Debra Messing on ‘Smash’

The costar of NBC's musical series tells us about playing a songwriter and learning from the real deal.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

“Smash” gives us all the drama of a Broadway production every week, meaning behind the scenes and in their personal lives as well as on stage.

Debra Messing plays Julia Houston, a lyricist who is writing a Marilyn Monroe musical with her creative partner, despite pressures at home to raise her family and go through the process of an adoption. I got a few minutes alone with Messing as she entered the Television Critics Association party for NBC.


CraveOnline: Were you happy with the role of the songwriter or could there have been a world where you’d see yourself playing a singer/dancer?

Debra Messing: Oh, I feel like I would be thrilled playing every single role that there is in “Smash.” That whole world of musical theater was my first love. It’s where I wanted to be when I was three years old. And so to be able to come back and enter that world, albeit on television, and to be around singers and dancers and composers and lyricists is heaven on earth for me. So I adore it.

CraveOnline: Even though you’re playing the lyricist did you want a chance to sing yourself?

Debra Messing: I already have. I am a lyricist so the context is different. I’m not performing a big production number but it’s a song that my character has written.

CraveOnline: It’ll be available on iTunes and I’ll have you on my iPod.

Debra Messing: I don't know about that, but maybe.

CraveOnline: Aren’t they releasing all the songs?

Debra Messing: I think so. Now I’m going to be anxious and I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight.

CraveOnline: Musicals have such intense rehearsal, how do you get all that in the eight days you have to do an episode?

Debra Messing: Well, often there are very long, long days and every once in a while there’s an extra day of work that happens on a weekend in order to get prepared. Everyone is going above and beyond in order to make the show as good as it can be. The great thing is that we’re all really proud of it. It’s a good feeling.

CraveOnline: Are you getting anything from the real songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman?

Debra Messing: Oh, absolutely. They’ve been so gracious. They opened their home to me and their studio so I was able to go over and see Scott Whitman, the Tony award winning lyricist, I got to see his work station, all the Marilyn books, the etchings and notes he wrote down for the original songs they’ve written for “Smash.” So it’s been fascinating.

CraveOnline: It’s funny thinking about Marilyn because I only know the whole story. I can’t even see the fantasy image she projected. Can you capture the innocence of her when we know all the tragedy now?

Debra Messing: That’s a really good question. I think with the right writing and the right structure and storytelling, I think you can.

CraveOnline: Do you think anyone since Marilyn has ever taken a persona quite that far? Or did they learn from her that it’s too much to maintain it as deeply as she did?

Debra Messing: I think the person in most recent history that I can think of is Madonna where she put on a persona. This isn’t recent history, it’s 20 years ago, but it was manufactured. It was something that was for public consumption and it was finite. Then she changed.