Nobody was more surprised than actress Debra Messing when last year's miniseries "The Starter Wife" garnered high enough ratings and multiple Emmy nominations to warrant a weekly series, which debuts tonight on the USA Network. Messing and new co-star David Alan Basche talked to our Jim Halterman about the chain of events, how far from (or close to) reality the series is and how Messing could turn up on another Emmy-heralded series.
When the miniseries of Gigi Levangie Grazer's novel "The Starter Wife" was created last year, spinning it off to a weekly series, according to Messing, "was never even discussed because [the miniseries] was an adaptation of a novel. The miniseries encompassed the whole novel and so it was always going to be a finite sort of event. And then I imagine when people started to really respond to the show and then we got ten Emmy nominations USA sort of said, 'Oh, I think maybe we have something here.' And so out of the blue the call did come and said, 'Would you consider turning this now into a series?'"
Viewers may notice that Molly's ex-husband, Kenny, looks more than a little different from the miniseries to weekly series. Played by Peter Jacobson in the miniseries, the actor was not available for the series since he is currently committed to Fox's series, "House." Messing joked about the fact that the change of actor isn't being addressed in the context of the series. "We're just sort of doing it like 'Bewitched.'" Messing revealed that the character of Kenny was "by far the hardest character to cast out of everybody." In the search for the right actor, she said the desire was "to find someone who was capable of doing the comedy and just with the broadness and to be also just a really brilliant actor to do naturalism. And it was hard to find someone who could juggle both." Enter Basche.
After landing the role of Kenny, the actor couldn't help but compare it with the recurring role he plays on NBC's "Lipstick Jungle." "I'm so excited to be playing Kenny," Basche said, "because as much fun as I'm having on 'Lipstick Jungle' as Mike Harness, it's somewhat limited. And Kenny is completely unlimited. And I think not just the size of the pool but I think also just the personalities. Mike is pretty much your very typical guy in the office who is the misogynistic and power hungry and greedy and borderline abusive. But I find Kenny to be much more interesting than that because he's all those things. He can certainly be misogynistic. And he's insensitive and at times interminable. But if I'm lucky at the end of the day he's also somehow strangely likeable."
The natural rapport between Basche and Messing was something that is evident on-screen and, from their playful banter during this interview, off-screen as well. Of her pairing with Basche, Messing explained, "We have a lot of great lines to say to each other to be a funny bickering couple." She added "We're very lucky because you can't control those things. You can't control chemistry. You can't control just similar aesthetics creatively. And David and I didn't know each other prior to this and we get along famously. I feel very lucky."
Basche couldn't agree more with Messing, though he wasn't entirely sure what he was walking into when he was brought on to play Kenny. "Being a little bit of an outsider coming into the show where the other people had worked together before and known each other I was a little nervous about how that would all go. And certainly nervous about working with Debra just in terms of being such a fan of her work and being so impressed with her before this." Thankfully, his fears were soon extinguished. Of Messing, he commented, "She's so easy to work with. She doesn't have an ego. She's not interested in who gets credit for something funny. She's interested in it being funny... she wants the show to be the best that it can be."
Messing has not only taken on another acting role with her character of Molly Kagen in "The Starter Wife" but she is also an Executive Producer on the series. "It was important to me," she said, "to be very involved in all the creative elements... I always just wanted to make sure that we maintained the sophistication and intelligence and the comedy that we were able to establish in the miniseries." With eight years on "Will & Grace," Messing also has some experience with the complications that go into producing a television series. "There are so many people with different agendas that things can morph. That was why having the executive producer title was important to me because even if I was the star and I had a concern, that concern would only go so far. But having the title of executive producer actually makes them have to listen to me complain."
With the series set in Los Angeles, Messing and Basche both remarked that some of the story points in the series are not as far from reality as one might think might they are ripe for mocking. Referring to a moment in the first episode, Messing said it "is a very real thing [with] seven year olds asking for Blackberries and cell phones and things like that. And that's one of the things I love most about the show is the social satire. You know, making fun of the excessiveness and the priorities that are most stilted out here [in Los Angeles] which does make it difficult to have a very sort of grounded, normal life because there's really nothing normal about Hollywood." Basche added, "I also love the sense of poking fun at Hollywood. And we make fun of ourselves quite a bit and also just the entertainment industry in general. We tend to take ourselves far too seriously far too often."
Messing is not only known for her acting roles but for being known as someone that stirs up attention for her fashion sense on the red carpet. "For me it's just play dress-up," Messing said. "I think every little girl when she was like five or six used to like to go in their mother's closet and just play grown up and put lipstick on and high heels. And in my mind it's sort of an extension of that. I love design whether it be architecture, home design. I just think of couture clothing as wearable art." It's not all fun and games at the various awards events, especially when you're there for more than just wearing designer clothes. "It's mostly stressful because you're there because you're nominated. And that's just a terrifying, terrifying thing. And all the photographers... it's a different, unnatural setting that no one can prepare you for."
Messing has a tie to another popular series that won several Emmy awards during last month's ceremony. Messing's husband Daniel Zelman is one of the creators/executive producers of FX's series "Damages." When asked if there was a chance that she would turn up in a guest spot on her husband's series, Messing's response was that she absolutely would do it and, without fully giving away any potential surprises on the Glenn Close drama, she revealed, "it's been discussed."
"The Starter Wife" airs tonight on the USA Network at 9:00/8:00c.