The Emmy Award-winning hit original, 'THE STARTER WIFE,' starring Debra Messing returns this Fall focusing on the post-divorce adventures of Molly Kagan (Messing) as she begins a new chapter in her life.
On the heels of its stellar ratings and awards success, USA has brought back the hit miniseries of 2007 as a series with ten exciting episodes, with Emmy Award-winner Messing returning to star and now serving as executive producer.
Reprising their roles are three-time Emmy Award-winner Judy Davis (ďLife with Judy Garland: Me and My ShadowĒ) as Joan McAllister and Chris Diamantopoulos (ďBehind the Camera: Mork & MindyĒ) as Rodney Evans Ė Mollyís two best friends.
Also returning this season as a special guest star is Joe Mantegna (ďCriminal MindsĒ) as Lou Manahan, former studio head and former boyfriend of Molly. This season, the series is being filmed entirely in Los Angeles. 'THE STARTER WIFE' will premiere as a two-hour episode on Friday, October 10 at 9/8c on USA Network.
Chatting recently to the oh-so-lovely Debra Messing, I first asked what it was about her role as if Molly Kagan continued to challenge her? Messing: "Oh, everything about Molly challenges me and thatís why I love playing her so much. Everything thatís going on in her life is new and uncharted territory for her. Her life is starting over at 40, everything from the dynamic between her new ex-husband, having to negotiate that new relationship with shared custody, to dating for the first time in over ten years, which is awkward and funny and scary, to having to discover an occupation that will support she and her daughter, and negotiating living in the same community that has ostracized her. Everywhere she goes, she is an outsider or she is trying to get her footing. Itís incredibly challenging."
"With Josie and Sara doing the writing, the same writers who did the mini-series, every day is a ride; everything from high comedy to very poignant still simple, accessible emotional moments."
How long do you see yourself playing this role?"Oh, gosh, as long as theyíll let me. We just finished our first season, like two weeks ago and I was sobbing the last day, and thatís unusual for me and I think it was a clear sign that itís a special show. Itís a special group of people and itís really touched my heart and has inspired me creatively and has turned out to be a much more fulfilling experience than I ever imagined it could be."
"I also think you donít have to have seen the mini-series in order to start watching the series because everything is new. Starting over at 40, it can go anywhere. And especially in the world of Hollywood in which we do social satire and we have a lot of fun poking fun at the values and priorities that are askew there, I think that there will be fodder for comedy in that world forever."
"Molly is a complicated character, which is why I love playing her. Nothing is clean and simple. Her relationship with her ex-husband is messy. She still is kind of taking care of him, even though heís hurt her. Nothing is easy, so I think that especially with the team of writers and the group of actors we have I think that we could go until Molly is in the old home in Beverly Hills."
So when you were filming the mini-series did you have any inclination that this might eventually go to series?"Absolutely none. No, absolutely none. It was adapted from a novel and it was finite and we finished the novel. I think that what happened was that when the miniseries got ten Emmy nominations it just sort of shocked everybody, including myself. USA called and said I think weíve touched a nerve. I think that thereís something here that is modern and relevant and has not been explored in TV or film before. At least thatís what all the people who stop me on the street, the people who say, ďThatís me. Iím a starter wife,Ē or ďIím a starter husband,Ē thatís what Iíve been hearing the most is like thatís me and youíve never seen anything on TV that really shows my life and my struggles."
"I think that all bets were off after those ten Emmyís and we sat down and said, ďOkay, can this be a long running series?Ē Once we realized that all the things that worked from the miniseries would be maintained, and that we just wanted to build on that and expand the world of The Starter Wife and add new characters and have fun with the storylines, we realized that it could have a long life as a series. Iím so grateful to USA that they did that."
'The Starter Wife' uses a lot of fantasy scenes from movies but which one was your favorite to be part of?"Oh, goodness. Itís so hard to pick a favorite because they just kept getting better and better. Right off the top of my head, Iíd have to say the Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, which is in the last episode of the series, and playing Carol Channing singing, instead of ďHello, MollyĒ singing ďHello, Dolly.Ē Singing and dancing and doing a big song and dance number, that was a highlight for me."
And which one would you love to do in an upcoming episode?"Oh, goodness, thereís a whole laundry list of ones Iíd like to do. One of them is Gone with the Wind, just because where we shoot in Los Angeles is where Gone with the Wind was shot and I think sort of an homage to our location would be fun. I also would love to do a silent movie with subtitles. I think that would be really fun."
How did it come about that you are also the Executive Producer on the show?"Well, during the mini-series I was lucky enough to be invited in to be a collaborator, a creative collaborator. So I had a lot of say in terms of the rewrites and the look of the show and the casting, so it was a natural progression because itís the same writers that are running the show, and the three of us we just got on like gangbusters and respect each other and love each other very much."
