NEW YORK – Add Debra Messing to the list of impossibly young women who have pretended to be in love with Woody Allen on the big screen.
She and Téa Leoni are Woody's latest prey in Hollywood Endings, a movie-within-a-movie spoof of Tinsletown. Messing can probably land bigger movie roles since her television series Will & Grace has become one of the hottest things on NBC. However, she seems happier with smaller parts in pictures like The Mothman Prophecies and the latest from the auteur Allen.
We sat down in a Manhattan hotel recently and talked about the glee actors seem to feel in Allen movies.
Bill McCuddy: William Hurt leaned over to someone in the middle of [shooting the Woody Allen movie] Alice and said, 'We're in a Woody.'
Debra Messing: (Laughs) Yes.
McCuddy: And that encapsulated how actors feel?
McCuddy: When you got the call what happened?
Messing: Oh, I nearly got into a car accident. I got the call while I was in the car and driving in Los Angeles. I didn't even know I was being discussed for this film. I was driving and I was informed that 'you have been offered a role in the Woody Allen film, and [you would] play his girlfriend.' I screamed at the top of my lungs. It was so visceral. I was so just overjoyed that I literally almost got into an accident! I was so excited. I mean, this is my second time around with him [the first was a small part in Celebrity], but this is the first time that [I'd be] acting with him, to play his girlfriend. I grew up watching his films — and he is a master.
McCuddy: That first Friday...
McCuddy: ....everybody would get there early to stand in line.
Messing: I mean it's like he's just, just amazing — an amazing filmmaker. It's always been a dream of mine to work with him, and I told him at the end of the shoot. He said, 'We'll do this again,' and I was like, 'I want to be one of your journeymen' — one of those actors who you see...
McCuddy: In his 'kitchen cabinet' of people he constantly....
Messing: Yep. Anytime. Anywhere. Yeah.
McCuddy: One of the life-imitating-art moments in this movie is — because when you work on a Woody Allen film you only get your part of the script — you're constantly in the movie-within-the-movie saying, 'Am I still in the movie?'
Messing: (Giggling) Yeah.
McCuddy: And that must have been what it was like when you got the real script. You're like, 'Ok, I'm on this page, and this page.'
Messing: I had no idea what the movie was about, until I saw it. I had no...
McCuddy: Does that work?
Messing: At first I thought this is impossible — how is this gonna work? I think it does. I think there is actual, actual genius to the whole thing because ...
McCuddy: Would you want to get a Will & Grace script each week that just had your lines in it?
Messing: Well that's different because it's a television show. I think ultimately the reason he does it is [because] he trusts you, that you ultimately know more about this character than he does. I don't know why he thinks that way, but he does. Also, he only gives you what you need to know, because then you're not going to make any creative choices or judgments about your character or about the whole storyline.
McCuddy: You're not going to 'act' with him the way he is in the rest of the movie, only the way he is in your scene.
Messing: Yeah, I mean I didn't know that he was blind in the scene that I'm acting. I come home from the spa and I find out, in the scene, that we're broken up and he is blind. I had no idea. He never told me — the transport guy told me afterwards. And, I thought that it's genius because there was no faking — I really didn't know that he was blind. It was amazing.
McCuddy: What has Will & Grace done to open up the lines of communication between the straight world and the gay world?
Messing: Oh gosh, that's not for me to say quantifiably, but I can only say that, from my experience, so many people have said to me, 'I've come out and we use this [show] as a healing tool. I watch this TV show with my mother and my father.'
McCuddy: You think middle America embraces gay America more now?
Messing: Yes, yes I do. I mean, I've had people in airports come up and tell me that it's the first gay character, or people, or anything, that they have ever encountered. [They say that] they refused to watch the show [at first], and now they laugh all the time at the gay characters and at the gay jokes. I think that humor is a healer, and it is a privilege to be a part of something that has had some effect.
'Hollywood Endings' opens Friday May 3, 2002.