By Bill Brioux
Eric McCormack walks into the room and immediately senses that something’s amiss.
The 54-year-old actor is back in his native Toronto attending what has been billed as a round table press conference to promote the revival of his “Must See” NBC sitcom Will & Grace.
Instead of a round table, however, reporters were told to sit behind a railing in the theatre seats of a Corus Media screening room. McCormack’s chair is at the opposite end of the room, about a car length from reporters.
The Emmy winner solves the problem by dragging his chair right up to the railing and sitting down. It’s such a Canadian thing to do.
It’s typical of McCormack to waive all trappings of stardom. In a career that stretches back 30 years in Canada – back to bit parts in homegrown shows such as Hangin’ In, Street Legal and E.N.G. — he’s been unfailingly polite and friendly with reporters.
Not that there isn’t bite to his banter. When asked shortly after the election of Donald Trump what it would take for him to perform at the president’s inauguration, he answered, “a lobotomy.”
He’s just as cheeky describing Will & Grace. He joked that returning to the very same Hollywood soundstage to revive the series after an 11-year hiatus was like “getting back on a big, gay bicycle.”
McCormack, of course, plays Will Truman, a gay, New York City lawyer who is best friends with Grace Adler (Debra Messing), an interior design firm owner. Their closest chums are Karen and Jack (Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes).
“It’s like going back to college for us, it’s going to be almost always fun,” says McCormack.
Making the return easier, he says, is that none of them needs to do it; they all just want to do it. “We’re lucky in that we all have had great things since,” says McCormack, who headlined three other series since Will & Grace exited after eight seasons in 2006: Trust Me, a short-lived drama about ad men pairing him with fellow Canadian Tom Cavanagh, Perception, a crime drama that lasted three seasons on U.S, cable and Travelers, a timetravel series seen on Showcase and Netflix.
McCormack, who directed the final episode of Travelers this summer, had to fly from the Vancouver set of that series directly to Los Angeles the very next day to start working on Will & Grace.
“I’m not complaining,” says McCormack, who shares homes in Vancouver and LA with his wife of 20 years, Janet Leigh Holden, and their son Finnigan.
Messing just wrapped two seasons on the NBC drama The Mysteries of Laura. Mullally headlined her own daytime talk show and has done dozens of film and TV roles. Hayes has been busy as an executive producer on both Grimm and Hollywood Game Night.
None really ever expected to be back shooting new episodes of Will & Grace.
“Honestly, it was surprising to me,” says McCormack. “You never want to go to a party that you weren’t invited. We weren’t invited, we just suddenly showed up on social media.”
A year ago, about a month before the U.S. presidential election, the four main cast members reunited on their old show’s same New York apartment set for a 10-minute web special. The sketch quickly went viral, drawing over 7.6 million views on YouTube.
It was a not-so-subtle attempt to swing votes toward Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“It could very well have gone badly,” says McCormack. “We live in a very cynical world, and I was afraid of a very cynical reaction.”
Instead, NBC executives saw it, loved it and especially loved how the cast did not appear to have aged at all. They ordered 10 new episodes, then 16, then two full seasons. With right wing political attacks on everything from health care to same sex marriage, the so-called liberal comedy suddenly had a backboard again.
McCormack also found that a new generation had discovered the series in reruns; that for Millennials, it had become, “their Brady Bunch. I’ve had 17-year-old gay men come up to me and say, ‘Thanks for your show,’” he says. “My show?! You were seven when we went off the air!” Fans who watched the original series right to the end may find the reboot a little confusing. The final episode saw the four main characters cast into the future, getting married and adopting kids. Series creators Max Muchnik and David Kohan – barely involved in latter seasons – returned to pen the finale, giving these characters the happy endings they felt they deserved.
Just forget any of that ever happened, says McCormack. His character, for example, will not be married to Bobby Cannavale–as he was when we last saw them.
“We simply want to drop [the main characters] into 2017,” he says. “There will be lots of Twitter jokes, for sure.”
One thing there may be less of is big name guest stars. Will & Grace became notorious, especially in latter seasons, for all the movie stars who popped up in cameo roles.
“It was a huge, amazing thing to have certain people come on that show,” says McCormack. “That I got Sidney Pollack as my dad. That I had Gene Wilder as my boss.” The bad news, however, was that “critics thought we had turned into The Love Boat.” McCormack remembers one episode where John Cleese, Gena Davis and Mini Driver all appeared, “the tallest guest cast of all time.”
The actor says he’s enjoying finding his character’s old rhythms. “There was always comfortability to Will,” he says. “I didn’t have to be macho, clearly. I didn’t have to be a traditional leading man. You could be the leading man on this show and still have foibles and still be neurotic.”
He hopes viewers watch the reboot the way they used to watch the original – as a shared experience. McCormack sees the return coming “at a time when we all need something collective. We’re so scattered now. We all have our own networks and shows we can watch whenever we want. I think Will & Grace has the potential to bring people in front of the television at the same time on the same night and that’s hard to do these days.”
The new Will & Grace premieres Thursday, Sept. 28 on NBC and Global.