Debra Messing

The actress and new addition to the mini-series-turned-series talk about the new show.

Debra Messing is back as Molly Kagan, reprising her role from the award-winning mini-series The Starter Wife that's now a full-fledged series on the USA Network. The series premiers October 10 and the series will run on Fridays at 10 PM ET on the USA Network. We were in on a conference call with Messing and new addition to the series, David Alan Baesche, who plays Molly's ex-husband. Here's what they had to say.

So can you talk me through kind of the process that went from going from mini-series to series because I - was that always in the plan that if the mini-series did well it would become a series? Or did that just kind of come out of the blue?

Debra Messing: No it was never even discussed because it was, you know, an adaptation of a novel. And we - the mini-series 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, you know, "Would you be - would you consider turning this now into a series?" And so obviously that was a shock. And all the conversations began. And, you know, and now we're here. Now we're finishing up our last episode right now.

So what, you know, being in LA and having families, you know, how do you keep yourself grounded? And how do you keep your kids grounded in such a crazy Hollywood lifestyle?

Debra Messing: Oh boy.

David Alan Basche: Go ahead, you start.

Debra Messing: Okay well - no that is a very real thing seven-year-olds asking for BlackBerrys 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 which does make it difficult to have a very sort of grounded, normal life because there's really nothing normal about Hollywood. So I think for me it's just a matter of staying keyed into my lifelong friends from New York and family. And, you know, I'm pretty solitary. I'm a homebody. So I don't get out much to get into trouble. And you, David?

David Alan Basche: Well that's all great, Debra, but I don't see the problem with a seven-year-old having a BlackBerry. Yes I've been typecast. No I'm kidding. It's just been completely, you know, my wife is seven months pregnant. So I imagine very soon and hopefully -- fingers crossed next season -- I'll have to contend with what it's like to have a family and raise a child in a place that is a little excessive. Yeah I think that's perfectly fair to say. I think anyone in Hollywood that took offense at that would be wrong. I also love the sense of poking fun at Hollywood. And we, you know, 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. And so one of my favorite things about the show, in general, and also in particular about my character, Kenny, is that I get to make fun of myself as a Hollywood producer and get to make fun of the entertainment industry in general. And I think people are going to find it fun to watch.

Debra last time you had to kind of have Australia pretend to be California. Now you get to really have California be California.

Debra Messing: That's right.

Kind of give me your perspective as someone who wasn't from there originally. When you moved out there and saw these kind of settings out there, what was it that struck you about them? What do you like about those kind of places as backdrops? And kind of what do you like about them as a place to put a series?

Debra Messing: Well I remember the first thing that from coming from New York that just stunned me and I couldn't understand was that you valet park for everything. Even - you valet park to go to the dry cleaner. And that, you know, that just blew my mind. I was like, okay, you have to pay $5 to a guy to just drop off your dry cleaning. And so that, to me, was nuts - the fact you're always arriving. There's always - somehow a red carpet everywhere. And I think that, you know, it's a fantasyland out here, you know. It's beautiful. It's sunny all the time. You know, there are beautiful people everywhere because you're not allowed to cross the Los Angeles city lines unless you're beautiful or skinny - joking kind of. And, you know, I think Hollywood has always, you know, there's always been glamour associated to it. And especially in the last ten years there has been a growing sort of obsession with celebrity life and celebrity culture. You can see with the proliferation of magazines, you know, that just focus entirely on that. So it just - it seems like there (was) a lot of fodder and a lot of stories and fun things to poke fun at and highlight.

David Alan Basche: I was going to jump in and say I'm a New Yorker. And I have to agree that coming out to LA can be a bit of a shock. But it, you know, I think it helps that my manager had red carpet actually put into my apartment. So I think that was the - I got the message right away.

Debra Messing: And that lone photographer with the flashbulbs that you can, you know, learn how to do that quick smile.

David Alan Basche: Yeah I don't know who that guy is but he's paying rent so it's fine.

I want to follow on the red carpet question because Debra you usually get raves for the way you look on the red carpet. I'm wondering what's your secret? And how big a deal is it getting ready for like Emmy night? I mean is it traumatic, fun - how do you describe it?

Debra Messing: I, you know, for me it's just play dress up. I feel like, you know, 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 on lipstick and high heels. And in my mind it's just a sort of an extension of that. I love design whether it be architecture, home design. And, you know, I just think of couture clothing as wearable art. So from - to that extent I, you know, I love having the opportunity to just even be able to touch and look at, you know, these pieces of design. In terms of, you know, is it stressful and does it take a lot of time. It's mostly stressful because you're there because you're nominated. And that's just a terrifying and terrifying thing. And all the photographers and, you know, it's a different, unnatural setting that no one can prepare you for. But, you know, I just try and have as much fun as I can for as long as it lasts because I know it's a privilege.

