Should Ryan Murphy need inspiration for his next series of Feud, then he could do worse than looking toward one of NBC’s best-loved sitcoms: Will & Grace. For two of its stars – Megan Mullally and Debra Messing – were reportedly at loggerheads toward the end of its second wind. But was there any truth to the rumors? Well, in 2020 the show’s producers appeared to settle the issue once and for all.
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the Emmy Award-winning comedy during its two separate runs, then Messing plays titular character Grace Adler. Viewed as the most neurotic of the four-strong gang, the interior designer ends up getting married to and divorced from Harry Connick Jr.’s Leo Markus. But her strongest relationship is undoubtedly with her gay BFF and housemate Will Truman – played by Eric McCormack.
Of course, Grace also has two other long-running connections in the hit sitcom. There’s the super-flamboyant Jack McFarland, who – thanks to Sean Hayes’ charismatic performance – often ends up stealing the show. And then there’s Megan Mullally’s equally unforgettable Karen Walker – a woman renowned for her squeaky voice and unashamed lack of tact.
Karen also serves as assistant to Grace, although it’s fair to say that her talents aren’t exactly appreciated. She was famously once described by her boss as a “spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day’s work.” And if rumors are to be believed, such insults may also have been thrown around once the cameras stopped rolling, too.
So how exactly did these claims start? Well, Mullally and Messing appeared to have got on rather swimmingly during Will & Grace’s initial eight-season run from 1998 to 2006. It was only after the show was fully revived in 2017 that damaging reports about the pair’s relationship began to surface.
In fact, tensions between the pair were cited as a reason for the Will & Grace reboot coming to an end. Shortly after the news that the sitcom’s 11th season would be its last, fans noticed that Mullally and Messing had both unfollowed each other on Instagram. And the pair appeared to continually leave cryptic clues about their rivalry on social media.
Mullally certainly got tongues wagging with an Instagram story captioned, “One of the best feelings is finally losing your attachment to somebody who isn’t good for you! Don’t ask people for directions if they’ve never been where you’re going!” Many of her followers believed that the attachment in question was none other than Messing.
Messing also added fuel to the fire on Instagram when she urged her followers to give Will & Grace a vote at the Emmy Awards. The redhead tagged all the main cast and crew members in the post with the exception of one notable name. Mullally – who many consider to be the show’s biggest comedic talent – was strangely omitted.
But Messing delivered a much more obvious snub toward her long-running co-star when she uploaded a selfie taken on the Will & Grace set. “I love them so much,” she gushingly captioned a photo of herself alongside an affectionate McCormack and Hayes. Once again, Mullally was conspicuous by her absence.
And the pair didn’t do much to quell all the speculation in a video uploaded to Will & Grace’s official Instagram account. The clip features footage of the four main cast members in between takes while taping the show in Los Angeles. Yet Mullally and Messing don’t acknowledge each other once.
According to an anonymous source, there was a reason you could have cut the tension with a knife on the Will & Grace set that day. Referring to Mullally and Messing, the insider allegedly told website Radar Online in August 2019, “They can’t stand to be near each other. And it created an impossible atmosphere on the set.”
Mullally and Messing had previously been very supportive of each other and their two other co-stars: Hayes and McCormack. Although the quartet openly admitted while promoting the Will & Grace reboot that they hadn’t seen other socially as a group for 11 years, they’d still remained friends. And the group all agreed that once they got back on set, their natural chemistry was undeniable.
But this camaraderie seemed to have dissipated by the time the 11th season came around in 2019. That October the website TVLine reported that Mullally would be entirely absent from two episodes – having asked to take a leave of absence. As you would expect, her apparent feud with Messing was soon rumored to be the reason.
Co-star McCormack tried to dismiss the rumors of an ongoing rift between Messing and Mullally in a chat with magazine Us Weekly. The man best known as Will Truman claimed that fans were needlessly worrying about the cast’s social media activity. He told the publication, “The four of us get along like a house on fire, we always have.”
McCormack also insisted that a behind-the-scenes feud wasn’t responsible for the show wrapping up. He added that they wanted to “make sure that it ends up properly, that we go out on top, that it never gets sort of lost in the shuffle.” The star went on, “It’s going to go out in a way that I’m really going to be proud of.”
It was a sentiment echoed by three key members of the sitcom’s backstage team. In an official statement, director James Burrows and creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan said, “We think of the Will & Grace reboot episodes the way Karen Walker thinks of martinis – 51 is not enough, 53 is too many. That is why – after consulting with the cast – we all have decided this will be the final season of Will & Grace.”
You could say that Mullally didn’t get the memo. In January 2020 the actress once again appeared to allude to her feud with Messing on the In Bed with Nick and Megan podcast she hosts with husband Nick Offerman. Although she didn’t reference anyone in particular, the timing of her discussion on bullying seemed to be too much of a coincidence for many listeners.
Mullally began the discussion, “I’ve been bullied. I’m 60 and I’m being bullied right now, so you know it’s a very insidious and dangerous thing and I never want to lose that happy and innocent part of myself but it’s almost like you have to kill that. But I never will, it’s part of who I am, it’s intrinsic to my nature.”
Further fanning the flames, Mullally continued, “You think it’s your fault. They’re good at making you feel like it’s you and that you brought this on yourself. The thing that I’ve had happen – this is tough – because I’m not good at standing up to people and having boundaries. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought that if anyone tried to do that now, I would try to defend myself.”
