On a balmy morning in early September, I was invited to the cozy confines of Culver Studios, not too far from the Sony lot in lovely Culver City, California, to visit the set of the new USA Network series, The Starter Wife. The day was off to an interesting start when, while waiting for our press area to be set up, us in the press corps noticed none other than Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff walking through the lot with a mini-entourage. (It should be noted that while I was inquiring about why she was there during this day-long event, I never got a straight answer, only that she was there for a "camera test," but they didn't say what it was for. Drat.)
But we weren't there trying to hunt down the wherabouts of the sci-fi godess, we were there for another godess of the small screen, Debra Messing, and her new series. It isn't really a "new" series, I guess, since this essentially picks up right where Messing's Starter Wife mini-series left off. The mini-series was nominated for 10 Emmy's that included a Judy David Emmy win for Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series, so a regular series seemed to be the next logical step. This series brings Messing back as the title character Molly Kagan, Davis back has her best female friend, Joan McAllister and Chris Diamantopolous as Molly's best (gay) male friend, Rodney. We get a new slew of supporting cast members here and we were there to talk to them all, but first, we had a little chat with series creators Josie McGibbons and Sarah Parriott. As the only male journalist in the press corps, for a female-driven series, it was sure to be an interesting day.
Creators Josie McGibbons and Sarah Parriott
I loved the miniseries but I like how you're making it lighter, funnier and tighter this-the new series and I wondered if you could just talk about that?
Sara Parriott: Well, the other one was, like, a six hour movie and this one we really had to figure out a way to make it into a series more and what people expect more of a series and-which is, more, as you said, tighter. Trying to, even though it's serialized over the ten episodes, still having themes within each one and having complete stories within the one, with cliff hangers at the end and the humor we just-
Josie McGibbons: We're just getting better, we're a year older. And also there is certainly a concerted effort to bring more men into the audience and, as we were trying with the miniseries with humor, we are, again, very much so with this. And also have more sort of guys-guys than we did in the other one. You know, that our romantic lead in the last-in the miniseries was more a romance novel type guy. He was the mysterious, homeless guy and here we have just more-more layers and it's really, again, it's sort of our experience. Nothing against the actor who played Sam last year, but it's more, you know, we need to live with these people now. It's not just a movie.
Sara Parriott: Yeah, the love interest part, played by Hart Bochner is just, like, more like a real guy and he's really flawed and I think we're having with the flaws in everybody's character and having the comedy out of that and the mistakes people make. And hopefully things that everybody can identify with. Which we tried to with the miniseries say, okay, they live in this really rich, exalted world, but it's still about a woman that's been dumped and has tied up her identity with a man and now has to find herself. And so we're just-always try to find the themes that any divorced, single mom would find. You know, dating, how complicated that is, dating other people that are divorced. All that stuff that it's more fun to watch when everybody's really rich, but it's the same thing, it's the same problems, hopefully, that we all have.
Can you talk a little bit about at what point you found out you'd be able to take it into a regular show?
Sara Parriott: As late as they possibly could, my gosh. Well, first of all, when we made-when we started the miniseries and cast Debra, she did not want to commit to a series and so it really was, this is just going to be a six-hour miniseries. After it did so well and she had such a good time doing it and realized we were all made for each other, she let it be known, "Like, well, I could maybe-" You know, so-but that still was a long process of the network deciding to do it. They took so long we couldn't even believe it, you know. But anyway, they finally decided and then it took a long time figuring out how to make it work for everybody and so-and then here we were. So it kind of was, I guess, the end of the summer just about. Or something like that, July maybe, July or so when they decided that it would go.
And then of course the next thing that happened was the writer's strike. So that put a-you know, we had our staff, Sara and I took about a month picking a staff. We only have four other writers and we all got together on a Thursday and all got together on a Friday and then all packed our offices and went home and, you know, struck for three months and it was very sad. And then we just hit the ground running in February.
Josie McGibbons: And because they didn't know it was going to go into series, we lost a lot of-you know, we lost a few of the actors that were, like, our original husband, Kenny, and so there were choices to be made. Do we just recast him? We knew we had to recast the husband and just have the old, you know, Bewitched, Darren switch, you know. Or do we, you know, when we lost Miranda Otto so we couldn't have Cricket. And just trying to think, well, let's not make another, let's not recast Cricket. Let's make new friends coming in and all those decisions had to made and we were so happy still to get, like, really the basic three. Chris Diamantopoulos and Judy Davis and Debra Messing, of course, that those three were just so crucial in that. And that, I think it'll carry through so everybody feels like they're still getting the miniseries without that-a real bump with a new husband. He's great, David Alan Bashe is great too, so we're happy.
Sara Parriott: Yes, and Peter Jacobsen is doing wonderfully on House, so he had the happy ending, just not with us.
Did Gigi (Levangie, author of the original book) have any input?
Sara Parriott: Gigi's actually off writing another book now. So she-Gigi was the, you know, had the idea, however many years ago, of the whole world and at this point, she is very happy to let us run with it.
Are we going to find out what happened to Sam or is that just put aside?
