People don’t really tune in to “Will & Grace” for Will and Grace. They tune in for Karen, the outrageous, ageless gold-digger whose antics take the show into some wacky and fun places.
Actor Megan Mullally delights in the scenarios her character gets up to, but off screen is the polar opposite.
In person, there’s not even a whiff of Karen in evidence — her voice, her mannerisms and virtually everything about her is entirely different.
Most crucially, as she approaches 60, she’s refusing plastic surgery despite Karen’s love of going under the knife.
“Yes, I’m turning 60. I’m excited about it. I think it’s cool, the ageing process, especially with women because we experience different things that happen to our bodies,” she tells news.com.au.
“I like those passages, they’re like markers,” she says. “But the only pressure would be that Karen is someone who never ages so I need to feel like I need to look really good. Karen has had a lot of plastic surgery, which I haven’t had.” She shrugs. “So, it means I don’t go out in the sun, and I can’t eat a hamburger or lots of ice cream.”
So how does she find her inner Karen?
“I don’t want to be all Shirley MacLaine about it but she’s just in there,” Mullally smiles. “When it’s time for Karen to come out, it’s immediate. So there’s no mental adjustment, it’s just, ‘Now I’ve got to be Karen.’ There she is being horrible and talking weird.”
She appears to have no qualms about being so readily identified with a character that Messing’s Grace has described as “a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day’s work”.
“That’s mostly a blessing and not a curse,” Mullally says.
“Everybody’s going to be known for something and if I’m going to be known for anything I’m happy to be known for playing Karen on “Will & Grace” because it’s a fantastic character.”
Having now played Karen since 1998 (though the show took a decade’s break from 2007 to 2017), she struggles to name her favorite moments.
“Oh, she’s had so many,” she grimaces. “We just shot an episode where Karen gets scared that she’s going to lose Jack (Sean Hayes) to his fiancé (Brian Jordan Alvarez), and Karen and Jack have a moment together. He says, ‘But Karen you’re not losing a homo, you’re gaining a homo.’ And she goes, ‘I guess you’re right, then I’ll have one to play with when you’re in the wash.’” She laughs. “That’s a cute line, right?”
Last year audiences also witnessed Karen’s softer side, at the funeral of her longtime maid Rosario (Shelley Morrison). “It was called Rosario’s Quinceanera, and that was my favorite episode, not just because they wrote me beautiful things to do but also because I felt like they paid such lovely homage to Shelley, who played Rosario for the first eight seasons.
"She’s retired. She’s of a certain age and just didn’t want to do it anymore. And I thought that they really gave her a beautiful, beautiful send-off.”
The episode deservedly won a Writers Guild Award.
Mullally, meanwhile, is not thinking about joining Morrison in retirement any time soon. Married to “Parks And Recreation” star Nick Offerman since 2003, she’s as on form as ever.
This season Karen will share screen time with TV host Chelsea Handler, who will appear as a high-powered lesbian and client of Debra Messing’s Grace, who is also dating Grace’s screen sister.
Mullally is particularly delighted about their new guest star, for a surprising reason.
“Chelsea did a photo shoot where she and my husband were both completely naked.
“So it was funny when I met her at the table read last week. I said, ‘Hi. It’s really great to meet you. I don’t think we’ve met before but you’ve worked with my husband. You have a great ass, and I can speak with some authority on the subject!’” She laughs.
The much-discussed shoot in question, a tribute to one of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famed naked images, was shot in 2015 for US Esquire magazine and featured the friends with their naked bottoms facing the camera.
“They were holding hands and looking over their shoulders, plus four or five photos inside the magazine,” Mullally says.
Not many women would be thrilled about their husband getting nude with another woman. But Mullally, it seems, was quite a fan of the shoot. She nods vigorously in the affirmative. “Yes, we have a huge billboard size blow-up of the photo outside the front of our house,” she jokes.
Season 10 will bring other surprises too, including some for her brash, nasal-sounding scene-stealer, Karen Walker.
“Well, Karen and (her husband) Stan are divorcing, which is sad,” she says. “She (Karen) gets caught cheating. And she really does love him despite all the jokes about his obesity so it’s not particularly easy for her.”
Other new plot points include Grace (finally) finding love again.
“And also, Alec Baldwin is back,” Mullally says. “I love working with him.”