Q&A: Megan Mullally

  • Share
  • Read Later
Sandra Day O'Connor
The retired Supreme Court justice talks to TIME about her work to stop attacks on the judiciary, her lunches with her former colleagues on the bench and her overbooked schedule

Sir Anthony O'Reilly
He boomed long before Ireland. Why the former Heinz CEO is still focused on premium brands.

Megan Mullally
The Will and Grace co-star talks to TIME about her venture into daytime television

Carlos Ghosn
The celebrated auto exec says benchmarking is the key to any good alliance

Trent Vanegas
TIME clicks in with the creator of celebrity gossip blog Pink Is The New Blog

Joan Claybrook
The President of Public Citizen and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) talks about the merits of having black boxes in cars

Richard Evans
The CEO of Montreal-based Alcan, the world's No. 2 aluminum producer, talks with TIME about how he hopes to position aluminum to become a "precious" commodity again

In the eight years she co-starred on NBC's hit comedy Will & Grace, Emmy-winning actress Megan Mullally perfected the swagger, voice and over-the-top attitude — part Mae West, part Minnie Mouse — of rich diva Karen Walker. Now Mullally — who won her second Emmy on Sunday for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series — is venturing into daytime television as host of The Megan Mullally Show, a syndicated talk/variety series that debuts Sept. 18. TIME's Jeanne McDowell talked to Mullally about the challenges of daytime yakking, life after Will & Grace and why she and Sean Hayes (who played flamboyant Jack) made such a great couple.

TIME: How did you feel when you heard your name called as the winner of the Emmy?

Mullally: I thought of all the great years we had on the show and how I will miss all of these wonderful people who I went to work with everyday. I wanted to try to convey the idea that it was a group effort, the combination of crew, staff and cast.

The daytime television landscape is a graveyard of tanked talk shows. Why do you want to jump into that?

I loved talk shows growing up. When I was old enough to stay up that late I use to watch Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin and variety shows like Carol Burnett and the Smothers Brothers. Then I sat in for David Letterman and really liked it. I wasn't nervous at all. Also, it was so satisfying playing the character of Karen that after eight years I didn't have a real big desire to play another character. So when NBC-Universal called about doing a talk show, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

What will differentiate your daytime talk show from all the others?

The answer is me, I guess. There will also be a lot is variety — 60% or 70% celebrity guests and original sketches. We have an opening sketch that we call the "Megalogue" and a super interactive web site which is part of my secret agenda to get away from the crush of the "celebrity culture."

So what do you want your show to be like?

I've been a guest on a lot of talk shows and sometimes it has felt like I'm being fitted into a format. I don't want to force anything on my show. I'm not afraid if something uncomfortable or unexpected comes up during the course of a segment. I'm okay with not being funny for five minutes. And I don't want my guests to feel that they have to ride a unicycle or swallow flaming keys for laughs. I don't want them to feel pressure to set the world on fire.

Speaking of guests, why Will Ferrell for your first show?

He was the one person I wanted. To me he represents the best of popular culture. He's very versatile and super-talented. He's like a modern-day Jimmy Stewart. And he's full of goodwill. There's no negativity about him.

Who are some of your other dream guests?

Like everyone else who does this I'd love Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Barbra Streisand — all the A-list stars. Then I have my weird people who I want to have on like Tom Waits and Randy Newman.

How about your Will & Grace co-stars?

For sure, but probably ladies first. Though we had a funny idea for Sean Hayes. Back in the old days when Dinah Shore was going out with Burt Reynolds she had a cooking segment on her show where she opens the oven and Burt is in there. We thought of something like that — have Sean hiding in a kickdrum.

On Will & Grace Karen Walker's voice became her signature. How did you come up with that voice?

I don't know. I'm not an analytical person. I act on instinct. I got the first script and thought "how can I make this the funniest?" and for some reason that voice came out of me.

Karen and Jack were such a great duo. What was the secret of their chemistry?

Sean and I have a strong connection. He is one of the most important people in my whole life, and probably always will be. I think of him as my second husband. He's my back-up plan. I guess that chemistry spilled over onto the show. Karen was sort of the fabulous gay man that Jack aspired to be.

What made Karen such a funny character?

She was likeable in that she was happy and filled with joy. She was very childlike and that part of her could pop out at any moment. And although she had so many despicable behaviors, she never had any ill will towards anyone and was always trying to do the right thing. So it put a weird spin on her as a character.

Will & Grace was groundbreaking in its portrayal of gay characters. What is the enduring legacy of the show?

We went into Will & Grace with warnings that we would be attacked for the gay characters, but it never happened. Our show was never political. The fact that our lead character was a regular guy who happened to be gay allowed him to be accepted. We got letters from viewers who said the show helped make it possible for them to come out. We started to realize that something was happening to our little shuck-shuck comedy. When we went to the GLAAD awards and people stood up and applauded, I started crying — I'm such a geek! It was a very emotional moment because at the end of it we saw the impact the show had.

Do you miss Karen Walker, and would you ever bring her back?

I would totally do it again. In our promos for my new talk show there's a split screen with the real me on one side and Karen on the other. She says she's coming with me to my talk show and I have to break it to her gently that she can't.