Josie McGibbons: No, you will, you will. That's an interesting thing, because originally Sara and I wanted Sam-her breaking up with Sam to be the bulk of the first episode and we're new to TV, because we're feature writers until now. And the network felt strongly that the first episode has to be about the future of the series, they know these things better than we do. We just thought it would be so satisfying to see something blow up, you know. But-so we kind of do here in a couple of lines and we reference it, you know, what happened with him.
You said you're going to try to renew the male characters. How do you think the guys will react to this kind of stuff?
Josie McGibbons: Well, I don't know what guys are really going to see The Starter Wife, but we're hoping that if you're a boyfriend or you're, you know, you're a husband, that you'll sit there because of the comedy. So we did up the comedy a lot. We made the male characters more identifiable, not just, like, the romance, that sort of thing and, you know, pretty girls.
Sara Parriott: We did notice our cast was flat chested, so we actually made an effort to round out the cast.
Josie McGibbons: Well, we had-two of the guys on-our guys on staff, we asked them all those questions, you know, and they're comedy writers and they said this tongue in cheek, but it was, like, "Boobs man! That's why I watch Desperate Housewives," you know. So hopefully we'll be able to get them, but I think really it'll be the humor that keeps them.
I had read that the new love interest is going to be a starter husband. Is that right? That her new boyfriend was a starter husband?
Sara Parriott: Yeah, well, you know what? He wasn't quite a starter husband, because he was successful when he married his wife, who was, you know, like, a development exec. I mean, so in fact, what he was, was a deposed, you know, he was more of a deposed husband. So it's not this-it's not the same, it's not the, you know, the woman who stood by him for all these years and was [dumped]. In fact, you know what? He's not a starter husband. Because starter wives are also dumped and he and his wife, it was definitely a mutual split. But his issue was-
Josie McGibbons: But his wife is very powerful and he's less powerful than she is in the-
Sara Parriott: But started off in the top dog position and, you know, and it's fun for us to have a character who's a screen writer and we were kind of laughing because-and Molly, the character, writes a screenplay in this too. Because our writers, and we could just get lost in all the episodes about getting notes from people and rewriting and it's just, like, "Oh, is that not a-like, big plot line for everyone? Not interested in this? Maybe." We could just write a whole hour on getting notes, but maybe that's not what America wants to see, I don't know.
You mentioned that you were feature writers and obviously writing for television is a whole different discipline. Can you give an idea of what your week is like when you present a script and how many hands it goes through? How many chiefs spoil the broth?
Sara Parriott: Well, I have to-this system with the cable, which I think is a lot easier from what I hear from network writers, and because we proved ourselves with the miniseries, it's not too onerous. So we present our-you know, everybody writes their script. Then it's just amongst the writers and we'll rewrite and punch up and then Josie and I will take a pass at it, if it's not one of our scripts and then we turn it into the studio. Now USA and UMS [ph] have combined. So now it's-just recently, you just turn it in once and the studio and network get it at the same time and then we'll get their notes and address them and maybe address them again. And then once it goes to the table read, we see other flaws and take notes. But it's not been bad.
Josie McGibbons: What's different too is that when we did the miniseries, you know, and for features, you write the whole thing, then it's made, then you post the whole thing. And of course, you know, this is our first experience of juggling all the balls at the same time. So while you're getting a phone call in the morning from the network about their notes on the script, you're getting one in the afternoon about their notes on the cut they just saw. You know, and so when you're picking the music queues from the one in the middle and you're casting the one that's coming up, you know, so it's just-I mean, we have just found this to be the most exciting, fun, interesting job we've ever had and we're exhausted. But really great fun.
Who has the final say on the notes though? Like, you as writers and the creators, if you disagree with something-
Josie McGibbons: But that's the beauty of it. I mean, that is the beauty. It's almost like-I mean, it's almost like a good marriage. I mean, because where you just don't say, you know, he does or she does. I mean, we kind of take turns. Often because at this point, we all have respect for each other and honestly, we're happy to go on the record, these guy's notes make it better. They are typically very smart, you know. But therefore, because they trust us, if we say, really, really no, they say, okay. You know, but if they say really, really yes, we'll go, okay.
Sara Parriott: Then we try to accommodate it. But they'll usually-they'll make it maybe a general note and they'll let us address it in our own way. So we make it ours, it's not just like do this and then we do it. It'll be, this is causing us trouble and then we figure out a way to make us both happy.
Josie McGibbons: And they also trust us-like, in the cuts, you know, like, if they say, do X, try X and all we have to do later is say, we tried it, it wasn't as good and they don't even-they don't even ask to see it, they just believe us. But that comes from [indiscernible] relationship.
So how much freedom do you have with the fantasy, sort of sequences?
Sara Parriott: All the freedom in the world.
Do you ever get a note that says, "We can't do this, sorry."
Josie McGibbons: No, not really.
Sara Parriott: You mean production wise? You mean too expensive or--?
Well, production wise but also just as far as, like, I don't know how it fits in the story.
Josie McGibbons: No, and you know what's fun is, it's an embarrassment of riches and the hardest thing is that every cast member and now even crew member, come and say, "You should do this." And Debra and Chris are saying, "Can we be Astaire and Rogers?" And we're thinking, if it fits. You know, and Debra was just telling us, "I want to be Lillian Gish in a silent movie." Okay.
Sara Parriott: If it fits.
Josie McGibbons: I said, work on that at hiatus, give us your wish list, you know, but I mean, it's the most fun.
