Sean Hayes and His "Role of a Lifetime" on Will & Grace: "I'm Lucky to Be Here"

We can't believe it's been 20 years since Will and Grace first, uh, graced us with its presence. And the funny thing is, neither can the rest of the cast. In September, I was lucky enough to visit the set of the exciting reboot that returned full force last year, delivering the same ridiculous, razor-sharp hilarity we fell in love with during the initial run. "Time is a funny thing," Sean Hayes said during an interview on set that day. He's been nailing it as the iconic Jack McFarland for the show's entire run. "I mean, at the same time, it feels 20 years and two weeks at the same exact same time. So I'm lucky to be here. I'm lucky for the gig. I'm very fortunate to have been given this role of a lifetime."

Role of a lifetime, indeed. It's not just that Hayes has been bringing the laughs as Jack; the character broke ground as one of the first unapologetically gay leads on network television, at a time when being gay was much less OK than it is in 2018. During our interview, I couldn't help but ask about the fact that Jack presents as your stereotypically feminine gay man, a practical lean-to of early gay depictions on television. We were lucky enough to see Jack bloom and become more three-dimensional over the show's run, despite his seemingly overwrought origins. But Hayes thinks Jack works so well because he lives his truth, and there are plenty of gay men like him in the world.

In 2018, there's almost more room for Jack than there was before. Now, there are more queer characters on TV than ever before, and the spectrum that comes as a result puts less pressure on Jack to be like this or like that. Even so, Hayes maintains that he's always been written with care, and he's always been a contrast to the title character, Will — the two of them will always represent the broad spectrum of gay men that exists in reality. Keep reading for more wise insights from the incredible actor; it's clear there's so much more to Jack than meets the eye. As a longtime fan of the show, even I was blown away by his take.

  • On Jack being a "stereotypical" gay man in the original run: "I think that stereotypes are stereotypes because they're true, right? The press used to say, when the show first started, that 'Jack is the stereotypical gay one, and Will is the more masculine gay one,' or whatever they said. And to me, that's just kind of an uneducated statement to make. That means you don't know gay people. I'm gay, and I was playing Jack, so obviously, part of Jack lives inside of me. So, to me, that's normal. And I have tons of friends that make me laugh that are gay like Jack, so that's a stereotype and not a stereotype at the same time. How is it a stereotype if all of those people exist in my life? So I just think that was a lazy way for the press to report on the show."
  • How there's actually more room for a character like Jack in 2018: "The goal of the show was never to educate people, but I think it was a byproduct of the show: we educated people through laughter and comedy. It's 2018. Hopefully, people are more aware of the different spectrum of gay people, like the different spectrum of straight people, like the different spectrum of black people and Latin people and Asian people, all people around the world. If you are a straight, white Republican and you can't see past that, then you're not understanding what the world consists of. There are straight, white Republicans that do understand that, and I wish they would be more vocal about it."
  • On a funny moment we can expect coming up: "In this season, there's an episode where Jack finds a box of pictures of Estefan's ex-boyfriend, and they all look gorgeous to Jack. And so he tries to find a plastic surgeon to do the same thing. And in order to do that, he has to put numbing cream on before they do the procedure and I'll leave it at that. And that, to me, was one of the most fun physical things I've ever done."
  • On the numbing cream bit and its backstory: "So, I just thought of this idea that, 'Wouldn't it be funny if Jack mistook numbing cream for SPF tanning lotion and he put it all over his body? And then he couldn't walk, do whatever, right?' And so John Quaintance who wrote that script, who's a brilliant writer and a good friend of mine, he changed it to numbing cream on my face. And I got the idea, I was inspired by the idea from an old Carol Burnett sketch with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman where — I don't know if you know it — but Tim Conway is a dentist and Harvey Korman's in the chair and Tim, instead of giving the patient Novocaine, he shot his arm by mistake, then couldn't use his arm, then couldn't use his body. And it just made me laugh out loud so hard. So they took that and ran with it. The funny thing about that is David Kohan, who's one of the cocreators of the show, his father wrote that sketch."