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A Chat with Megan Mullally

This article shared 8008 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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Photo #2 Megan Mullally and Northlight Artistic Director BJ Jones, a circa 1979 production shot for Bagtime at Wisdom Bridge.


For years on Will and Grace, Megan Mullally has made us laugh out loud as Karen Walker, the pill-popping, boozing, callous, shallow, rich bitch we can't help but love. Her performance has earned her Emmy and SAG awards and a place in TV history. But what you might not know, is she is more at home making music than making us laugh. And she is just batty for a ferocious feline icon. Down to earth, gracious, and friendly. Think you know Megan Mullally? Don't be so sure. She couldn't be more different from the woman that comes into our livingrooms each Thursday night.

Amy Matheny: First, I want to wish you a Happy Birthday! ( Nov. 12 )

Megan Mullally: Oh thanks. Wow! How nice. Thanks so much.

AM: Take me back to your audition for Will & Grace years ago. What influences helped you give birth to the character of Karen Walker?

MM: When I first read the pilot script, Karen was primarily just Grace's secretary who was really rich and she was inexplicably working to keep herself 'real.' The character was very different in that original script. I wasn't sure what I could bring to make it new and fresh because Christine Baranski had just played a great rich sardonic character on Cybill. So I tried to put a spin on it. I don't know what kind of spin that was, except that ( Karen ) was just more unpredictable and crazier. And that's what they responded to.

AM: She manifested into an Americanized version of an "Ab Fab" character.

MM: Yeah! It's funny. A couple of people have said that to me. I had not seen that show back then, so I must have been fortuitously channeling those two women. I have since seen it and think they are amazing. I love that show!

AM: It's divine inspiration!

MM: Yeah, they helped me out.

AM: Karen and Jack will go down as one of the most hilarious comedic duos in TV history. What do you remember about your first day of working with Sean Hayes?

MM: I remember the very first time I ever laid eyes on him, which I find happens only with people who end up being very important in my life. He pulled up in his car and he had the biggest, brightest, most contagious smile I had ever seen and I thought, 'My god, he is so adorable! He seems so sweet.' And he apparently thought I was a big BITCH! He didn't really like me at first and I loved him! So there you go! He's so busted! We didn't have any scenes together in the pilot, but ( after that first day ) we totally hit it off and then we were best friends. When the pilot got picked up, we had our first scene together. It was the scene where we touch our stomachs.

AM: Who of the four breaks the easiest when filming a take?

MM: Sean. Then Debra ( Messing ) . Then Eric ( McCormack ) .

AM: So you are the best at keeping a straight face?

MM: No, Eric is the best at not laughing. I'm the second best. Eric is just the best at never going up on lines or breaking.

AM: I know that you are just a simple girl from Oklahoma City. So let's talk about your wardrobe on this show! Karen definitely gets the threads and the bling on the show! How fun is that?

MM: It's great. They ( the costume designer and crew ) just go to Rodeo Drive to Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, all those fancy stores and that's where they buy the clothes. And the clothes are not free so they spend some dollars.

AM: Is the ice real?

MM: No. [ laughing ] No. It's costume jewelry except for the rare occasion that there is something loaned.

AM: Will & Grace has so many enviable guest stars. Who has been your favorite?

MM: I loved Molly Shannon. I think she is so funny. Matt Damon was great.

AM: How was it playing opposite Madonna?

MM: It was interesting. She worked so hard that it was really very touching. She's a perfectionist and there's never been anyone on the show that wanted to rehearse more than Madonna did. She wanted to rehearse her scenes over and over again. She wanted to do the best job she could do and I really admired her for that. She has a strong spiritual commitment and it's real. I really liked her. John Cleese is on the show now. He is playing an eventual love interest of Karen's and he is just soooo amazing.

AM: What an icon to be acting with.

MM: Oh god ... I mean we have been so lucky to work with people like that. Gene Wilder as well. Two of the nicest people you could ever meet. John Cleese is coming back to do a few more episodes and I am very excited about that. Jack Black just shot a scene for an episode and he is so funny. He plays a doctor that gives Karen a physical. That's about all I need to say about that.

AM: Well, speaking of love interests, Congratulations on your recent marriage!

MM: Thank you.

AM: You and your husband Nick both had careers on Chicago stages. Nick worked with Defiant Theatre.

MM: And he is a Joseph Jefferson Award winning actor.

AM: And you worked with Northlight Theatre. What do you remember about Chicago theatre?

MM: I did three shows at Northlight all directed by Michael Maggio ( the former Northlight Artistic Director ) who passed away a few years ago. This was in the early '80s. I loved working there. The first show was What the Butler Saw and John Mahoney was in it.