It's cutting it down then and not using every single idea.
Sara Parriott: The hardest part, of course, is thinking, well, what fits? What's the context? I mean, you know, the first one, which is always-it's always a movie, it's, like, reflecting where her head is. Since what happened the last time and where she's waking up or what her first scene is and so-
Josie McGibbons: It's always a great jump start to the episode and telling us where she is and that's an area that often, when we go back and write, we say, "Oh, that was a fun fantasy. It absolutely has nothing to do with where we are right now," and then we just, like, well, let's put it in a file for somewhere else and switch it out.
Sara Parriott: We have some of the best-I don't know, have you heard what some of them are this year? I don't know what clips you've seen.
We've only seen the first two hours.
Sara Parriott: The first two, I mean, you know, she's doing Hello Molly, you know, Carol Channing coming down the staircase and we did one last night of-
Josie McGibbons:Dirty Harry we've done.
Sara Parriott:Dirty Harry we did, "You can't handle the truth," from A Few Good Men yesterday and it's the happiest times on the set. The crew loves it, everybody gets to be-you know, bring their top game. The hair people, make-up, set, you know, the art directors, and Debra is just like a little kid.
Josie McGibbons: All the costumers and we just have wonderful hair and make-up and costumer people and that's like-that's like whee! It's party time! So it's really a-it's a boost for everybody's attitude on the crew to do that.
Can you guys talk about any guest stars this season and also who these new friends are that Molly's going to have?
Josie McGibbons: We have Jane Leeves from Frasier, she's coming in the last few episodes.
Sara Parriott: Most important guest star is Joe Mantegna.
Josie McGibbons: Oh, Joe Mantegna. We get three episodes, you know, he's on Criminal Minds, but we get him for three and love him. And one of the new friends is Danielle Nicolet and she plays now a new girlfriend, and she's married to a baseball player. We hired an actor to do it, and his name is Reggie Austin and James Black, who's great and he plays Rodney's love interest in this. And we have some great-yeah, some great-am I forgetting?
Sara Parriott: We have a really good girl this time, a little girl playing the daughter, she's terrific.
Josie McGibbons: Yeah, Brielle Barbusco.
Sara Parriott: She's got a New York accent so we have to [move] her occasionally and we were joking, her back story issue was, raised in New York.
Any little tidbits you want to talk about Joe Mantegna?
Josie McGibbons: He's just-every time he comes, I mean, and Debra and Joe get along so well. He loves the show, he's going to ask if he can get out of Criminal Minds. I mean, if he can really-not get out but do four next year and we'd love to have him and whenever they flirt, everybody always wants them to be together again, you know. And Eddie Cibrian, he's in the last three as a detective and so we're bringing him in and he's great, sexy, cute, cute boys. [laughs]
Can you say anymore about Eddie's role?
Josie McGibbons: Eddie Cibrian's role? He plays a cop and, you know, and Molly is in no position to flirt or have any relationship. She's got her hands full but there's still, you know, we hope a twinkle and when we showed Debra the picture of him saying, "Look, who's coming on as Detective LaRoche." She said, "Oh, what a very nice looking young man." [laughs].
Sara Parriott: What a nice looking young man, yes he is.
So do you have any of your own Hollywood experiences kind of filtered into the story telling here?
Sara Parriott: Occasionally. We have a writer who lives more of that life than we do and there's a funny birthday party scene where-and this happened to Connie, our writer. Where when she got to the birthday party, she saw that her gift was the party favor. And so in real life, she made her husband run out-well, you know, she calls him at home, "Quick, get another gift." In ours, you know, Molly does something different.
Josie McGibbons: She lives in the Pacific Palisades and she has a wild group of women and do Bunco, which I don't know, is some card game and they get drunk and everybody-and wild, wild stories that we can't even put in. Because, like, her next door neighbor, you know, assaulted her husband with, like, a Manolo Blahnik and it stuck in his head and she's watching him being hauled off, you know, those type of things. She's a wealth, in fact, we hired her from a phone conversation. She was off doing another show and we just hired her on the spot, just because she started reeling off these stores with sort of a voice like this. And we didn't-we just knew, well, we have to have her.
What's the name of this Hollywood [wife] writer that you have?
Josie McGibbons: Connie Burge and she's a-she's been around, she's been on TV-
Sara Parriott: She created the show Charmed.
Josie McGibbons: Yeah, she's very experienced, very lovely lady and she's happy because it's the first time she's done a show that's, like, 'for me', you know.
How much input has Debra had in, like, suggesting ideas?
Sara Parriott: She's not so much in suggesting ideas, but she's very react-you know, she's very smart about reacting to ideas, you know, and especially after a table read, she'll come up to us and talk about what she thinks works or doesn't work and why would her characters do this or, you know. So she's great at that.
Josie McGibbons: And she loves the fantasies, so she puts in fantasies that she wants, what she should be wearing and how it should be done. But she is so fabulously gifted and can do anything. We often give her, like, big, huge speeches-
Sara Parriott: Honking speeches.
Josie McGibbons: Honking speeches that nobody else could pull off and sometimes she'll say, "Well, that was a bit much," you know.
Sara Parriott: We feel like we're just shooting at her feet, [now] dance.
