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Megan Mullally is on her own with talk show

Actress is putting popular ‘Will & Grace’ behind her
/ Source: The Associated Press

She got the itch at David Letterman’s desk.

Megan Mullally, long an audience fave on “Will & Grace,” had already moonlighted once or twice as a guest host on other talk shows. But subbing for a laid-up Dave in March 2003 — and feeling comfortable, relaxed and in her element — Mullally had a revelation, right there on “Late Show”!

“It had never occurred to me that hosting a talk show was a job that you could actually have,” she says, chuckling that such a truth could somehow have eluded her. “It had seemed like a very far-fetched profession. Like being an astronaut.”

Now she’s about to blast off with her own weekday talk-variety hour, “The Megan Mullally Show,” premiering Monday (check local listings for time and station). Her first guest: Will Ferrell, which is not a bad get.

But the show will be more than star chat. Mullally also promises comedy and music. And, as a singer who starred on Broadway in the musicals “Grease” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and who fronts her own band, Supreme Music Program, she will occasionally favor viewers with a song.

“We’re gonna get away from the celebrity culture a little bit,” she adds, explaining that regular folks will be an important part of the guest mix. “We want to remind people that everybody’s special and has a story to tell.”

Launching in tandem with the show will be a Web site where viewers are invited to upload short films and other self-expression that could possibly appear on the air.

“We want to encourage people to explore their creativity,” she says.

Amazing ‘Grace’Monday will mark the end of a lengthy process for Mullally that began with pondering what to do with her life once “Will & Grace” (and her dream collaboration with co-stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Sean Hayes) had run its course.

A spin-off sitcom for her character — the riotously fabu Karen Walker — was explored.

“But doing ‘Will & Grace’ for all that time was so satisfying, I don’t have that much to prove to myself in that regard anymore,” she says. Besides, she had the talk-show itch.

Then NBC Universal got it, too, signing Mullally for a seamless transition from the eighth and final “Will & Grace” season to her new L.A.-based venture.

Easier said than done. It entailed getting one thing up and running while she weathered emotionally wrenching months to bring the other to a close.

“January to April, I was going through the whole process of ending ‘Will & Grace’ and grieving that, while working full, full, full time on this talk show,” she says — “which did offer solace in the sense that I knew what I was gonna be doing next, and that I had a purpose.”

Her immediate purpose: Weighing in on countless decisions, from the concept of the new show to the look of the set down to the logo’s design (“You have to see it on the side of the building and on every piece of paper for who-knows-how-long!”).

Being boss is a departure for Mullally, who notes, “I never even had an office before. And I’m 47!”

But the only decision she acknowledges losing was what the show would be called. She can’t say exactly what she might have preferred, but having her own name claimed for the title unnerved her at first.

“People answer our phones with my name! It took me a while to disassociate myself from it, to tell myself they were saying something like ‘Heinz Ketchup’ instead. Otherwise,” she laughs warily, “it’s just too WEIRD.”

If Mullally seems to have a streak of becoming modesty, maybe she does. Raised in Oklahoma City and reaching Los Angeles via the Chicago theater scene, she seems pleasantly untouched by Hollywood hauteur. She radiates a serene but amused take on the world around her.

And for this recent interview she is turned out smart but casual in jeans and a fuchsia silk jacket, a reflection of the personal style she describes as “very average-Joe.”

Unlike, say, the character with whom she became so identified (winning a second Emmy only last month for her portrayal).

“I loved playing Karen,” Mullally declares in a voice that seems several octaves below Karen’s helium squeak, “and I definitely would have done ‘Will & Grace’ for like 40 more seasons.”

It’s a character that clearly connected with viewers.

“I’ve had so many people come up to me over the years and say, ‘Honey, you’re so real.’ And I think: How do you get ‘real’ from Karen Walker, a super-wealthy, alcoholic, pill-popping, inappropriate bee-atch?!”

But behind Mullally’s outrageous performance, viewers could detect something authentic: The actress herself, savoring Karen right along with them.

Now Mullally is about to let the audience meet her with no one in between.

She likens the sensation of appearing as herself to an out-of-body experience where she can keep tabs on herself to keep it real.

It starts even before she goes on camera.

“I lock myself in my dressing room and just look at my knee, or a spot on the wall,” she confides. “You have to get out of everything for a minute, and just be an organism functioning on the globe. Otherwise, you’re this entertainment robot in a dog-and-pony show and you don’t have anything to offer of yourself.”

That’s not the itch she’s looking to scratch.