Q and A With… Debra Messing

The star of Nothing like the Holidays and The Starter Wife talks about why couples can’t stay together—and what her parents taught her about love.

In Nothing like the Holidays, you did a very funny, sexy dance with your on-screen hubby, John Leguizamo. How did the two of you work that out?

I have no idea—it was totally spontaneous. I had no idea I even had it in me. John and I went wild!

You are also starring in USA Network’s divorcee series, The Starter Wife. Why do you think so many Hollywood couples end up separating?

I don’t think it’s just Hollywood. It’s our culture, unfortunately. I guess people are impatient and aren’t willing to work through difficult times. My parents are still together—it’s been 45 years! So my model has been “love lasts.” But it’s true that, everywhere you turn, someone is getting a divorce, dealing with the challenges of being a single parent and finding work—for some, for the first time in their lives. That’s why I think it’s so accessible, even though it’s very place-specific, being Hollywood, but all the challenges my character is facing are universal.

What did your parents teach you about romance?

That you have to work at it every single day. If you just assume that everything is as wonderful as it was the year before, it’s inevitable that you’re going to run into problems. Sharing your life with someone and creating a family with someone is the most difficult and most rewarding thing that you can do. It takes work every day. And, sometimes, even for people who work on it every day, it still doesn’t work out. No one has perfected marriage.

Have many divorcees come up to you after having watched your show?

Yes. The thing that was most surprising after the miniseries was how many women—and not just women in Los Angeles, I would be in airports in the middle of the country—and women would come up to me. They would say, “I’m a starter wife.” And it was really validating to see that it really was as universal as we thought it was, even though it's played specifically for us in Hollywood. We’ve felt all along that the themes and the issues were universal and could happen anywhere, and these women have let us know that we were thinking correctly.

It's interesting that there are divorcees relating to your character, yet your character in Nothing like the Holidays is happy to be married and wants to work through things.

Really, it's a matter of choice. You have to know when it's important to work through things and when it's time to walk away. There's no right answer there; it's whatever feels right to you.

Would you ever want to work with your real-life husband, Daniel?

Absolutely—anything he wants!

Contributing entertainment editor Susan L. Hornik is based in Los Angeles.
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