For the two of you, what's the most annoying Hollywood wife thing that you observe as writers and people that live here and live in this world? It doesn't seem like you're Hollywood wives, but, you know, you obviously are in this-
Sara Parriott: Well, we're not-I'll tell you one thing that's annoying. I'm now divorced but our husbands, both not in the business, is the amount that they're dismissed by people who are. I mean, you know, to bring your very viable, lovely husband to something and it's just, like, "And what do you do? Oh." You know and that's it and it doesn't matter, they could be a neurosurgeon, it's, like, "Oh."
Josie McGibbons: Unless they need surgery, then there is interest. [laughs]
Sara Parriott: I mean, because we were talking recently about-that maybe is the genre or the phenomenon that hasn't been explored as much and which we're getting into a little with the Molly, Zach relationship. Which again, as she's a little bit on the ascent or his wife passed him, you know, it's like-it's not the unsuccessful husband, but it's the husband who is marginalized and how you know, we all know about the 'wife of', as said in the book and in our show. But what about the 'husband of?'
Josie McGibbons: Gigi was always great at-I mean, she really was the Hollywood wife and we're just, like, working old wives, you know. [laughs] We're just like housewives who write, and she was more the glamorous, the one all in that whole world and knows more of what's annoying. She said she used to be annoyed because she'd be sitting around with all her girlfriends at the house and Brian (Grazer) would walk through and they'd all go, "Oooh!" you know, and chase after-sort of chase after Brian. Because he was [by now] because he was attractive, you understand. Because he was powerful.
After that, we had some time before we were to chat with actor Chris Diamantopolous and we went in to observe a scene being filmed, in which the wonderful Judy Davis (who, sadly, we did not get a chance to speak to that day), is coping with the recent death of her husband, while Molly (Debra Messing), Rodney (Chris Diamantopolous) and her new recovering friend British actor friend (Daniel Gerroll). This scene wasn't one of the lighter scenes that I had seen, based on the pilot, but it was performed nicely and it's always intriguing to see how certain things are handled on any set, what adjustments are made from shot to shot and other little tidbits.
We were told that Chris Diamantopolous was ready for our roundtable session, so back out to our little press tent we went, to talk to the actor who's reprising his role from the mini-series as Molly Kagan's gay best friend, Rodney.
So we were told Rodney is less flaming than last year.
Chris Diamantopulous: Is that what you were told? I hope it was a gay guy that gave you that answer because it's pretty un-PC. Do you know what? I don't think that it was so much that I dressed "flaming" last season as much as that it was kind of unoriginal. And that's no slight on the wardrobe department, they were wonderful. It's just that they were really limited in their budget. And they had Debra to dress and they had Judy to dress. And usually in television I find that the guy's wardrobe is overlooked. So I was wearing, like, striped shirts and jeans and it was variations of that.
This season I talked with our wardrobe designer, Agata, and I thought, you know, one of the things about Rodney being a designer in L.A.-I know these guys, they spend a lot of their dough on good clothes. And it's not that typical, unfortunate thing that you see on television all the time where the gay guy is wearing, like, a fuchsia handkerchief and, you know, a top hat or whatever, you know what I mean? They dress him like a Cat in the Hat character.
Usually these guys are dressed impeccably and, if anything, it skews a little to the eccentric because of the fact that, you know, they're designers or whatever. But generally speaking, it's perfectly tailored, well-made, high quality clothing.
And so Agata talked and when I was in New York I picked up a few things that fit me well and she picked up a few things. And Rodney's dressed awesome this season, I mean, there's some really, really cool stuff. It's funny because Judy and Debra are always, like, "Where'd you get those boots?" I'm like "They're wardrobe, they're not mine!" And they're, like, "Oh, those are cool".
I like how your character really loves Molly. And it's a wonderful thing, like, it shows a really nice, healthy relationship between a gay man and a straight woman and what it can be as far as, like, a support network for each other and just familial.
Chris Diamantopulous: Yeah, as opposed to incestuous, which you can sometimes end up feeling, I think.
Well, yeah, or just like, you know, the characters of the bitchy, like, another girlfriend are just way over the top. And you guys are real together, your scenes. And I was just wondering, what are your favorite scenes to act? What are the favorite scenes that you like to do with Debra? The fantasy ones? The intimate ones?
Chris Diamantopulous: I love the fantasy sequences. I think those are my favorite part of the entire show. I want to be written into every single fantasy scene and the writers are kind of like, enough, we can only put you in so many.
I love the idea of completely disappearing into a character that's popular for another reason, you know what I mean? They do those old movie fantasy sequences. But the reason-if my relationship, if Rodney's relationship with Molly seems organic or is pleasant to watch, the reason that is is because working with Debra-and I say this without any shred of insincerity-it's the easiest thing and the most fun work experience I've ever had.
When we met in Australia at a rehearsal, it felt like we'd known each other for ten years. It was the weirdest thing. We met and then that was it. And then we were just fast friends. And aside from the fact that we get along and we laugh our heads off when we're working together, she's the most prepared actor I've ever worked with. She's got monsters of dialogue memorized. She's never ill-prepared, she's never frazzled about it. She's always got her shit together.
