Getting By With a Little Help from His Friends
Close friendships have sustained Will & Grace alum Eric McCormack throughout his remarkable career on stage and screen.
by Debra Wallace

A groundbreaking sitcom premiered 25 years ago, starring Eric McCormack as a gay corporate lawyer named Will, and Debra Messing as his best friend, a straight interior designer named Grace. The sitcom’s cast also included two quirky sidekicks, “Just” Jack (played by Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally).
The fabulous foursome uplifted Will & Grace for its initial run from 1998 to 2006, and again in a reboot that aired from 2017 to 2020. All four actors have continued their award-winning careers, and they cross paths on occasion. One high-profile example: McCormack and Hayes recently launched their podcast, Just Jack & Will, in which they re-watch Will & Grace episodes and discuss various aspects of making the series, often with special guests.
Several of McCormack’s recent show-business endeavors began with close friendships. This includes his starring role in The Cottage, directed by Seinfeld star Jason Alexander in his Broadway directorial debut. Written by playwright Sandy Rustin, The Cottage is a frisky, side-splitting romp, set in the British countryside in 1923. The comedy has a Noël Coward-esque style heightened to the point of a parody.
A story of “sex, betrayal, and love,” The Cottage follows Sylvia, a married woman (Laura Bell Bundy), who decides to expose her affair with her lover, Beau (McCormack) to both her husband, Clarke (Alex Moffat), and her lover’s wife, Marjorie (Lilli Cooper). The Cottage completed its run at the Hayes Theater on Broadway at the end of October.
“I asked Eric to read the play in a day and he gave us a yes overnight,” Alexander explains. “Had he not done that, I don’t know that we would have been able to secure the theater and this whole opportunity could be lost. Eric has been a great leader in this ensemble who set the bar extremely high. I adored him before we began, and I adore him a thousand-fold now. Working with Eric is pure joy!”
We spoke with McCormack about the production, the sitcom that thrust him into the national spotlight a quarter-century ago, and the secret to a long career in show business, as well as the friendships that have sustained him throughout his career.
Talk about your close relationship with Jason Alexander, the director of The Cottage.

We have been friends for 15 years or more, and it’s a special friendship. He’s directed me in The Fantasticks, and we’ve been talking about a different Broadway show for a couple of years. This was a call out of the blue at a time when I didn’t know what the rest of the year looked like. He said, “You’ve got very little time to say yes or no. Please say yes!” 

The other two Broadway shows I’ve done were revivals, and I’ve wanted to do an original show. I particularly wanted to do an original comedy. I wanted to be the first to get certain laughs on these boards, and I think this is a really funny show.
Sean Hayes was on Broadway in Good Night, Oscar part of the time that you were doing The Cottage, which led to a happy reunion.
Yes, last year for my birthday (April 18) when the COVID travel protocols were just sort of easing, Broadway was back and airline travel was back [and] I wanted to go to see some plays. I flew to New York and I saw Debra’s play Birthday Candles. I also saw American Buffalo and Beetlejuice again, and then I flew to Chicago to see Good Night, Oscar to surprise Sean. So, I saw Sean and Debra perform in their respective shows during the same 24-hour period.
What is your favorite part about spending time with Sean Hayes for the new podcast?
Sean and I always had a great time together on the set. We always made each other laugh during rehearsal [on Will & Grace], but we didn’t have a social life outside of the show. He is younger, I was married, and I had a kid, so we just didn’t have the same type of life.

I went to see him in Promises, Promises years ago. Then I didn’t see him again for a couple of years. We had lunch one day and I just said, “You never call, you never write.” He said, “You don’t, either.” We sort of found our friendship again.
Now we legitimately enjoy each other’s company. It doesn’t have to be about Will & Grace, although the podcast happens to be about the show. I showed up to see his play in Chicago last year and surprised him. He came to the opening night of The Cottage. It’s really nice to find the other side of someone that perhaps you didn’t know when you were working together.
Will Megan Mullally be a guest on the podcast anytime soon?
Sean and I have asked her to do the podcast, and she said maybe down the line, but for now, she doesn’t want to live in that light since she has pulled back from a lot of her social media; I think she just needed a break. She was in Party Down when it came back, and was hysterical in that, as she always is.
What’s it like to re-watch Will & Grace, a show that was not only hilarious but broke down so many barriers?
We talk about all sorts of things. For as much as we talk about the things we remember, we also remind each other of the things we don’t remember, or we have two different memories of the same thing.

One of the things we talked about just the other day, somebody had written in and said, “Do you understand how big the show was in Lebanon?” During the second year, we got an offer as a foursome to go to Australia on an all-expenses-paid trip. I think this was the first time they really embraced it outside of the States and Canada. We just thought we were all suddenly too busy and we couldn’t get to do it. I regret it because so many Australians over the years have told me how big it was there.
Were there any surprises during the rehearsals or the show of The Cottage?
I have always been pretty good at memorizing my lines, which came in very handy for sitcoms and particularly Perception, the ABC show I did for two years. That involved just a lot of everyday memorizing lectures and things like that. It was all you do it and then it was gone.

Not so much in rehearsal, but now I’m reminded that when you get to do 150 performances of something, there’s a wonderful calmness that settles in where your body knows the show, your brain knows the lines, you trust your fellow actors, and they trust you. I just love that rhythm. I’d forgotten how rewarding that rhythm is and how much I look forward to it.  
What is the key to a long career in show business? 
Obviously, a lot of luck, but I think sometimes it’s more than that. When I walked into an audition for theater school in Toronto in 1982 the guy who ran the school asked, “Is there anybody here that can do anything other than act?” Everyone put up their hands except for me. He told us, “Well, go and do it.” I think that there’s a tenacity.

I remember when Will & Grace ended, my brother-in-law said, “So I guess you can retire now.” I looked at him and I said, “What? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” You have to want this so badly that you’ll figure out a way to keep going. I think that plus a ton of luck is the secret.
As a father to 21-year-old Finnigan, what life lessons do you want to share?
All I’ve ever wanted to impart to him, and maybe to a fault, is that I just want him to love what he does. I want him to choose something in his life that he looks forward to. I know there are lots of people who don’t love their jobs and work all week to get to the weekend. I know it can’t always work out that way, but I think that’s what we have to encourage in [our kids], and what I’m hoping for is having the best life by looking forward to your work, taking pride in it, and having it give you joy.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life, November 2023.