Monday, July 26, 2010

Interview with Will & Grace's Eric McCormack

Will & Grace star Eric McCormack and I sat down recently in San Diego to talk about Proposition 8, reflect on the long-running show, and find out what he's been up to since then.
Rex Wockner: What have you been doing since Will & Grace?

Eric McCormack: Immediately thereafter I produced a series called Lovespring International for Lifetime which starred now-gigantic Jane Lynch. I did a series called Trust Me for TNT, which I loved. Unfortunately, it didn't last longer than 13 (episodes), but I did love it. I did some theater, and I'm going back to the theater this summer in Vancouver, where we spend our summers. So, a lot of here and there.

Rex: What has caused Equality California to give you this award tonight?

Eric: I'd like to think that I used what small-p pulpit I had as Will to be vocal on behalf of the community. In many cases, it was on behalf of AIDS-related organizations. ... When it came to Prop 8, I was asked, and responded whenever possible, to speak out as a straight man on behalf of the community. I was stunned that Prop 8 passed, I really was. I mean, I grew up in the theater; I've been around not just gay men, but gay men in relationships, long-term relationships, for a long time and I've been amazed at the fear and ignorance in this country at the concept. I mean, part of me understands; we all had parents that were conservative. I understand the fear of crazy gay parades, but I don't understand the opposite. Why be afraid of people settling down and getting married and living like everyone else? That fear makes me realize that what we're dealing with here is a kind of illogical prejudice, a prejudice that is based on ignorance, on misguided religion, and it's crucial for our kids, for my kid, that we change things now, we change things on a state level, we change things on a federal level. And the gay community can be as vocal as they want but they're going to need straight allies and I want to be one of them. There are millions of us out there that want to do what we can on behalf of our gay brothers and sisters. ... My kid, in his class he's got kids with two moms and kids with two dads; it's going to be different when he's in his 20s but right now it's still a fight to be had and I've done what little I could.

Rex: You work in television. We may have lost Prop 8 because we lost the TV-ad war. The other side played dirty with those TV ads. They said things that weren't true. Our side played nice -- "freedom, justice, equality." Suppose you were put in charge of the ads next time. What might you do differently?

Eric: I think, talking to (Equality California Executive Director) Geoff Kors, he said (that) hopefully this time the prop(osition) is something to vote for, not against -- that it is a vote for gay marriage. That alone will help. "Say no, say no, say no" is a hard message to get there. "Say yes" -- a positive message -- will hopefully be easier. Hopefully, we start raising money earlier so that we don't get outgunned by the Mormons or whoever had all the money last time. And hopefully we get more celebrities involved. There's a lot of celebrities that spoke out this time but weren't necessarily in the commercials. If those faces could be there -- and I'm perfectly willing to be one of them -- that can sway people.

Rex: ... Looking back at Will & Grace, there are a couple of ways in which the program was criticized: Jack was too flamboyant or stereotypical, and you never had sex. Do you think for its time and place, Will & Grace really broke ground and that we should look back at it as something that really changed things?
Eric: Will had as much sex on camera as anybody on Friends had on camera. It's a sitcom. Nobody has sex on camera. Will had lots of dates. Will was dating Patrick Dempsey and he married Taye Diggs. ... I think that a lot of the rhetoric in the kind of anti-Will & Grace press was misguided and was from people that had stopped watching the show about three years earlier. A lot happened to Will with regards to romance, with regards to relationships and, like I said, he walked down the aisle in his own apartment with Taye. I think the show actually ended up being -- as much as it got very outrageous near the end, it also got more outspoken. And I think that we weren't necessarily a show for the gay community alone; we were for America to maybe start making some inroads. So, while Queer As Folk or something might have been a more true representation of how the gay community, particularly in cities, lives, I don't think you could find as many young gay people that would say, "Because my parents watched Queer As Folk, I was able to come out to them." What they do say is, "Because my mom loved Will Truman or thought Jack was funny, I was able to tell them when I was 15 or 17 that I was gay," and the show broke ground in that way.

Rex: Is that what you're proudest of? ...

Eric: I'm proudest that we always worked to make a quality show, to make a funny show, and that the results of it -- things like kids being able to come out to their parents, kids being able to walk with their head a little higher was a direct result of it. But we never got political, we never intended to get political, we were just a goofy, funny show.

Rex: But if you can have the side effect of making the world a better place, that's great.

Eric: Absolutely. I'd like to think that we did. I'd like to think that we managed to walk that line where most of the gay community enjoyed the show and liked the characters and appreciated the result, and that the straight community got to bone up on (something) a lot of them knew nothing about. For a lot of people in this country -- it's crazy -- but Will and Jack were possibly the first two gay men they ever met.

Rex: And Sean Hayes officially, formally came out a few months ago -- it was in The Advocate, I think, right? -- and made an interesting statement: He said that he'd never really been in. ... I assume he was out on the show?

Eric: Oh, yeah. The Sean I met in 1998 was out and was gay. So, his choice to not talk about it in the press was his choice, and I'm proud of him now that he was vocal in The Advocate and, you know, everyone's got to do it their own way.

Rex: It's like there's different ways of being out. Twenty years ago it was very black and white -- you were out or you were in the closet. But now there seems to be this thing: You can be out, but if you've never had THE interview with The Advocate or The New York Times or People magazine, you're somehow not completely out or fully out. ... As a journalist, I struggle with how to describe certain people who haven't done that interview yet.

Eric: David Hyde Pierce just came out very recently. ... Everyone's got their own journey and I think that there's no question that good can be done in the straight world by a very prominent and loved gay man or woman coming out. At the same time, it's not their job or their responsibility. I feel like everyone's got their own time and place.
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