She's been tagged the next generation's Lucille Ball for her breakout role in TV sitcom Will & Grace, but Debra Messing is now aiming for big screen stardom. After a supporting role in recent rom-com Along Came Polly, she takes the lead in Clare Kilner's The Wedding Date. Here she tells us about the business of love and laughs.
Having had such great success on a TV sitcom, is there a sense that you must do a comedy to successfully make the transition to film?
I think that plays into the thinking of the business people involved - the producers and studio heads. Prior to Will & Grace I've done films that have spanned many genres, but now there does seem to be a sense that the studios want me to do work in the comedy genre because that's what they think my fans will respond to. I recently did Along Came Polly with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston and that was a comedy and it was great fun, but I actually crave change creatively, not for any strategic reason. Creatively I just enjoy challenging myself in different genres. That's why I did a film like The Mothman Prophecies. In terms of this film, it is a comedy but the character of Kat Ellis is completely different to anything I've ever done before. She's assertive and confident.
Did you see anything of yourself in Kat?
I did actually. At first look I didn't, but going back over it, I remember being a single woman and feeling that pity, and that judgement, and that pressure from people who were part of a couple. It really comes out at weddings, so I related to that. I also related to the difficulty of being an adult and going back home. Going home is so difficult. I mean I love my family very much, but there is a difference when you're reuniting with your family outside of your hometown and reuniting in the family home. There's something about it that takes you back to childhood.
Do you think it's true what Dermot Mulroney's character says in the film; that some women choose to be "single and miserable"?
I think that's too clear-cut. It puts too much pressure on a woman to say that we're absolutely responsible about whether or not we're alone. Yes, women, and men, have to be open to love, because if we're not open then there's no way for us to find happiness. But you can be open to it and still have no control over when it's going to happen. I think luck and circumstances are involved - where you live, what your job is and what hours you work. All those things are going to affect what kind of people you're going to encounter. That's the nature of love. It's unpredictable.
Most women have dated a bad boy, like Jeffrey [Jeremy Sheffield] at some point. Do you remember ever dating a guy like that?
Oh, yeah! I mean I was never engaged to him and been in an extreme situation like that, but I think everyone has had an experience of being with someone where you think that it's all dandy, and that you're on the same page emotionally, but surprise! It's over. Inevitably there's heartbreak, but you know, my brother said something to me that made me think of it differently. He said, "Basically every relationship you're in is a failure except one." Ideally you want to be married to one person for your entire life, but you have to go through the failures and learn from each one before you get to that 'one'. That was really helpful for me.
Do you remember wanting to make that guy jealous the way Kat does?
Oh, sure [laughs]. Again it wasn't the extreme experience that you see in the film of hiring an escort to pose as my boyfriend, but I don't think anyone hasn't experienced that thing of running into an ex who's broken your heart and you basically want to appear as though you're happier and better off without them. You want to have a guy on your arm to make it look that way, but I didn't have a guy to flaunt, so I just very badly acted the part of someone who had moved on [laughs]. I think it was very obvious that I hadn't!
You're married now, but as we can see from the film, wedding's can be very stressful. Can you relate to that as well?
I don't think it's possible to have a wedding without it being stressful! Whether or not you see yourself as sophisticated or jaded, you can't help but get wrapped up in the romantic notion that this is the one day that is going to be the highlight of my life. I get to be a princess for a day and you want it to go smoothly. Of course with that much expectation and family and fiends, and alcohol, inevitably there are going to be some surprises. I had a friend who had a little too much to drink on the day and attempted to flirt with every married woman in the place. Nothing happened, but it was funny to watch.
You're currently working on Curtis Hanson's Lucky You. Define it for us: is it a comedy or drama, or a comedy drama?
You know, it's um... it really is unique. It was written by Eric Roth, who also wrote Forrest Gump, and then he collaborated with Curtis, so it is a drama but there are some quirky characters in it. It's going to be played completely naturalistically and dramatically, but comic moments will come out of very real, committed scenarios. I play a world-weary showgirl and Eric Bana's lover who stars in it as a professional poker player. Robert Duvall plays his father and they're estranged. Then my sister [Drew Barrymore] comes to town and gets involved with Eric's character.
The Wedding Date is released in UK cinemas on Friday 22nd April 2005.