During its eight season run from 1998 to 2006, Will & Grace became America’s most popular sitcom. It centred on the titular Will and Grace, but more loved by audiences were the flamboyant Jack McFarland and acerbic Karen Walker. Will and Jack were homosexual – two of the first gay characters to have main roles in a major US show.
The impact of this can hardly be understated. In 2012 former Vice President Joe Biden said the programme “probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.” In the same interview, Biden also discussed same-sex marriage. In the days that followed, President Obama came out in favour, and by November that year the first states had legalised it.
But now there are new occupants in the White House.
“Oh how the world has changed,” says Megan Mullally, who played Karen in the show. “Everybody was in shock for a while but it’s all very surreal – it all seems like an Saturday Night Live sketch.”
Indeed, Saturday Night Live has found a renewed purpose, as a platform to savagely mock the Trump administration, and Mullally is part of a community of comedians (her husband is Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman) who feel the current political climate means they need to mobilise.
You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, right? Once people reach a certain level of enlightenment you don’t go back, so there’s hope
“Every single person has to be part of the resistance,” Mullally says. “You can’t sit back and think it’ll all work out. You have to do whatever you can in a peaceful, smart, but determined way.”
The US election prompted a mini Will & Grace reunion, encouraging people to get out and vote, specifically for Hillary Clinton, and now a sense of unfinished business has resulted in a new series of Will & Grace being commissioned for later in the year.
“We were not a political show but we were definitely a culturally topical show,” Mullally says. “We have gay marriage now and a greater understanding across the board of LGBTQ community and acceptance, but there’s still a long way to go with race and women and so many other issues.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
“Will & Grace from its inception never politicized an issue. It was a factor in both Will and Jack’s life – they were gay men – but it wasn’t the driving force of every episode. You could relax and not feel like something was being shoved down your throat. And the gay-bashing was built into the show, if you were so inclined you already had your work done for you. And then for many people those prejudices start to fall away.
“A precious element of the show is for it to be entertaining to the largest amount of people possible, some not necessarily as enlightened about certain issues regarding civil rights. Because it sinks in there, it gets in somewhere, even if it’s just a teeny weeny little toehold in the back of someone’s mind, it’s in there, and from these seeds great things can come. And you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, right? Once people reach a certain level of enlightenment you don’t go back, so there’s hope.”
Before filming begins again, Mullally is coming to the UK with her “beloved international pop band” Nancy and Beth, which contains neither a Nancy or a Beth but is Megan joined by Stephanie Hunt.
“Stephanie and I met in 2011 doing an indie movie in Austen,” Mullally explains. “We had a good connection, she told me that she wrote songs and played the ukulele, and when we heard or voices together we raised a communal eyebrow. We started a little more folky or emo at the beginning and now it’s full on top hat and tap shoes.
“Our sound has a little of something for everyone. We do all covers, from all different eras and genres. I’d say variety is the order of the day for us. Every song is picked with a lot of tender loving care. Every song has to have a very strong lyric and a very strong melody. Not many songs have both.”
But Mullally’s music career is nothing to do with an actor’s vanity project, as she explains.
“I was singing way before I was ever acting. It’s funny, if you start off as a musician and do a couple of movies, people are like, ‘Amazing!’ But if you start out as an actor and say you have a band, people are like, ‘URGH disgusting’. I don’t know why it doesn’t work the same way. For some reason a musician turned actor isn’t perceived as a vanity project while an actor turning musician is.”
TV, music and movies aside though, Mullally’s biggest achievement to date however is being part of a celebrity couple that isn’t completely sickening.
“I’m pretty thrilled about it myself,” she says.
Nancy and Beth play the Royal Festival Hall, London on 20 April and the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 22 April