The Stunning Transformation Of Debra Messing

At the turn of the millennium, there were a few shows that captured the mood of the time — "Friends," "Seinfeld," and "Frasier" probably spring to mind, but "Will & Grace" was another such show that defined the early 2000s. As one half of the show's dynamic duo, Debra Messing quickly shot to fame when she landed the role of Grace in 1998. Messing quickly became a coveted star, landing roles in "The Wedding Date," "Along Came Polly," "The Starter Wife," and "The Mysteries of Laura" (via IMDb).

Messing had a relatively normal childhood, dreaming of a life on the stage. After studying acting at university in New York, she began her theatrical career, and it seemed like all of her dreams had come true — she was a working actor. But she wasn't prepared for the fame that her TV career would bring. In fact, she's still eager to act on stage whenever she gets the chance. Plus, Messing has been exploring other mediums as she's gotten older. She even has her own podcast.

Curious to learn more about how Messing went from a young girl in the country daydreaming about the bright lights of Broadway to one of the world's biggest stars? Here is the stunning transformation of Debra Messing.

Debra Messing was raised in a happy, rural family

Debra Messing was born in 1968 and grew up in the town of East Greenwich in a rural environment. "I grew up next to a farm in Rhode Island, and no one ever left," Debra Messing told The Guardian in 2015. Regarding her hometown, she told The Gentlewoman that most of her friends never even left her small town.

Messing's parents were her first inspiration, teaching her the importance of hard work and discipline. "My father was in charge of sales at a jewelry manufacturing company and I don't recall him ever missing a day of work," she said. "My mother was a wonderful singer who recorded albums when she was a teenager as part of an all-girl quartet called the Brookstones." As Messing explained, her parents taught her that she could do anything she wanted to do, if she put in the work.

Debra Messing fell in love with theater as a child

Debra Messing caught the acting bug at an early age. She explained to The Gentlewoman that it all began when her parents took her to see Broadway shows as a child. She recalled, "I remember levitating off my seat, amazed that there were these people, arm's length away, singing and dancing. It's always been magic to me." Messing saw "Annie," her first play, when she was 7. As she told Variety, "I remember it just blowing my mind." She instantly knew that theater was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

Her parents gave her their full support. "My late mother always said: 'Someone's got to do it, why not you?" Messing recalled to The Guardian. Throughout her life, Messing remembered her mother's supportive words, and she kept persevering with her dream. Messing went on to act in numerous high school plays and take acting classes throughout her childhood (via Empire).

Debra Messing studied acting in college

After completing a bachelor's degree at Bradeis University, Debra Messing got a Master's in Acting at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. The actress told Imagista that it wasn't easy getting a spot at the school. At her audition, the waiting area was filled with nervous young aspiring actors. So, what made her stand out from the crowd? She said, "I think they saw how hungry I was. I think they saw determination, focus, intention and commitment in the few minutes they watched me do two monologues."

Messing told Variety that the course focused on the classic playwrights, citing Shakespeare, Pinter, and Ibsen. The class also put on one of the first workshop performances of Tony Kushner's famous play "Angels in America." Messing played Harper, an agoraphobe who hallucinates throughout the play. An agent happened to see her performance and signed her then and there.

Debra Messing got her start in theater

After graduating with an agent already in tow, Debra Messing quickly got her first few acting jobs in regional theater companies — which was exactly what she had wanted. "At that point," she told Variety, "my goal became to work in all of the best regional theaters in the country and play all of the great female roles." Her first role was in Seattle where she played Cecily in the famous Oscar Wilde play "The Importance of Being Earnest." Her next role was in an off-Broadway play called "Four Dogs and a Bone."

She starred then in the off-Broadway play "The Naked Truth," and she later appeared in another off-Broadway play called "Collected Stories." Actress Elaine Stritch came to see the play and gave her a confidence boost she would never forget. Messing told Imagista, "She said, 'You're like me. You can do anything. People aren't gonna believe it. You're special. But you must never forget it.'" Not too long afterwards, Messing was starring in "Will & Grace."

Debra Messing shot to fame with Will & Grace

Debra Messing had already done a few TV roles before landing "Will & Grace." Her big break, she told Imagista, was in "NYPD Blue." "It was the most exciting, surprising, validating thing that had happened to me," she recalled. She also appeared in "Seinfeld," "Partners," and a film called "A Walk in the Clouds" (via IMDb). She landed the role of Stacey in the show "Ned & Stacey" and a role in "Prey." So, when her agents put her up for "Will & Grace," she was pretty tired. "I told them I was going to sleep for three months and to call me then," she joked to Variety. Although she was initially hesitant, she eventually agreed to meet the team, and the rest is history.

"Will & Grace" was a hit, and Messing was suddenly a star. At first, it wasn't easy getting recognized. In fact, it would be several years before she got the hang of it. Nevertheless, Grace became Messing's career-defining role. "I embrace the fact that I'll be Grace Adler until the day I die," she said, noting that she appreciated her fans for continuing to watch her career.

Debra Messing felt pressured to lose weight while on Will & Grace

"Will & Grace" first began airing in 1998, and it was a time that wasn't particularly kind to its female stars. In fact, unrealistic beauty standards were prevalent in the industry. As Debra Messing explained on Jameela Jamil's podcast "I Weigh," starring in a primetime show took a huge toll on her self-image and resulted in an eating disorder. "When I started 'Will & Grace,' I was a size 8, and what happened was, every time I would go in for a fitting, I couldn't fit into clothes," Messing said. Messing felt that she was letting people down because of her weight. She started to think that she should try to lose weight so that the show's costume designers would have an easier job.

