Megan Mullally just collected her eighth Emmy nomination for playing boozy loudmouth Karen Walker on “Will and Grace,” a role for which she has won the award twice. In 2017, she reunited with her castmates Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Sean Hayes for a revival season that was such a hit that NBC renewed it for two more seasons.
Mullally recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Tony Ruiz about how she knew “Will and Grace” could come back, the emotional “Rosario’s Quinceañera” episode and how long she wants to continue playing Karen Walker. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Megan Mullally, first of all congratulations on your Emmy nomination. This is your eighth nomination. Is there something different about being nominated this time around than during the original run?
Megan Mullally: Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t expecting to be nominated, quite frankly, because there’s so many shows now. There’s 500 scripted shows now and when we were on the air there were like four (laughs). And there’s so many great shows and there’s so many great actors. It’s so rare now that you see an actor that’s nothing less than like, “Well, they were great.” So I wasn’t really expecting it and I didn’t know the nominations were coming out because I’m totally out of it, but I think there is also that added element of, it’s kind of surreal that we did this show for eight years and then it was over forever and ever and ever as shows are when they end. That’s it forever, ’til the end of time. But it wasn’t. It came back and it’s on again and everybody’s really happy to have a job (laughs).
GD: This is all started with that “Vote Honey” election video. Who was the first person to say yes to that?
MM: I will now reveal myself to be a famous psychic, because I got that script, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan wrote that script. Max sent it to the four of us and I read it and I was laughing and crying and I put it down and I picked up my phone and I texted Max, “Why can’t we just do the show again?” And he texted right back, “We can.” And of course neither one of us knew what we were talking about. We were just pulling it out of our bums. I just had an extremely strong gut feeling that we could do not just the “Vote Honey” video but actually bring the entire show back intact and just do it again on television. And then we did.
GD: I’ve asked this question to the rest of the cast. Was it easy for you to just slip back into Karen’s skin? I know Deb had said it took a little longer to feel confident again in it. Was it easier for you to get back into it?
MM: I felt like it was. I always felt like in the 11-year interim when we weren’t doing “Will & Grace” I always felt like Karen was just going on about her business being horrible in a parallel universe somewhere right here. I felt like it was pretty easy but now that we’re doing the second season, there are certain things that I think, “Oh, right.” I see little clips from the first season and I’m like, “That’s not quite exactly right but it’s close enough.” But this season I feel like now we’re fully, fully locked in.
GD: I know you’ve started filming Season 2 and I know you can’t say a lot, but what do you think is different about this coming up season?
MM: I don’t know, I think the scripts have been outstanding. The scripts were amazing last year and I think so far we’ve shot three or four episodes depending on how you count. I think that they’re really, really strong. This season, Karen is getting a divorce because Stanley Walker finds out that she’s been cheating on him with Alec Baldwin’s character, Malcolm, and divorces her, so it’s great. It gives me something to play and sink my teeth into and something for them to write to. I think I can say I get to sing. I get to sing on the show this year. They figured out a way, which I can’t tell you, I can’t reveal that, but they figured out a way for them to allow me to sing as me, and not as Karen.
GD: That’s an interesting idea because you have sung on the show before, famously in the finale episode that you won one of your Emmys for, one of your two. You are famous for being on Broadway and singing all around the country, so is that something that you ask or is that something that will just organically happen?
MM: Yeah, it happened. I never would ask something like that because the way that they figured out how to do it I never would’ve thought of. So no, I didn’t ask, but what happened was I have this band called Nancy and Beth that is my heart and soul right now and we’ve been touring a lot and making records. Max Mutchnick and David Kohan and Jim Burrows and a couple of the writers came to see one of our shows in Los Angeles at Largo and I think that planted a seed in their heads like, “We gotta get her to sing on the show.” Just seeing me perform and sing over the hiatus, I think maybe that planted some kind of seed. I never say anything. I’m always just like, “Whatever.” I feel like they always come up with such great stuff. They’re such great writers and they come up with so many great stories and I feel like I never even have to say anything.