"In addition to it being a natural progression, though, honestly, I think it just made it easier for me to sign on for potentially another 6.5 years onto a series, knowing that the title executive producer does add some certain creative protections for me, in that, as executive producer my opinions and my voice will be at least considered if I feel like something is changing in the show as time is going on that is important to me or that I feel like is essential to the show or if they want to take it in a direction that Iím not comfortable with. And just knowing that I have that protection allows me just to dive in with 100% excitement and commitment and energy into the entire experience."
"Finally, itís turned out to be something that I actually am good at. When youíre an actor youíre just focusing on yourself all the time on the set, working 14 hour days and thinking about your character and as executive producer I have to look at the whole and not just at my stuff. Itís sort of right brain, left brain work and itís exhausting, but I find it really, really just stimulating and gratifying."
As the character of Grace was so much fun, whereas your role as Molly is more deliberate in tone and speech, I still see somevisual quirks that Grace had that seem to be taking subtle residence within Molly. So, I'm wondering if it is a little crossover character trait that cannot be avoided, or perhaps theyíre Debra quirks just oozing to the surface as you get older?"Thatís a good question. When I first got off of Will and Grace and we were doing the miniseries, I took the director aside and said, ďIf you see Grace sneaking in, I want you tell me because Iíve been doing it for eight years. Iím sure that I donít even realize it a lot of the time.Ē It turned out in the miniseries not to be an issue, but what I have found is that the writers like to put my character into situations that elicit physical responses, I think in large part because theyíve seen me do that before and they know that I have fun with it and I have an affinity for it."
"So I like to feel that Molly is experienced by viewers as it is experienced by me as a completely different character, but Debra is also the actress whoís playing these characters and I have a certain, I guess, aesthetic when it comes to comedy and what I think is funny. That might sort of keep the thread throughout much of my work. I donít think that Debra is very much like Grace and I donít think Debra is very much like Molly, but I think Debra is in both of them and perhaps itís in that way."
Have the writers ever mentioned that your show diary could one day be a real life book sold in bookstores, perhaps?"Oh my goodness, what a brilliant idea. No, that hasnít been discussed, but Iím sure after today it will be!"
Good, and Iíd like royalties sent down the line, please!"And you will deserve them," she laughs.
Do you have a favorite on-set moment so far?"Oh goodness, I have a memorable moment. I donít know that it was a favorite. It was doing the Basic Instinct fantasy where I was Sharon Stone with the famous uncrossing of the legs interrogation scene. This was the last episode and we were doing it, I was doing it in front of all the male cast members and I could just tell that everyone, including all the crew, were kind of tense because they didnít know what was going to happen. Obviously I wasnít going to go the full mile and not wear underwear while I was doing the scene. But I did know that given the nature of the scene, that everyone was going to have to be staring at my crotch for ten hours and that people were going to be shy and embarrassed because everyone is like family now."
"So I decided to do a practical joke to try and break the tension and to make everyone relax. So I had white panties made up with these big block pink letters that said ďSay please,Ē hoping that when I uncrossed my legs and the cast and crew saw, that they would break up laughing, that it would ruin the take, everyone would just acknowledge how sort of weird and funny this whole thing is and then we would be able to go on and for me to say, ďOkay, Iím wearing a bathing suit bottom. We can all enjoy this".Ē
"But the thing was it happened and literally nobody laughed. It was probably one of the most embarrassing moments Iíve ever had in my life. It didnít work and afterwards I had to stand up and Iím like, ďDid you not read? Did you not see it?Ē All of a sudden everyone started to exhale and laugh. They didnít know if was supposed to be a joke. They were just so shocked and stunned. And then once that I assured them that it was a joke, then everyone laughed and had good fun with it and the rest of the night was comfortable."
Molly wouldnít be Molly if she wasnít a mother. What has it been like working with the two young actresses who have played Mollyís daughter?"Oh my goodness. Well, I canít say enough about Brielle, the little girl who plays my daughter in the series now. She is just so down to earth and kind and playful and sheís a great actress. Itís really inspiring and amazing to watch her work. Iíve never really worked with a lot of child actresses before or actors before and sheís crept into my heart and I love her dearly."
I noticed in the episodes that I saw that you guys were shooting a lot on location as well. How does working in real places add to the energy of a scene to you as an actress?"Oh, a lot. It affects it tremendously. We shoot four days on our set and four days on location. It just adds to the authenticity of the show. We feel like weíre shooting a film and it adds life and flavor and colors. And I think as much as you can actually photograph the real city, the better it is for the series."