AM: That was good prepping ground for Will & Grace.

MM: [ laughing ] Yeah! It's sex farce!

AM: ( Playwright ) Joe Orton was a wacky gay guy.

MM: Totally! Chicago is where I learned everything. I did theatre there from 20 until 26 so those were very formative years. That was my training ground.

AM: Do you both get back to Chicago often?

MM: Nick is from a small town outside of Joliet so we get back to see his family. But Chicago is my favorite American city! We've even talked about having an apartment there.

AM: What makes it your favorite city?

MM: I like all the museums. I love the Art Institute. I love all the theatre and the blues clubs and bars and the people are so great. I think Chicago is the perfect blend of a big city with a Midwestern finish on it. Everybody is really nice but it is a sophisticated city. I love the park. I love the zoo. I love the lake. The whole thing.

AM: I think Mayor Daley should ask you to be our new spokesperson.

MM: I know! I know! Where is my offer?

AM: Your CD, Big as a Berry, has a wonderful range of music from Beatles rock to Kurt Weill and traditional ballads like 'Danny Boy.' There also are quite a few country songs. Is that genre a favorite?

MM: I do like a lot of country music. Most of it is older though. New country music just sounds like pop to me. It doesn't seem distinct anymore. Our band is a songwriter's band. When I am picking the songs, they have to meet my rather stringent guidelines. The hard thing, since we do covers, is finding great songs. ( You have to ) find songs that tell a story and capture a moment in time for the person singing. I love my band ( Supreme Music Program ) . We have been together for six years. The core of the band is myself, and Greg Kuehn on keyboards, Joseph Berardi on drums and Stuart Mathis on guitar. And then very often, and at our performance in Chicago, we will be joined by a pedal steel player, Doug Livingston, and a viola player, Piotr Jandula.

AM: What is the difference being with musicians all day as opposed to actors?

MM: Well I have to say, I love my job on Will & Grace and working in television, but I feel most comfortable rehearsing and playing with the band or doing a play at this theatre called the Evidence Room here in LA which is where Nick and I met. With theatre and making music, you are just doing it for its own sake. It's happening in the moment. It's live. It's just very pure. You have a live audience and you are there to create the best experience that you possibly can. There is nothing Hollywood about it. Not that 'Hollywood' is a bad word, but there is nothing 'Hollywood' about the band. It's not commercial. It's just about the songs.

AM: You were on Broadway in Grease with Rosie O'Donnell and starred opposite Matthew Broderick in How to Succeed in Business. Is there a dream role that would get you back to Broadway?

MM: I think about it a lot. I don't know what the dream role is. I would love to do something in New York. There are shows I wanted to do but now I feel I am too old. I love Cabaret but I feel that the ( Sam Mendes ) production was the definitive production. Probably one of the two greatest musical productions I have ever seen. So I wouldn't want to try to top that. I am drawn to Brecht-Weill music but am not familiar with the books to those musicals. So I would have to do my homework.

AM: Is it 'Lonely at the Top?' as your Randy Newman song title on the CD suggests?

MM: Oh no. [ big laugh ] Not for me. I have husbands and poodles. Isn't that a great song? My two favorite contemporary singer/ songwriters without exception are Randy Newman and Tom Waits. On my other CD from a few years ago, which is hard to find since we only printed 2,500 hundred copies, we also did songs from Newman and Waits.

AM: What would people be most surprised that you do in your downtime?

MM: Interesting. Hmmmm ... Well, I love books. And over the summer we got a computer and I had never been online and I found my way to e-bay. And I started collecting first editions of literature and then I started collecting Edward Gory who I have always liked and that somehow wound its way down to comic books. I went into this phase where I was obsessed with old vintage comic books. So then I went into a comic store and started reading this new series of Catwoman comic books. And then I became obsessed with Catwoman. It spread to this new series of Batman that is really dark and the art is amazing and it is really not for kids. That is probably the last thing ( people ) would be expecting me to be doing.

AM: Having an obsession with Catwoman.MM: Yeah. I am really sort of ashamed to admit it. It's not like the Batman of 1973.

AM: And it's not Eartha Kitt.

MM: No. It's not Eartha. And it's NOT the last ( comic ) Catwoman who had really big boobs. It's really modern and smart and dark.

AM: That's probably a safe woman for you to be obsessed with now that you are married. Your husband probably likes that.

MM: That's right. [ A sly laugh ] Exactly.

Don't miss Megan Mullally with her band Supreme Music Program in benefit performances at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, Sat. Nov. . Performances are at 7:30 p.m. and at 9 p.m. ( 9 p.m. performance includes a post-show reception with Megan ) .

For information, call 847-673-6300 or visit



This article shared 8008 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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