How big a night was it the night you won the Emmy?

Debra Messing: Oh it was huge. It was huge. Well first of all I was nine weeks pregnant at the time and no one knew it. So it was - it had a whole other meaning for me not just because I had to let the dress out, you know, every few days before the actual day. But, you know, because that was the, you know, more important than anything else that was going on in my life. But in terms of actually winning I think I had been nominated four or five times before then. And every one of my co-stars had won up until that point. And so they were all really rooting for me which is very sweet. And I had already just sort of decided okay it's just never going to happen. So when they - when my name was called it was an out of body, you know, just glorious moment. It shouldn't mean that much. But, you know, I'd be lying if I didn't say that it meant the world to know that my peers appreciated what I was doing.

I was curious, Debra, what's it like to wear the hat of executive producer and the star?

Debra Messing: Oh it's fantastic because I get to whip people like David into shape and tell them to go get me coffee. Kidding - okay.

David Alan Basche: (It's) low-fat, two sugars, low-fat milk.

Debra Messing: That's right. No he knows. He's got it down. No it's, you know, it's a lot of work. It's a lot of responsibility. But, you know, I love every aspect of the show. I've been very involved. It was important for me to be very involved in, you know, all of the creative elements. And so, you know, it - David, you know, being brought onto the show, you know, that - I always just wanted to make sure that we maintained the sophistication and intelligence of (the) - and the comedy that we were able to establish in the mini-series. And often when things turn to TV series there are so many different people with different agendas that things can morph. And so, you know, that was why having the executive producer title was important to me because even if I was the star and I had a concern, you know, that concern would only go so far. But having the title of executive producer actually makes them have to actually listen to me complain. And, you know, I'm thrilled because I think that, you know, everyone has gotten what they wanted. You know, I just wanted to be (there) surrounded with the best actors period.

David Alan Basche: And I just want to get you coffee so we're good.

Debra Messing: Yeah so he, you know, he - we both got our sort of job requirements filled.

Now how do you explain in the series that Kenny is a different person?

Debra Messing: We don't. We don't. We just, you know, we're just sort of doing it like Bewitched, because we just think that the character of Kenny is so specific and so outrageous and so fun. And by far the hardest character to cast out of everybody to find someone who was capable of, you know, doing, you know, the comedy and just with the broadness and to be also just a really brilliant actor, you know, to do naturalism. It was hard to find somebody who could juggle both. And so we were really just focusing more on that. We figured, okay, if we're lucky enough to find somebody then, you know, the audience will get over it in one episode.

David Alan Basche: And feel free to elaborate on the comic brilliance you were talking about.

Debra Messing: Yes David is a brilliant genius - a comic genius. He makes us all break up during our takes. He is delightful and handsome and intelligent. What else did you want me to say, David?

David Alan Basche: Humble - number six - humble.

Debra Messing: Humble - humble - yeah perfect. I think that was the - that's how you wanted me to end it, right, perfect.

David. Do you think Kenny and Mike Harness would get along?

David Alan Basche: I'd love to be at that lunch. That would be a great power lunch. You know, it's interesting. I - I'm so excited to be playing Kenny partially because as much fun as I - 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. You know, Mike is a little more of your pretty much your very typical guy in the office who is the misogynistic and power hungry and greedy and borderline abusive, you know? 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.

I just wanted to ask you - obviously you have, you know, some chemistry on the screen and everything and you play a divorced couple, but are you acting at all like a bickering, you know, divorced couple off screen or have you found ways to kind of annoy each other like ex-husband and wife would?

Debra Messing: Shut up David.

David Alan Basche: (The question got me).

You seem like you get along pretty well, you know.

David Alan Basche: Oh no it's acting - acting.

Debra Messing: Yeah. We're - luckily we have a lot of great lines to say to each other to, you know, to be a fun - funny, bickering couple. You know, I don't know what David says behind my back. But, you know, he makes it seems as if he can stand me on the set. And, you know, it's - you're very lucky because you can't control those things. You can't control chemistry. You can't control, you know, just similar aesthetics creatively. And, you know, David and I didn't know each other prior to this. And we get along famously. So it's - I feel very lucky.

David Alan Basche: So do I. And I'll just say that, you know, coming in - being a little bit of the outsider coming into the show where (they're) - the other people had worked together before and known each other I, you know, I was a little nervous about how that would all go. And certainly nervous about working with Debra just in terms of, you know, being such a fan of her work and being so impressed with her before this. And there's many times where then you meet someone and they turn out to also be a very great fan of their own work. And, you know, (you get into a little different) trouble. And Debra is the exact opposite of that. You know, she's so easy to work with. She has - she doesn't have an ego. She's not interested in the who gets credit for something funny. She's interested in it being funny. She's not interested in well who wrote the line, who said the line, who did the bit, who thought of the touching moment. You know, she just wants the show to be the best that it can be. So I have a great deal of respect for her and admiration. And it's also - that's great because we do get along. And I think viewers are going to be interested to see what happens between Kenny and Molly and whether maybe there's still some something something going on there.