Without going into specifics, Mullally claimed that this actually made things worse. She continued, “Because the person – the bully – it just lit a fire under that person where they just tripled their efforts and it can get very dangerous. That’s why I don’t know what to say about it unless you have great advocates who can come in and help you, and really take charge of the situation…”
Mullally then confirmed the situation she was talking about had happened at the workplace. And she also hinted that McCormack and Hayes hadn’t been much help, either. The actress told listeners, “I’m pretty much on my own in this situation because the bully has recruited many of my allies to their side, and now they’re not my allies anymore.”
And if any further proof was needed that things had turned sour between the pair, then there was also the Will & Grace cast interview on Sirius XM in April 2020. McCormack, Messing and Hayes all appeared on Zoom to discuss the last ever episode of the popular NBC sitcom. But Mullally was nowhere to be seen.
Not one of the actors addressed the elephant in the room during the chat. Instead, they focused on happier times to celebrate the beloved sitcom coming to an end. As well as discussing Will & Grace’s impact on popular culture, the trio also revealed which of the show’s many guest stars had been their favorites.
Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan also got nostalgic that same month in an interview with magazine Entertainment Weekly. When asked about how it felt saying farewell to Will & Grace again, the latter replied, “…This time around, it felt like it lasted the right amount of time, the ending felt like the one that we kind of wanted for these characters. And so, we feel a little more sure-footed this time.”
Mutchnick also seemed to agree that the show was bowing out at the right time. He said, “I didn’t have a sadness about saying goodbye to any of the characters, because I felt like they were doing the thing that they should be doing. We put them in the right place.”
Of course, it was Mutchnick’s answer to the final question that made the headlines. After referring to Mullally’s departure for two episodes, Entertainment Weekly asked the pair how they made sure they concluded things both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the right way. And the co-creator appeared to confirm that there was at least some semblance of a feud.
Mutchnick replied, “We always work under this kind of motto that everything’s about the work. It’s just about the work. And so if we stay true to that, then we just keep you guys out of whatever happened on the set this year because it would have done nothing but get in the way of the stories that we wanted to tell.”
Contrary to McCormack’s “house on fire” comments, it seemed as though something definitely happened on set. Mutchnick went on to add, “It was not an easy year. But the permanent legacy of the show is much more important to us than any temporary squabble that would take place on the stage.”
Judging by the rather harsh comments under the piece on the Entertainment Weekly website, the majority of Will & Grace viewers are firmly Team Mullally. One fan responded, “I just wish the final episode could have done more to expose Debra Messing as the grade A queen B everyone knows she is!” Ouch.
But thankfully there was at least one individual in Messing’s corner. Responding to another unflattering remark about the famous redhead under the piece, a fan sarcastically posted, “Yes, supremely untalented is why she’s only starred in a half dozen series, movies, Broadway and won Emmys for acting and Best Comedy. Good spotting!”
The creators avoided revealing any juicy secrets involving Messing and Mullally’s apparent beef. Though they did claim the former had been a bit of a diva when it came to scheduling. When asked about being able to wrap up the final season before the pandemic, Mutchnick replied, “It would have been the most unfinished feeling to not get to the end of this season. Thank God [Messing] had it in her contract that we had to be done by Christmas.”
Mutchnick then went on to joke, “I finally found the silver lining in that really pain-in-the-*** clause. We did run into trouble with the retrospective that’s airing right after the finale. We weren’t finished with that and that was not easy to get to the finish line with the world shut down.”
Sadly for those who feed on celebrity gossip, it’s still not clear exactly what happened between Messing and Mullally. And one of Will & Grace’s regular recurring actors Leslie Jordan wasn’t much help when he was asked about the feud in May 2020. The man who played Beverly Leslie in the hit sitcom told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live! that he had little knowledge of any spat.
Jordan – whose final appearance came in the season 11 homage to I Love Lucy – admitted, “I wish I could spill all of the [details]… If there was any tension I didn’t witness it.” In contrast to his drama-hungry Will & Grace character, Jordan claimed that he would have walked away from any on-set squabbles, anyway.
Although we don’t know the story behind Messing’s apparent feud with Mullally, we do know the story behind her beef with another high-profile celebrity. That’s right: since 2016 the Will & Grace star has been involved in a long-running Twitter war with Susan Sarandon. And their different political perspectives have been the root cause.
On one particular occasion in 2018, Messing lost her cool with the Dead Man Walking star during a heated debate about Donald Trump’s presidency. She wrote, “Only a self-righteous narcissist would continue to spout off and not – in the face of Americans’ pain and agony – be contrite and apologize for your part in this catastrophe. But, you do you, Susan.”
Of course, when she’s not feuding with other stars, Messing keeps herself busy acting. Her first post-Will & Grace role came with 2020’s The Dark Divide. Messing appeared alongside David Cross in the adventure drama about a butterfly expert who embraces the wildlands of the United States during a summer trek.
Mullally has continued to lend her voice to various characters in animated hit Bob’s Burgers. She also reprised her role of Tammy in the 2020 Parks and Recreation special. And in 2021 she will join her husband and stars such as Alanis Morissette and Will Forte in the voice cast of another cartoon: The Great North.
We might never know what happened between Mullally and Messing during that final season of Will & Grace. The former hasn’t revealed anything else since her podcast talk about bullying, and the latter has remained tight-lipped throughout the whole drama. But one thing that does seem certain is that we’ll never see Grace Adler and Karen Walker share the screen again.
In April 2020 Mutchnick confirmed to industry publication Variety that the second farewell to Will & Grace would definitely be the last. He said, “We’re never coming back again. We would no sooner make this television show or a frame of it again. It won’t happen. That’s the final word.”