GD: You bring up Jim Burrows who has directed every single episode of the series and something that you don’t see very often in television. What does he bring as a director? Why do you think this fit is so good for him?
MM: He’s the master. There will never be another Jim Burrows. He’s been doing this since “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” His pedigree is unparalleled, done all the great shows, “Cheers,” “Taxi,” “Friends,” all of them. “Will & Grace” is the only show that he’s ever directed every single episode of, but he almost has this sixth sense about comedy and also about where the camera should be, so when we’re rehearsing, he’s so great with physical comedy. He’ll say, “Honey, sit down on that line.” He just knows little things. If Sean and I have a slap fight, Sean and I and Jimmy have had so much fun choreographing those and just laughed our asses off. Also though, he has this crazy thing if you ever come to a taping, which you have, it’s four cameras, four big, giant cameras rolling around and he will walk a line and something he closes his eyes. He doesn’t even watch us. He doesn’t watch the monitors, he doesn’t watch us, he just listens to it, and occasionally I’ve seen him doing that and he’ll go over and he’ll just kick a camera over two feet to the left and he’s not even looking. He just knows that they’re two feet too far to the right. It’s something to see.
GD: It is. I’ve been to several tapings including from last season and I’ve seen him do that exact thing of just moving a camera just slightly and he never looks at a monitor. He’s like prowling through the back, like a directorial panther of some sort.
MM: (Laughs.) I like that. That’d be a good nickname.
GD: Let’s go back to the beginning because you’ve said this several times that you originally auditioned for the role of Grace and didn’t really even look at Karen as someone you even wanted to play.
MM: I didn’t even remember that there was a character of Karen. I didn’t remember any other women being in the pilot, so I auditioned for Grace and they just totally flatlined and I went home and forgot all about it, and then a couple weeks later my agent called and said, “They want you to come in and audition for this pilot, ‘Will & Grace,’” and I said, “I already auditioned for that, dumbass.” And she was like, “No, it’s for the other part.” And I’m like, “What other part?” And so she said, “Okay, let me send you this script again.” And then I read it and I was like, “Oh yeah!” But that show “Cybill” with Cybill Shepherd had just been on and Christine Baranski had just played her rich, sassy sidekick, and I thought, “Not gonna get any better than Christine Baranski. I can’t top that.” But then I thought, “You know, I guess I could make her weird,” weirder than was particularly written in that exact script at that exact moment, so I just tried to make her quirkier and weirder and that seemed to be the thing that they liked, and then everything started changing and evolving and they started writing to that and then they would come up with things that I never would have thought of and then I would try to come up to their level. A collaboration, I think it’s called (laughs).
GD: Is that also how the voice ended up changing and becoming higher? Was that just a result of the back and forth?
MM: That was a result of past experience. I had a penchant for going into auditions with really big characters, only because when I first read a script, especially if it’s a comedy, when I first read a script I just get this picture of what the character should be, and it’s kind of fully formed with a voice and a body language and a whole thing, and I can’t shake it, unfortunately. It’s hard for me to think, “Let me try something else.” I have to go with my gut. So I would go into auditions with these big choices and sometimes I’d get the part, and sometimes they would call security (laughs). So I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna make her weird.” But I didn’t realize at that time that the pace of the show was gonna turn out to be closer to farce than really anything, like a musical comedy without the music. When I auditioned for the pilot it wasn’t necessarily written that way. I hadn’t experienced Jim Burrows yet and all of that, so then when we started shooting the show, it was really fast and I thought, “Oh, my natural speaking voice is very laconic. It doesn’t fit.” So I instinctively kept making it higher and higher over the first 10 episodes until it was in the stratosphere. That was more of a gut instinct and then later on analytically I thought, “Well it fits, it’s a funny aspect to the character because she’s the most judgmental person on Earth and yet she has that thing that you can’t escape which is her voice, that’ll just drive you to drink.”
GD: She’d probably join you for the drink.