It seems that despite the BlackBerry the - this season seems to be less about motherhood. Is that going to change for Molly in future episodes? Are we going to see more of her interaction with her daughter? And also on the personal side do you bring your son to the set? And does he realize what you do for a living and that you're a celebrity?

Debra Messing: Well about Molly's - Molly and Kenny's daughter, Jaden, you definitely do see a lot of Jaden over the course of the series. And you - because it's a whole new relationship now between Kenny and Molly. It's - they're new - newly divorced. And they have to deal with custody issues. And they have to see each other on a regular basis and, you know, as their personal lives are changing and their professional lives are changing. So, you know, Jaden is an integral part of the show. And being a mother is an integral of who Molly is. As for me my son comes to the set almost daily because it's too painful for me to be away from him. And he, you know, he loves it. He, you know, he plays ball with David. And he knows everybody's name on the set. He knows exactly where the craft service table is. And he knows that mama tells stories. And so, you know, everyday he'll say okay what story are you telling today mama. Unfortunately I think he thinks that everybody is an actor on television or is connected to television in one way or the other because my husband writes for television. And so, you know, we talk about that. And then we have a very close friend who is also on another television show who is like an uncle to my son. And so he - everybody is on TV.

Each of the episodes opens with a great fantasy. Do you have a favorite one yet and can you talk about that?

Debra Messing: Oh my God the fantasies are my favorite thing that we do each episode by far. And the great thing now is that instead of one an episode sometimes we do as many as two. We did one in each of the mini-series. And so far - I mean I keep thinking I can't have another favorite and then they keep topping it. You know, last night we did Basic Instinct. And it was just - it was hilarious. And that was one of my favorites. We did - all of us did a singing and dancing extravaganza singing Hello Dolly but having it Hello Molly being Carol Channing and doing the whole Broadway thing. We did - oh my gosh. What did we do?

David Alan Basche: Frankenstein (was my father).

Debra Messing: Oh Young Frankenstein - that's right, Body Heat, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I mean, you know, it - they just keep going on and on and on - Mission: Impossible. And, you know, I think that the writers are having so much fun now with them that, you know, half the time, you know, people are just sitting around saying - trying to think of what's a great movie to copy.

What's the funniest thing that's happened on set this season?

Debra Messing: Go for it David.

David Alan Basche: Oh I can tell you exactly what it was. It happened last night. We, you know, we heard Debra mention that we were doing a spoof - a little fantasy sequence from Basic Instinct. So you have to picture Debra looking like the spitting image of Sharon Stone. White silk - a white silk dress and the blonde hair and the cigarette and the lighter and just staring us all down in this dark interrogation room sitting in that chair for that famous scene where Sharon Stone crosses and uncrosses her legs. And Debra took it upon herself to play a little practical joke on all (unintelligible). And at one point when she crossed and uncrossed her legs, it appeared to me -- not that I was looking very closely -- but it appeared to me that she was wearing panties that had on them lettering that spelled out Say Please at which point really none of us could (breathe through the laughs). And - but I think that was hands down the funniest thing I've experienced in a long time. It was just a really good practical joke.

Debra Messing: My mother is going to be so proud.

David Alan Basche: Sorry. Mine too oddly enough.

I guess my question for you guys is on your time off what is it that you guys like enjoy to watch on television right now?

David Alan Basche:Damages - (not just because)...

Debra Messing: How nice.

David Alan Basche: ...Debra's husband who writes on the show. But, you know, I have to say -- and I hope it doesn't sound self-serving -- but like cable is the place to be. And I couldn't be happier about being on USA right now. You know, I didn't plan it. It just worked out that way. But I'm thrilled because I'm - what I watch when I have time, you know, my wife and I watch Damages on FX. I love The Shield. I love Rescue Me, Mad Men. I mean there's so much going on now. There's a new show called Raising the Bar on TNT. You know, there's just - there's so much on cable that I'm really enjoying now and don't have a lot of time to watch TV but certainly, you know, certainly TiVo everything and try to kind of keep up with the really well made shows on TV right now. And, you know, it sounds silly but, you know, a couple of my favorites are Monk and Burn Notice and In Plain Sight which happen to be on USA. So believe me or don't believe me but it's true.

