Messing graces Allen movie, too

`Will & Grace' co-star handles `Hollywood' and its director to keep her star rising

May 02, 2002|By Ron Dicker | Ron Dicker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Debra Messing, the redheaded star of NBC's sitcom Will & Grace, now understands Los Angeles. It's a land, she says, where a toned body is more valuable than her master's degree in acting. But she's adjusted.

So a little silent treatment from Woody Allen wasn't going to throw her, was it?

Messing shifted into Grace-like panic mode when Allen didn't talk to her off-camera during the filming of his Hollywood Ending, which opens tomorrow. That was no easy feat because they were sharing scenes.

Messing plays the bimbo girlfriend who begs Allen's slumping director for a part in his new movie, financed by his ex-wife's lover. Matters get complicated when Allen's Val is beset with hysterical blindness.

On the fifth day, Allen spoke. "Broader," he told Messing with every take. When Messing thought she had taken her Lori to kabuki-like exaggeration, the filmmaker told her that she had nailed the character.

"I had the time of my life afterward," she said.

For Messing, 33, the time of her life has been in progress for a while. She has been nominated for two Emmys in her four years on Will & Grace, playing a neurotic designer who leans on her roommate, a gay lawyer played by Eric McCormack. Messing has drawn comparisons to Lucille Ball.

"It's the highest compliment, but I'm not delusional," Messing said. "I know she's untouchable."

Now that Will & Grace has become a more efficient machine, Messing has had time to sprinkle in big-screen roles. She recently appeared as a woman with pre-death visions in The Mothman Prophecies.

Allen had once cast her in a cameo for Celebrity (1998). When he called her in the car to play the larger-than-life part in Hollywood Ending, Messing couldn't resist. "I screamed so loud I nearly caused an accident," she said.

Messing made about $5,000 a week on the film - perhaps the size of her weekly wardrobe budget on television - but no problem for a woman who once pledged to be a brooding, starving East Village actor forever.

On May 15, Messing will cap her recent run with a walk up the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Hollywood Ending is opening the world's most prestigious movie gathering, and Allen is making his first appearance. Then Messing will downshift, taking a month off to whisk away her husband, screenwriter Daniel Zelman, to where cell phones and fax machines do not exist.

"The last four years have been incredibly intense," she said. "It's time to protect the balance."

Messing's garb - a green flower-print blouse and jeans - matched her sunny mood. She is very thin - a reminder that sitcom stars don't wiggle their master's degrees on camera.

Her ease in fielding questions comes partly from a tabloid-free existence. Messing met her future husband on the first day of New York University's graduate school for drama in 1990 and they married in September 2000.

"I fell in love so young that I never sort of experienced that Sex and the City dilemma," Messing said. "I feel blessed."

Her focus is reaping dividends. At the mention of Lucille Ball, Allen said: "I always think of Diane Keaton as Lucille Ball. Debra Messing has more manic energy. I always find Debra Messing capable of being more hilarious than Lucille Ball in a way."

Once a stage actress with credits that include Angels in America and The Importance of Being Earnest, Messing's ideal world would mix in theater, film and television.

Meanwhile, Messing continues her graduate education in show biz on the left coast. She doesn't approve of all she's learned, but it's easier to comprehend than Woody Allen's zipped lip.

"There are a lot of people out in California, because they're born there in that community, who believe that they're entitled to be a part of it without study, without paying your dues."

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