original run, says McCormack, was making the ongoing roomate-de facto marriage relationship of McCormack’s Will and Grace (played by Debra Messing) not seem “pathetic” for two attractive, successful people in their 30s. The show had them getting in and out of relationships — even marriages — every few weeks: “It’s what you do when you have eight seasons of a show.
“Now, to come back, we had to have a new way of looking at it. The way I looked at it was, ‘They did go off, they did find love, they had 10 years of whatever, and they both found their way back to each other.’
“So there was a new level of saying, ‘Isn’t this great that love can come and go, and relationships can fail, but that key friendship in your life will always be there for you.’ It seemed not pathetic, but a really strong declaration of the strength of friendship,” he says.
“So I think what changed about him is less societal fear of ‘I’m defined by singlehood or relationship.’ ”
The revival/continuation of the show has been successful enough to earn a renewal for a third season. And while the series’ changes have been slow and subtle, they haven’t gone unnoticed.
“For the first season, when people would approach me on the street, the common response was ‘You haven’t changed a bit,’ or ‘It’s like you didn’t go anywhere,’ ‘It was yesterday,’ that kind of thing … it’s the same show,” says the actor.
“And then, over the course of the second season, I started to hear more, ‘It’s not the same show, it’s better. It’s deeper.’ Again, I can only [attribute] that to we’ve got less to lose. It’s a second lease on life. A couple gets divorced and remarries, what’s that like, what’s that second time around like? We have the full benefit of hindsight.”
To see the full conversation, watch the video below.