And so that makes even typical scenes or scenes that might be incidental scenes, it makes them fun. There's an example, we were shooting the other day where we were at a spy shop. And it was supposed to just be a regular-a really, really normal scene, she's buying a taser. But we were hanging out and playing during the rehearsal, we were playing with all the props that they had at the spy shop and we ended up using the walkie-talkies and we turned this whole scene into this cloak and dagger Mission Impossible thing. It just sort of happened organically.
She's so much fun to work with. Did I mention I like her?
Can you talk a little bit about how your character evolves this season?
Chris Diamantopulous: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely an evolution. I think in the mini-series-the mini-series was never intended to be a full-up series. It was intended to be, like, a six-part movie. And all of the characters surrounding Molly's life were ancillary in some way, I mean, they were satellites. Everything that they did had to somehow inform what her journey was.
And even their B story lines weren't designed to create any sort of level of massive intrigue from the audience because the main story line was Molly's story line, we had to follow that.
When they realized they were going to do a series, they took Rodney and Joan and some of the other characters, or in this instance, they're new characters, and they decided to create real, you know, A story lines for all of them. And so for Rodney, I get a love interest. But it's not a typical love interest. It's a clandestine affair with a movie star who's in the closet.
And, you know, I credit the writers with so much for this show in terms of setting a tone and setting a world that we can all play in that feels comfortable. But what I credit them the most is for the fact that they've written a three-dimensional, real character in Rodney and despite the fact that we're in this slightly heightened level of reality, where there definitely is a little camp here and there, they've really captured Rodney as a good guy, and as you said, as a real friend to Molly. I mean, he would lie down in traffic for her.
And it's not just implied, you know, it's not, oh, he's the gay best friend, they actually show it and there's real substance to the relationship, with Molly and with Joan, and with Felix, his love interest. There's a real-they've written this guy as a deep, sensitive and caring human being and it's great to play that as opposed to playing, you know, a cardboard cut-out.
Have you gotten feedback from gay guys on the street?
Chris Diamantopulous: You know, I haven't. That's a good question, actually. After the mini-series I think a couple of people that I bumped into, usually not on the street, it was usually at an event or something, they would stop my wife first. And my wife's on Ugly Betty, she plays Amanda. And so they would stop her and gush, you know, which I completely, totally, I was with them, you know, gushing. And then they'd turn and go "Oh, wait!" you know, and they'd say "Oh yeah, you were great, blah, blah, blah" and they're, you know, they seemed to really enjoy it.
I think that Debra has such a fiercely loyal following and specifically I think in the gay community they really, really love and respect her. So I get a lot of mad props just for being able to hang out with a diva, so it's pretty cool. I love it.
I heard that everybody moved to New York, so how are you guys dealing with it?
Chris Diamantopulous: Oh my God, don't talk to me about my life right now, I'm on Jet Blue every weekend. So we come from New York, Becky and I met in New York and we lived in New York. And then we came out here for pilot season a few years ago and she booked Ugly Betty and so we ended up moving out here. And for the first season and a half, most of the jobs that I got kind of shot all over the place. And a mini-series shot in Australia and it was lovely to do it, but it was so hard being apart.
And so when I got back I said, "Okay, here's the deal. I'll only do a series if it shoots in L.A." And so then the producers called and they're like, "So we're doing a series that's going to shoot in L.A." I was like "Really? Oh my God, we're going to live in the same place!" So we got a place here, we were all set, we were about to lock up the place in New York and I signed the contract and then two days later she came home and said we're moving to New York.
And then I realized, you know, it's sort of a good lesson for us. And to be perfectly honest, because this show is only ten episodes and hers is twenty-two, it's actually fathomable. It's about three and a half months. The first month she hadn't started yet because the Mode sets weren't ready. So she was here for me the first month, so it turned into two and half months. And then they lumped all of my stuff in episodes one and two onto a couple of days and they gave me two and a half weeks to go to New York, so it ended up just being two months. And then in those two months she's had five days off, I've had five days off and we've really been bridging it. We have this two-week rule, which is much easier to employ in this country than it was when I was in Australia, because it takes two weeks just to get to Australia.
It's funny how most of her scenes are with a gay guy, and you're playing a guy friend to--
Chris Diamantopulous: It's very, very strange. I know, I don't question it, I just try and handle it. You know, the truth of the matter is, we'd be lucky just to be working on any old shows in the climate, you know, the way that jobs are going and the way that so many talented actors are out of work. So if we were on anything and working, we'd feel like we were at an A plus.
The fact that she's on a show that she loves that is well-respected that she gets to just go to town on, and the fact that I'm on this show, which I think is the best run show I've ever been on, working with pros, having a chance to utilize this material and have such a great time, I mean, it's ridiculous. That's why we take the New York thing with a grain of salt and we say, well, you know, if that wasn't there, then we'd have to slap each other silly because it would be a little too perfect. So it's great to just, you know, have that balance.
Do you have a dream, a fantasy sequence, that you're always pitching?
Chris Diamantopulous: Well listen, I'm a huge James Bond fan, like, beyond question. So Josie, Sarah, if you're listening, Rodney's got to be Bond. That's all I'm saying. Can you imagine? "Well I understand Double Os have a very short life expectancy." It'd be great. Totally work it out.
Is there a fantasy scene that you've already done that maybe you can describe?
