She gained fame as goofy-glam decorator Grace Adler on NBC’s long-running Will & Grace, then turned earnest as lyricist Julia Houston in the network’s ill-fated Smash. Now, flame-haired funny woman Debra Messing is smashing in a role that hits closer to home. The divorced mother of preteen son Roman stars as frazzled soon-to-be-a-single-mom Detective Laura Diamond in the Peacock’s new dramedy The Mysteries of Laura, which premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17 after the America’s Got Talent finale.
The series, created by Jeff Rake (Private Practice, Boston Legal), boasts a Castle-meets-Moonlighting feel, blending soapy murder mysteries with comical — and sometimes poignant — family foibles as Laura battles to extricate herself from her remorseful philanderer husband Jake (a charming Josh Lucas), keep investigator’s hours and wrangle a stable existence for her 6-year-old twin sons.
Lads who are partial to such things as room-size canvases for their finger-painting efforts, and public “pee pee sword fights.” Parents of boys, you know of which I speak.
“That was something that I found very relatable and very real — the daily struggle of being a working mother and how messy it gets and how you can have a small victory at 11am and at 1pm, all things go to pot,” says Messing. “That’s how I live my life.”
The actress says it was also vital to her that the vigorously unglamorous Laura buck TV’s irksome habit of dressing its lady cops in plunging necklines and sky-high heels.
“I’m very sensitive to wardrobe as an audience member — it really has a big impact on whether I can find it a world that I can really disappear into and really invest in,” she says. “So the question really was, what is Laura? Fundamentally she is a cop. She would never be wearing heels. She would never be wearing boots with high heels on them. And it’s been an interesting dialogue, because obviously in Hollywood all of the powers that be are hoping to make their actors as attractive as possible — by whose definition, I still don’t really know. But it’s perceived that high heels and more sexualized clothing is considered better on television, so to be able to show a woman in her mid 40s who does not care about fashion because she has other things she cares about more — to me, it just lends itself to credibility in the long run. And obviously, I love it because I’m comfortable every day!”
Messing says the connection she enjoys with her costar Lucas, onscreen and off, “dreamy,” which is especially useful after Jake becomes Laura’s boss in the premiere episode. “Both Josh and I are single parents, so we bring a lot to the table already from our personal lives,” she says. “And I think what’s interesting about Jake and Laura is that they’re forced to work together every single day now in a place where the power structure is an awkward one. And it’s also great to play the fact that Laura is over him. She is done. He is not. To have that asymmetry is an interesting thing to play with!”
“It’s joyfully tense. It’s playfully ugly,” laughs Lucas. “And in the end, it comes down to the fact that we both are facing what so many parents in this country are facing: We just want to do right by our kids. I mean, yeah, this guy might have been a cad in his relationship, but he’s a great dad — and love doesn’t just end, you know? Love transitions. I love this line someone said to me the other day — ‘Don’t cut what you can untie,’ That’s a nice little thing that I think these guys are trying to figure out, as well. And they just got tied up a bit more by the work situation.”
Both Lucas and Messing also point out that the show’s messier familial moments feel so real to those of us who’ve slogged through them because the show’s creator, Jeff Rake, is himself a father of four, and only hired writers who were in the parental trenches themselves.
“He has a sense of humor and an ability to find the moments in real life that make us all giggle and surprise us — ‘Oh my gosh. That’s right. That’s real. That’s really does happen! We don’t usually see it on TV. But that really does happen!’” says Messing. “And when those little moments are on the page, that’s when I get really excited.”
“I recently had to go on the Today show with my 2-year-old child because my babysitter didn’t show up, and it was one of these moments,” Lucas adds. “We’ve talked about having a little nursery on-set for all the kids, both the boys on the set — the actors — and my son and Debra’s son, and the writers all have kids. It’s an interesting thing that we are going to use the family dynamic of the show and also the shooting of the show and sort of have them all overlap!”
“To be able to be a bad-ass detective where I get to go around and be strong and heroic and do all the testosterone stuff and the fantastical stuff, but then turn around and be able to do a scene with two precious little boys, it feels just so multidimensional to me,” Messing concludes. “And when I realized that — in a dream world, this is a show that you hope will go on for years and years and years — there is no way that I could ever become bored playing Laura, that’s a really exciting prospect. I’m just really grateful.”
The Mysteries of Laura premieres with a sneak peek Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 10/9CT following “America’s Got Talent” on NBC. The series airs in its regular 8/7CT time slot beginning Sept. 24.
Photos: ©2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC