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Debra Messing on a Milestone Birthday, Dialing Back the Ambition & Finding Calm in the Hamptons

By Isabella Canelli | June 21, 2019 | People Covers

Debra Messing has bucked the trend of Hollywood stars by remaining honest, full of life and humble. A milestone birthday hasn't slowed her down; it’s helped put things in perspective.


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There are many great things said about redheads. They are fiery and vibrant like Julia Roberts. Often, they are trailblazers like Lucille Ball. Thanks to porcelain skin and piercing eyes, some are considered ethereal, like Nicole Kidman and Florence Welch. In pop culture, they are often charged with particularly seductive and coquettish qualities. Debra Messing, star of cultish TV show Will & Grace, which recently relaunched after a decade on hiatus, manages to somehow check all of these inferable boxes.

Possibly as a reaction to her awe-inspiring mane, there is a quiet wisdom about this Brooklyn-born, Rhode Island-raised actress. But confusing her soft disposition for dissociative snob would be a mistake. Messing admits that years of crafting her boisterous characters have tought her the enviable skill of observation; an acquisition that has vastly enhanced her life and work. As a result the actress enjoys living in the moment with all of her senses keenly focused on awareness and gratitude.


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“It’s so amazing that we get to play this fantasy dress-up,” she says on the day of our cover shoot. Dressed in an understated ensemble of white shirt and black slacks, Messing submits to a team of beauty experts with ease, as photographer Ruven Afanador’s assistants busy themselves with lighting checks and equipment setup. Calm precides over the set without the simmering tension that often accompanies these artistic undertakings. “When I work with a team like this, I have no reason to be concerned,” the actress reveals. This profound observation does not apply only to this very moment on set—it very well could be a reflection of Messing’s current place in life. This 50-year-old, Emmy-awarded mom of one has embraced the notion that greatness is very much a collaborative effort.


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“Our show is such a great example of teamwork; we all bring something special and unique to it,” says Will & Grace’s titular protagonist. “But returning for a second round was certainly a gamble.”

A decade after a remarkable eight-season run, the ensemble cast that includes Messing along with Megan Mullally, Eric McCormack and Sean Hayes reprised their celebrated roles in what’s best described as Will & Grace 2.0. Written and produced by the original team, including Max Mutchnick, David Kohan and James Burrows, the show is as razor-sharp-funny as ever.

Will & Grace’s return to television holds many meanings not only to Messing, but also to the show’s legion of loyal fans. For one, Mutchnick and Kohan have enlarged the canvas of thematic possibilities against which the show’s signature hysterical banter shines poignantly. Characters don’t shy away from today’s difficult political landscape nor social injustices. This crusade mimicks Messing’s own commitment to activism. She is a vocal advocate for various causes, including advancement for the LGBTQ community and Autistic youth. Through humor, Will & Grace demonstrates television’s nimble ability to address cultural zeitgeist without compromising its belly-aching good time. And Messing is very proud of this unique achievement.

The resurrection of her creative outlet to such fanfare not only solidified the appreciation for her comedic chops, but also spoke volumes about our collective embrace of middle-aged female characters who are unconventional, imperfect and in an unapologetic state of evolution. “I’m definitely a lot less stressed than I used to be,” Messing admits.

When asked how her greater sense of calm at work spills over into her personal life, Messing smiles. “We spend a lot of time in the Hamptons during summer,” she responds, her voice drifting off. “The farther you go out east, the more the calm takes over. There is something very similar about the Hamptons and Rhode Island, where I was raised. I can’t begin to tell you how great it is to see my son live through similar experiences I remember from my childhood, like walking on the beach or reading books in quiet.” These simple pleasures have put things in perspective for the actress. “I realize I’m a lot less ambitious than I used be,” she admits with a hearty laugh. “Before, it was all about the next thing, next job. My time with him, living in the moment, has so much more value.”


Photography by: Photographed by Ruven Afanador, Styled by Sarah Slutsky, Hair: Serge Normant at Statement Artists; Makeup: Gita Bass at The Wall Group; Manicure: Gina Viviano at Tracey Mattingly; Shot on location at 30 Park Place Four Seasons Private Residences New York Downtown