Chris Diamantopulous: We did an Elizabeth fantasy sequence which was great fun where Debra is the--
The Virgin Queen?
Chris Diamantopulous: Yes, and she's spectacular. We did a Hello Dolly sequence which was spectacular, good fun, an old-school musical thing. But we're doing a Tomb Raider thing, which we haven't done yet, we're shooting that next week. That's one I'm looking forward to. I love anything that has, like, stunts.
What are you in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider scene?
Chris Diamantopulous: I play Daniel Craig. So I'm one step closer to James Bond. And you tell him to watch his ass, because I will be the first Greek-American, actually Greek-Canadian green card to play James Bond. Listen, man, stranger things have happened. Isn't Lohan dating a woman?
After Diamantopolous' amicable interview, we were greeted by Hart Bochner, who plays Molly's new writing teacher/love interest Zach McNeil, but that's not all. About halfway through our interview with Hart, we were joined by the radiant Debra Messing who sat in for the duration of the interview.
Hart Bochner and Debra Messing
So can you talk a little bit about the first time that your character and Molly interacted and what the encounter was like?
Hart Bochner: Well, the first time we interact is at my writer's workshop. I play a quite successful screenwriter and part of my issue is that I'm going through this period of being creatively blocked. And I think one of the ways out of it is to talk about the process and so I put together a group of published writers who come to my house once a week. So the first meeting is, I requested that everybody read a portion of their published work. And Debra's character Molly, is a published writer who has actually written a children's pop-up book about sharks. And so I didn't know that going in, but it's not nearly as legitimate as some of the other writers. But she quickly finds her voice under, I guess my encouragement and tutelage and her work is quite surprising. She's able to dig deep and into the depths of what she's been going through and, you know, by virtue of the fact that we're both recently divorced and we have these seven year old daughters that coincidentally go to school together, we find sort of this kinship. We're both a bit wounded from-and shell shocked from these divorces and, you know, the thing about the character that Debra's playing, which is also something that Debra brings to it is, both Debra and the character are quite adorable.
So for myself and for my character, it's quite easy to develop this attraction to her. And while I've been having these dalliances with, you know, sort of younger babes, there's something about this girl which hooks me. Is that fair to say? You know, she's of substance and she's interesting and she's complex and she's a bit neurotic, and all that makes for this very kind of adorable package. So we at first are trying to keep everything professional. But I can't sort of stay away from her. You'd have to ask her what she thinks of me and my character, I can give you one side of it anyway.
So are there steamy love scenes?
Hart Bochner: Well, you'll have to tune in but yeah, it does get quite passionate, yeah. And at first we have sort of an understanding which is-I don't know how much I'm supposed to reveal. Which is, let's just do the booty call thing and see how that works. But it evolves into something else for both of us. But you have to tune in, because I'm not supposed to [give it away].
What about your character's back story? Because we heard that, you know, he comes from a divorce with a powerful woman.
Hart Bochner: Yeah, I mean, he was one of those guys who, I think, lives in fear of becoming, you know, suffering from the Orson Welles syndrome. Sort of living your career backwards. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. His first screenplay gets made into a movie, he gets nominated for an Oscar and, you know, there's that fear that most people in the creative areas feel, which is that they're frauds and that they're going to be found out and why were they chosen.
If you hit a dry patch in your career, all that starts to wreak havoc on you. So for Zach, my character, I think what he finds in Debra's character, in Molly, is his muse. She gets him writing again! She taps into him emotionally in a way that makes him feel safe and admired and loved. Because he came from a marriage where his ex-wife was extremely powerful, and at one point in their relationship, with his then wife, he had the solid footing in his career and she was probably a D girl at development, junior development executive who suddenly became a high powered agent. And so she eclipsed his career. And there's that, you know, that Fay Dunaway character in Network, where the Bill Holden character basically feels like he's just a piece of meat and she's not really interested in being in a relationship. And I think that that's tough.
It's tough for people, it's tough for men, I can't speak from a woman's perspective. But it's tough for men in the business to be involved with women in the business, because, you know, it's a very, very cutthroat, competitive, you know, industry and you feel very often that someone is kind of-that you're with, is sort of looking over your shoulder for something better. Or their agenda is their ambition, and everything else, it has to take, you know, a second position and, you know, that's tough. And, you know, Molly, Debra's character, as I said, discovers her writing voice fairly quickly and suddenly there's a lot of attention that's foisted upon [her].
What's it like working with Debra?
Hart Bochner: I, from the bottom of my heart, as honest as I can be, I adore her! I have never had such a good time and every single day, I am more impressed than the previous day. She is, you know, considered, I guess, the Lucille Ball of her generation. But what people have yet to really give her credit for, that I know of, is that on a dime she can hit these dramatic beats so brilliantly, with such pathos. You know, it's very rare to find someone, a woman who can be funny, or anybody who could be funny, but to be able to play both sides of the coin is a very rare gift and she's phenomenal! She's just so real and adorable and everything is so fun. I mean, I'm having the time of my life.
(At that point, one of the reps informs us that Debra Messing will be joining us.)
