Debra Messing, the actress primarily known for playing Jewish interior decorator Grace Adler in the television situation comedy series Will And Grace, has been outspoken about her Jewish identity–and anti-Semitism–in the past. Her words are a necessary reminder, especially in a time when elementary-school children have been taught the Nazi salute at a Vermont school. After the election, she called on Ivanka Trump to “set up” and be a positive example for Jewish moms.
So when Messing, who is on the revival of Will & Grace (airing this week on September 28th!) said she asked for her character to be a feminist, I couldn’t help but be like, “Aw heck yeah.” According to Vulture, Messing said, “The only thing that I asked for was that Grace be a feminist.”
When it comes to the revival, we can expect it to be “offensive,” as Eric McCormack, one of the show’s stars, said recently at the inaugural Tribeca TV Festival. “We’re going to be as progressive and offensive as we can be. If we don’t offend somebody with every show, we’re probably getting a little safe.”
Back then, we had LGB. We stopped at B. Now, 11 years later, the conversation has expanded. There’s T, A, I, and gender fluidity and there’s all these things that are finally being celebrated in our culture. The thing we all committed to one another was that we were going to be the show we always were. We’re going to talk about what’s happening now.
The role will be extra personal, considering that both Messing and her character have gone through a divorce.
But this isn’t the first time Messing has been outspoken. Last November, she opened up about what it was like growing up Jewish–and how she remember anti-Semitism, both then and now, at “The Women’s Event” of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. What she said bears consideration. She explained how she learned about anti-Semitism early–from firsthand experience:
The word anti-Semitic was a grownup word that I learned early.
We were different. We looked different, and people didn’t like us, which was very painful to my parents who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens.
I remember my mom crying the day after Halloween when she went outside and saw a swastika painted on my grandmother’s car, who was visiting. I knew something bad had happened, and I could tell that being outraged, my mother was scared, so I was scared.”
Messing went on to explain how growing up in Rhode Island meant she was usually the only Jewish kid in class (not an uncommon experience for many):
I had kinky hair with a strong nose and looked different from the other children. I never felt beautiful. My most vivid memory of second grade was when a boy told me “get to the back of the line, kike.”
When I would stay home from school for the High Holy Days, and I would return and kids would ask where I was, I would say I was sick. There was danger in being different, so I kept quiet and tried to hide my identity.
When it comes to Hollywood, Messing says it’s gotten better than when she first came on the scene (and of course, part of that could be her growing popularity). For instance, she gets more time off for religious observance (something we all know too well the need for, especially right now as it’s that time of year): “Things are better now than 20 years ago when I first came to Hollywood. I am generally not away from my 12-year-old son now more than one week per year at most.”
In the past, Messing also noted that she was told by a director to get a nose job. She explained how it hurt her self-esteem at the time:
It was a shock. I was so confident coming out of graduate school with my Masters in acting. I’d studied in London, and I was so well equipped with skill sets, and then to walk on set and have that happen—I was reduced to an un-Hollywood nose.
It’s taken me years and years and years to finally own my differences and to love what’s different about me, and to come face to face with a truth within my industry, within our culture. There is a very narrow definition of what a beautiful, vital, vibrant, interesting woman looks like, and that’s the thing we’re constantly fighting against. My entire career I’ve been swimming in that pond, where it’s like, “Oh no, you don’t look right.”
Let’s all use Debra Messing as a reminder to keep our individualism intact, to be strong, beautiful, flawed women–and not apologize for it.