MM: Yeah. People think to this day that I really talk like that in real life. I know my voice is annoying and sort of high but it’s not like Karen.
GD: So I wanna talk about “Rosario’s Quinceañera,” which is really her highlight. That’s your Emmy submission. I don’t know whether you or Max posted it on Instagram of you reading the monologue in the script from the first table read.
MM: It was in his office. I went up to his office and he handed me a page and he said, “I’m not gonna tell you anything, just read this.” And I read it cold and he filmed it on his phone.
GD: Did you know pretty much instantly that that episode was gonna be special?
MM: Yes, I really, really did, because I’ve been doing this now for a long time and I can say, I’ve gotten a lot of great jobs I’m very thankful for. I can honestly say though that no one has given me the opportunity to show that side of myself or of a character in that way. I was absolutely so thrilled and filled with gratitude and I was very moved by it. I was just so happy that they felt that that was something that they had confidence in me that they thought, “We’re gonna write this for Megan and we think she can pull it off.” It meant so much to me. The episode as a whole I think is very masterfully written. It’s written by Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally. They actually won a Writers Guild Award for that. I just couldn’t have been happier.
GD: And it’s not just the emotional stuff at the end. You have so many comedic highlights in that. The thing that stands out to me is that when she starts yelling at Jack and it’s this guttural sound. Was that in script? Was that your idea? Was that Jimmy?
MM: It was all caps, but when I did it the first time, Debra was like, (gasp). I scared Debra (laughs). It’s a guttural shriek, like you said. But the other thing I wanted to say about that episode that I think is very, very important and very touching as well is the fact that we had Shelley Morrison, who played Rosario, for eight seasons, and who was the fifth Beatle and she has now retired as an actress. She’s in her early 80s and she just felt that it was time to retire. Boy, if there was ever a great sendoff for a beloved character on a show, you can’t do much better that. I love Shelley, and for her sake I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty good.”
GD: One of the other dynamics that is really grown over this revival season is the dynamic between Karen and Smitty. Can you talk about those scenes, because you seem to have so much fun all the time but you seem to just specifically love those scenes, especially the three-way scene between Karen and Malcolm and then Smitty in the center.
MM: I’m obsessed with Smitty. The actor’s name is Charles Stevenson III, and I don’t know how old he is but he’s no spring chicken, right? So we’ve been doing this show since 1998, then we came back, and Smitty was a big part of the original eight seasons. Every once in a while you’d see him but he’d only have one line. He was always funny, but he said one line. And then all of a sudden when we did the last two episodes of last season with Alec Baldwin, who’s coming back this season — I’m so excited, because he’s, you can’t top it, to work with. They gave Charles/Smitty, they gave him more to do. They gave him more lines and jokes, and he freaking nailed every single thing they gave him. He nailed it. The first time when we had a run-through for the writers and he came out with those lines, people were falling out of their chairs. They were like, “We’ve been wasting this incredible resource. This guy is a comedic gem, and all these years we didn’t know he was capable of so much more.” He really killed it. And one of the Ines that was so funny, which was a floor pitch was when we says, “#MeToo,” after Alec and I have been using him as our surrogate to express our affection for one another without actually touching each other so we touch Smitty instead.
GD: Were you ever worried during that whole filming of that sequence how far you could go? Were people saying, “Pull it back a little bit?”
MM: I’ll just say I really laid one on him. I for real laid one on Charles, and I didn’t hear any complaints.
GD: The show has two more seasons coming up, longer seasons than what was originally planned. So how far would you like this show to go?
GD: I knew you were gonna say that.
MM: I want it to go until people literally wanna pick up their computers or their televisions or their phones and smash them out the window and throw them down on the floor and stomp on them and say, “I hate this show! I’m so sick of it!” I wanna run it into the ground. Is that okay?
GD: Hey, fine by me. Megan Mullally, congratulations on the Emmy nomination. Best of luck and thank you so much for your time.
MM: Thank you so much. That was so fun.