Hart Bochner: Oh, I won't work with her. [laughs] Yeah, absolutely, I'm just singing her praises here. Yeah, it's just been a blast. You know, I've never done a TV series before and I have been directing and so I had taken-sort of, when I started directing, I kind of quit acting for about seven or eight years. And then I directed a movie that came out earlier this year and then it was in India and it was, like, "Okay, what am I going to do next?" And this kind of presented itself to me so I was a bit rusty at first. But it's just been fantastic. Sssh, here she comes, don't say anything!
Debra Messing: Hi there.
Hart Bochner: Is Roman still here?
Debra Messing: He's just leaving.
Hart Bochner: She has the most divine son. My spiritual advisor.
So, Debra, what's it like working with this hunky guy?
Debra Messing: Well, you know, you said it, he's hunky.
Hart Bochner: Really?
Debra Messing: Yeah, he just doesn't know it. It's fantastic. I mean, we, you know, we laugh and I mean, when you spend sixteen hours a day together sometimes, you know, and it's a relationship that is growing within the story, you know, obviously a trust and a friendship is developed very quickly, if the chemistry is right and if you like the person. And I think that's what's happened with Hart. At least that's-from my end. He may be saying behind-you know, [whispering].
Hart Bochner: Well, you missed it.
Debra Messing: Yeah, but, you know, I adore him and we're having so much fun.
Hart Bochner: There's also something about Debra which is, these eyes. I was telling David Basche, you know, who plays her ex-husband, yesterday, because something was going on in my life and he said, "Did you tell Debra?" And I said, "Well, you know, I look in those eyes and all of a sudden I just spill, I mean, I can't help it." So I mean, she knows, I think the world of her and this has just been the best, most pleasurable work experience I've ever had. You know, the expression, "the fish stinks from the head," so she set the tone from the beginning and it's just been tremendous.
People have really nice things to say about you, so I was just wondering, how much do you pay them to say that?
Debra Messing: Well, you know, that's confidential, I had to sign confidentiality agreements regarding that. That's, you know, that's so nice to hear. Because I love everybody in our cast. I just, you know, I was lucky, because as one of the executive producers, I was, for the first time ever, allowed to be a part of the process of the casting. And so, you know, to work with people who, across the board, I have a deep respect for and a pure like for, it's a rare thing. And you know, it's a quality of life thing.
You spend so much of your life, for an intense period of time and so you want to be surrounded by people that are good people, and so I think we have a really great, diverse group of people who have something, each, something very unique to contribute.
So what's it's like putting on the producer hat for the first time, doing both. What's that like to explore?
Debra Messing: You know what? It's been great. It's been much harder and much more exhausting than I thought it would be. It's almost like left brain, right brain. But it's something that I think I'm good at and I don't say that about many things. [laughs] But, you know, for me, all I can say is that it help-I'm always invested in the work that I'm doing. But being able to have-to be a contributor, a collaborator, being able to have my voice heard and considered. Not necessarily always followed, but just having a forum to speak up creatively about something, it's just made me that much more invested. And makes me care that much more about the project and I, you know, I am so proud of it. I think it's going to be great.
Originally you didn't really want to be involved in an actual series. What made you change your mind?
Debra Messing: Ultimately the writing. I think everything always comes back to the writing, for me. I wanted to take, like, five years off after Will & Grace and then we went to Australia for the miniseries and Josie and Sara, you know, they did the writing for that and they are now our show runners. And it was a very fertile and fun and intimate, creative experience, doing this in Australia with them. And we just hit it off and afterwards, we never expected it to go on and we said to each other, "Okay, we are going to work together again. This works. The three of us works. We don't know when, we don't know on what, but we're going to do it." And so when I got the call that they were looking into it, I just thought, you know what? This is a unique situation, because usually when you start a job like this, when you're signing on for years, it's a leap of faith. You don't have any idea, beyond the pilot, of what this thing is going to become or what it's like to work with the people. And I had had the luxury of already doing six episodes with the show runners and so I felt like, you know, I know most of the cast and love them, and I love this character and I am interested to know where it's going. So I took my cowardice hat off and did it.
Can you talk a little bit about where Molly's career is at this season and how this [cast], you know, plays into that?
Debra Messing: Well, you know, Molly is now a single mom and needs to find a career and a way of supporting herself and her child. And she, as you knew in the miniseries, she was a children's book author. At the end of the miniseries, she came out, finally, with her second book and you learned that it did not sell, at the beginning of the series. And so that is really no longer an avenue. But Molly is a rabid writer in her journal, every day, and from that, you know, he plays the father of one of my child's best friends and so we meet in school, at one of the parent- teacher things. But he's a famous writer and is teaching a writing seminar and so I decide, you know what? I'll try it and I'll see if that's right for me, if there's something here and-there's something there.
Do you journal in real life?
Debra Messing: You know, I don't. I paused, because honestly, I probably own about twenty-three journals. I have a thing for stationery and, like, pens and journals and paper. You know, there's something about-there's something intimate about that, versus a computer, and I've always loved the idea of journaling. But then I never find the time to do it. And then I do, and I'll find these journals and it'll be, like, you know, February 23rd, 1997. Then the next thing will be August 5th, 2001 and I'll be, like, well, this is no fun.
Can you guys both talk about your favorite fantasy sequences?
Hart Bochner: Well, I think I've been involved in three or four of them at this point and-
Debra Messing: You've done more than I have?
