WILL & GRACE STAR | Karen Walker's in town, hide the vodka

Megan Mullally was born into a showbiz family. A struggling showbiz family. Her dad, Carter Mullally, found it hard to get work and his daughter never really achieved until he'd died. "Subconsciously, because I didn't want to pass him." She was 32 when he died. At 39, she landed the role of a lifetime, as a drunken, lazy, self-obsessed woman who lives off her husband's wealth and has a fondness for vodka martinis. Originally she tested for the part of her boss, Grace Adler. No go. Then they called her back to read for the other role. Right now she's in Australia to perform with her band Nancy and Beth. Actor Stephanie Hunt (The Resident) is the other half. At the time of this phone interview Megan was shopping in Melbourne and happily put on hold the sale of the moment.

Have many recognised you here in Australia? Not really, I haven't been out and about much, it's been freezing. Now I'm in a dog-accessories store looking at dog clothing! But I mean, it depends on whether I start talking or not [laughs]. Even though my voice is lower than on Will & Grace it's still, you know, people know who I am.

Nancy and Beth are nothing like Karen Walker, the gal with the vodka habit. Or Shira Snook [Stephanie's role on The Resident], the anaesthetist with the drug habit! Totally different! It's a band, and we sing, and every song is totally choreographed from top to bottom by me and Stephanie. We sing in harmony and dance in matching costumes, quite the extravaganza.

How do you choose your material? We have what we call the freak-out law; we pick whatever makes us really freak out and that's what we do. Stephanie and I have a very similar sensibility. We're almost twins, we sort of agree on everything. I call her the human Xanax because you can't be stressed out and be around her. She and stress are mutually exclusive.

You do a hilarious cover of Gucci Mane's "I Don't Love Her", quite politically incorrect. How politically outspoken are Nancy and Beth? Well, very! We kind of wing what we do between songs but there's one joke I always make after "I Don't Love Her". I always say it was written by [outspoken feminist] Gloria Steinem [laughs]. We have our moments of social commentary but for the most part it's very celebratory. There's a lot of humour. Some of the songs are, you know, funny 'til they're not.

The problem revisiting Will & Grace and gay issues is that the world has changed so much since the initial Will & Grace. And, on the other hand, look at who's running your country. Oh, do I have to?

Your country voted him as leader of the free world. Well, don't look at me! [laughs] Hopefully, it wasn't all my fault. No, it's hideous. I don't know. Why not just start a band, and sing and dance!

Your father Carter Mullally junior was a contract player for Paramount. Were you inspired by his world? Or was there a downside that made you wary? He told me not to become an actress. But I came out of the womb in a top hat and tap shoes, so it was never really an issue. I started singing and dancing before I started acting. I never studied acting, I just got on-the-job training because I got cast in musicals. I'd get cast for my singing and dancing and I'd have to figure out the acting part. My father never made it "big", quote-unquote, and he wasn't very happy about that. So I just tried to go my merry way and do my own thing, and, yeah, I did good.

A shame he died before your incredible success. Yes, either that, or I never would have been able to achieve incredible success until he died, you know what I mean? Subconsciously, I didn't want to pass him.

When you first went for Will & Grace you didn't test for Karen Walker at all. No [laughs]. I went in for the role of Grace and they just looked at me blankly and I went home. Then a couple weeks later my agent called and said they want you to audition for Will & Grace and I said I already auditioned for that, dummies. And they said, no, there's another part in it and I said well, I don't remember that. So they sent me the script again and I read it and I thought the way it was written I could do tricks with it. Make it kinda funny, so that's what I tried to do and they gave me the part.

At first you kept Karen restrained. When did you decide to release her in full flight? I didn't do the voice at the beginning 'cos I thought they'd fire me. But I always like to take really big chances with acting and for some reason it worked out and people weren't calling for security to take me away, you know. I kind of worked my way into the high voice over the first 10 or 12 episodes and Karen just kept getting quirkier and quirkier. I'd bring something in and the writers would respond to it. It was the true creative process, bouncing off each other's ideas.

Back at the start which character got the most traction? Well, not Karen. I remember everybody got nominated for Golden Globes except me in one of the first years and they went to New York to shoot something but didn't take me [laughs]. Karen definitely was like not a front-runner [laughs].

Which part of your Nancy and Beth show do you look forward to most? Let's see. We do about 16 or 17 songs and they're all so different. And all different in terms of choreography. The whole thing is just a joy to do. I want to keep the band going for as long as I possibly can.

Which song always goes over well? "I Don't Love Her" is a real crowd-pleaser, I'm telling you. We've played in venues where I thought oh, definitely people are going to walk out at this one. And at the end those very people are standing up, like hootin' and hollerin'. It's really somethin'.

  • Will & Grace on Stan.
  • Nancy and Beth here.

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