Debra Messing: I am a fan of all of the same shows that David just listed. And then I also have a weird obsession with Court TV, which is now truTV - I don't know if you know that. Yeah they changed names. I don't know why they did that but they did. It was a little disconcerting to me at first. But I've gotten over it. And I don't know where to find Ashley Danfield and all the other lovely commentators who show me live courtroom trials. To me, you know, I'm obsessed with it. Like I think maybe if I wasn't an actor I'd be a litigator. But, you know, it's always just shocking to see what happens in real life because most of the things that you see on those trials if you tried to write them into a TV series you would say oh gosh, no one would believe that would ever happen. But yet they always do in real life. So...

Do either of you have any, you know, special secret talents that you guys have that you do on the side besides, you know, your acting career.

David Alan Basche: (Okay). Special secret talents, let's see. None that my wife would let me mention I don't think. I guess it's kind of cliché. I, you know, like the old, like tie a stem of a cherry into a knot - that kind of thing. But anyway...

Debra Messing: Really?

David Alan Basche: Yeah - yeah.

Debra Messing: You haven't shared that.

David Alan Basche: You know, it was a college thing. The - yeah the girls like it. But I'm - no I'm, you know, I'm kind of becoming a more and more staunch environmentalist. And so I don't know that's necessarily a talent. But it's become more than a hobby for me and it's sort of an obsession now. So I'm educating myself more about green building and green living and conservation and all that kind of stuff. So I don't know how talented I am at it but I'm certainly trying.

Debra Messing: And because I have a four-year-old son I have become a great baseball pitcher. And, you know, juggler.

David Alan Basche: Really?

Debra Messing: Oh yeah - oh you didn't know I'm - I can - oh please. I took circus class at NYU. I could do trapeze. And I'm not lying.

{bold{Since the mini-series was drawn from the book how did you kind of approach making it into a series because I think, you know, Gigi is involved with the show as well correct?

Debra Messing: You know, Gigi's involvement at this point isn't very hands on. You know, she was obviously the creator of the novel with everything it has leapt from. But, you know, really that was part of the fun challenges of taking it to series was okay we're going to pick up where we left off and now what? What happens to Molly? What happens to Kenny? What happens to Rodney and Joan? And then how do we, you know, expand their worlds and bring in new characters and, you know, maintain the tone of what we established in the mini-series. So, you know, it really is all just coming from Sara Parriott and Josie Temkin who are the show (runners) and the creators and the people - the two women who were nominated for Emmys for adapting the mini-series. So it's - it's (also) my writers.

Debra, any chance you'd do a guest spot on Damages because I'm a huge fan of that show as well.

Debra Messing: Yes absolutely.

David Alan Basche: Cool.

Does that mean it might happen or just that you'd be open to it?

Debra Messing: I - it's been discussed.

So I was searching for some news - recent news of The Starter Wife. And I found an article that said in the end that The Starter Wife is a piece of modern escapism not to be taken seriously. And I thought gosh, do you guys think there is anything in the show that is related to reality or episodes that you guys experienced in your daily lives that can be related to the series or it's just a big, fun thing to do and it's not really related to reality?

Debra Messing: Well I would say that, you know, I agree in part with that it is fantasy and it is a romp in that, you know, the comedy stems from shining a light on the sort of more extreme aspects of the Hollywood culture. So, you know, anytime you turn up the gas, so to speak, on the stove and make things more extreme it becomes funny. But I do think that, you know, the other half of the show is absolutely relatable and that's been an important goal of ours. And, you know, is to keep it universal. You know, unfortunately divorce it happens in Kansas as much as it does in Hollywood. And, you know, women having to start over at 40, you know, for the first time in their life having to find a career and being a single parent and having to date. You know, all of those things happen everywhere in the world. It's not just Los Angeles. So I would defend the fact that there are, you know, there are other reasons to watch than just to get a laugh. David what do you think?

David Alan Basche: I completely agree. I think, you know, again one of my favorite parts (is that) we are making fun of a lot of things. There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek. There's a lot of self deprecating humor when it comes to the entertainment industry. And I think that's a really fun part of the show. But I also think Debra is quite right that, you know, what's real about the show is the relationships. What's real about the show are, you know, how friends deal with hardship, how people cope with tragedy, how people deal with change - with divorce, with job changing and career changing and making one's way in the world. There really are some, I think, some common themes. There's really some (archetypes) there. So it's, you know, I'm proud that it's escapism because I like to make people laugh. And I think it's valuable. But there also is - I think people will see there is some depth to it. You know, it's not just caricature and not just fun and games.

Would you say you're more like Grace or Molly I mean with the personality or the way you are?

Debra Messing: Well I guess right now in my life I'm more like Molly because I'm a mother. And that is, you know, that has defined who I am at this point in my life.

The Starter Wife can be seen on Friday nights at 10 PM ET on the USA Network.