Hart Bochner: Is that right? We did one-well, we did one yesterday that was surreal, which was, A Few Good Men. And Debra played Jack Nicholson and I played Tom Cruise. And she was in ultra channel mode. I mean, she walked on set and was, like, this is, like, this is drill sergeant, it was intense, it was brilliant. It was absolutely brilliant. It was just scary. And then we did one, we did Body Heat, which I thought was kind of a blast.
Debra Messing: Oh, I loved it. I loved doing Body Heat. And he was a brilliant William Hurt. He was a brilliant Tom Cruise last night. You're really good at these and you're much more subtle than I am, you know. I'm just like, blah! Here I am! And he's just like-he's more subtle and you're, like, oh, that really is William Hurt.
Hart Bochner: Hopefully with a better hairline.
Debra Messing: It's the most fun day of the week, of the episode, every episode, for me. Because, you know, it's such an extraordinary opportunity to be able to just play and to be able to dive into the worlds of these very recognizable movies and it's fun for the audience and it's equally fun for us, as the actors and the writers.
May I ask what Body Heat scene you did?
Debra Messing: The one where the chair gets thrown through the glass. But there's a twist. You'll have to see it.
Hart Bochner: We also did-should we tell them about Hello, Dolly!?
Debra Messing: I don't know, how many should we give away?
We've heard a little bit of that.
Debra Messing: You've heard about Hello, Dolly!
Just a tiny bit, if you can tell me what it was about.
Debra Messing: Oh, that was a dream-that was literally a dream come true for me.
Hart Bochner: It was a nightmare come true for me. I had to go to Sony and pre-record the vocals and then learn it, it was, like, I wouldn't even chant at my Bar Mitzvah. I refused, I had to go in and meet the rabbi who said, "Is there a problem here?" I said, "Yes, there is. It's my day and I ain't singing!"
Debra Messing: Yeah, meanwhile-I was a hoofer when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Broadway triple threat and so for that one day my dream came true and I was Carol Channing and we were down in downtown Los Angeles in this just magnificent old theatre. And we had the velvet staircase. We had chorus boys and, I mean, the entire cast, you know, singing and dancing and it was insane. It was insane. And I think it actually was one of our most successful ones that we've done.
Hart Bochner: I walked on the set and she was in full Carol Channing regalia.
Debra Messing: With lips like this.
Hart Bochner: Who the hell? And she's smiling at me. She's up on the stairs with the wig and everything, and I'm, like, no. Oh, my-you looking at me? What's going on? It was tremendous. It was tremendous.
Is there one fantasy that either of you have requested or would like to do?
Debra Messing: Well, I would really love to do a silent movie.
Hart Bochner: Oh, that's a good idea.
Debra Messing: Lillian Gish of some kind, you know, and just have the little subtitles underneath. I can't name one movie, I have no idea, but I just, you know, just the idea of it excites me.
Do you think you'll sell them on that idea?
Debra Messing: Yeah, yeah, I do. What do you think? What would be a good one?
Hart Bochner: You know, I don't have-David said, you know which one you should do?
Debra Messing: Last night, yeah, what did he say?
Hart Bochner: He said that we should do Bond. You should do a Bond girl and I should be James Bond.
Debra Messing: Oh, that would be good. Last night he said that he wanted the three of us to do Goodfellas. I'm De Niro, you're Liotta and he's Pesci.
Hart Bochner: That would be great, stabbing the guy in the trunk, that would be good.
At that point, Hart Bochner was whisked away to the set and we had some time for a few questions with just Debra Messing.
So people have been talking about your son coming to the set, what's that like and how are you juggling?
Debra Messing: You know, especially with the economy the way it is right now, most mothers in America are working mothers. It's just a fact. And so I'm exactly like, you know, every other mother who is struggling with that balance of wanting to be a full time mom and wanting to be able to do the work that you love and you also need to do. So just like everyone else, I think I just take it one day at a time. I have the privilege of being able to have him with me at my work every day, and I know that that's a luxury. And so, the one thing I'll say is that-you know, when a little child comes on the set, everybody just sort of lightens up. Sort of puts a smile on even sort of the dourest of faces, you know, after fourteen hours of work and everyone's tired and exhausted and then he comes on. It's a breath of fresh air.
And as far as the show goes, I was reading that, you know, Molly is going to be dealing with the shared parenting with her ex so how does that play out through the season?
Debra Messing: Oh, you know, it's been really fun. David is hilarious and I think David obviously had the hardest job, because he had to replace somebody. He wasn't creating a new character. And he came in and he just-he's brilliant, and we have so much fun together. And, you know, knowing the character from the miniseries, he's not the easiest of personalities to contend with. Which only makes it more fun.
So, I think you can expect that Molly and Kenny will have differing ideas about what's appropriate for their child. They have to deal with, you know, going to school functions and sharing custody and wanting to switch days. You know, someone was supposed to pick her up at school and-all of the things that I think divorced parents who have kids and they share custody, deal with. Just with the gas turned up on the stove, just a little bit more.
At with the demands of starring in a brand new network series, Debra Messing was needed back on the set. That about wraps up the first part of my day on The Starter Wife set, but keep an eye out for Part II in the near future where we talk to some of Molly's new acquaintances on the show. Peace in. Gallagher out!