Messing began a restrictive diet and a strict exercise regimen. Messing continued to lose weight, but never felt good enough. She recalled one of her red carpet experiences, saying, "I felt fat, and I felt ugly." Eventually, Messing reached a size 2, which Messing now admits is "too skinny." It's great to see that Messing is speaking up about these unfair industry standards.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Debra Messing learned to balance home life and work life after having her son

In 2004, Debra Messing gave birth to her only child, Roman. For Messing, having just one child felt like the right option. As she told Parents, having one child meant that she could balance her work life with the demands of raising her son. However, it wasn't always easy striking a balance between work and home life. Initially, Messing felt guilty about leaving her son in order to work. But, over time, she learned that striking a balance was important. She said, "Work does feed me in a very important way that nothing else does, and I do believe I am a better mother when I am working." 

Eventually, Messing found a way to do both at once. She told Today, she managed to bring her son to set with her while filming. "The great thing is that he's literally grown up on the set since 'Will & Grace,' so it's his second home," she said. Apparently, he even got involved in calling "action" and making a few casting suggestions!

Debra Messing took on a series of impressive roles after Will & Grace

Even though "Will & Grace" is Debra Messing's best-known work, she has taken numerous interesting roles over the years. One year after "Will & Grace" ended, Messing played Molly in "The Starter Wife." Then she took a short break — at the time, she was picky about which projects she wanted to take. Her next role was in "Smash." "That pilot was the best I'd read, and that was the only thing that I felt strongly enough that I would move for," she said to Variety

One year later, she signed onto the show "The Mysteries of Laura." The dramatic cop show couldn't have been more different to "Will & Grace." And as Messing told Today, that suited her well. "It has everything for me," she said. "I mean it really does keep me on my toes and it keeps me creatively interested." Messing also starred in a TV remake of "Dirty Dancing" as Baby's mother in 2017, and as of this writing, she's set to play "Mom" in the film version of the musical "13" (via IMDb).

Debra Messing split from her husband of 11 years in 2011

Debra Messing married Daniel Zelman in 2000, after meeting him in the '90s while earning her master's in New York. After an 11-year marriage and a 20-year relationship, the pair parted ways in 2011. As Messing's representative told People at the time, "The decision was mutual, and they remain supportive of one another and committed to raising their son as a family."

For Messing, the split was as amiable as it could be. In an interview with Ladies Home Journal (via Daily Mail), she said, "I am at peace with the journey we've had. I feel like the 20 years we had together has been a huge success. And despite the fact that everything is changing, I think everyone is thriving." She also confirmed that she and her ex-husband were completely focused on what was best for their son. 

Of course, the divorce meant that Messing's life changed completely. However, even though the divorce meant entering a new phase of life, she was excited for what it would bring. 

Debra Messing embraced the age of social media with her usual blunt, bold character

When Debra Messing began her career, social media was yet to be invented. Of course, these days, it's become a big part of our culture, so Messing has rolled with the times and began using social media. As she explained to InStyle, she used her platform to voice her opinions. "It would just really go against my nature to have this platform and to just sort of sit back and ignore it," she said.

In 2018, Messing retweeted a video of Susan Sarandon implying that Donald Trump had done some good for the country, writing, "STFU SUSAN." In 2017, she criticized The New York Times on Twitter, claiming that she'd canceled her subscription to the paper because of an article that she saw as being slightly pro-Trump. Messing has been so vocal on social media that she's received some criticism. In 2016, she tweeted an apology for an insensitive selfie in which she wore a shirt that read "Under the Gun" (the title of a documentary from Katie Couric) moments after a shooting (via New York Daily News).

Debra Messing felt 'gratitude' for the Will & Grace reboot

In 2017, "Will & Grace" returned for a long-awaited reboot. For Debra Messing, the chance to step into Grace's shoes once again was a pleasure. Not only did Messing get to play Grace again, but she also got to improve the character. As she told InStyle, she convinced the producers to make her a proud feminist.

For Messing, the reboot came at the perfect time. "There's a sense of gratitude for this show because things in our country are so divisive, confusing, and scary," she explained. Of course, it took Messing a little while before she felt like she could play Grace again. At first, she'd look down at herself in Grace's clothes or up at the "Will & Grace" set and wonder what she was doing back there. She told PopSugar, "That was very kind of scary, uncomfortable feeling." Apparently, after getting back into some physical comedy, she started to feel more at home in the role.

Debra Messing felt great about turning 50 after changing her lifestyle

For many women, aging is something to be feared. But for Debra Messing, it's something to celebrate. As she explained to Page Six, getting older had made her re-evaluate her lifestyle. She gave herself a more restrictive diet, cutting out sugar, alcohol, fried food, coffee, dairy, gluten, and grain. She said, "It was a lot at first. It was very difficult." Clearly, it paid off — the actress said that she felt incredible by the time she reached 50.

As she told InStyle in 2019, she was surprised to she felt "fantastic" when she turned 50. Turning 40, she explained, hadn't been nearly as good! 

On her 50th birthday, she posted a picture on Instagram, writing, "This is 50. And I feel pretty good about it." She went on to explain how her supportive group of friends had made the day feel special and how her father and her son were with her on her big day. "I feel lucky, blessed, & very grateful for the many generous souls in my life," she wrote.

Debra Messing took on a hugely challenging role in the 2020 play Birthday Candles

Theater was Debra Messing's first love, and even though she became a TV star, she was always drawn to the stage. In a video for PlayMakers Repertory in 2020, she said, "I love the theater. The theater challenges us and it makes us feel connected to humanity, and any chance I get, I try to get back on stage." In 2020, Messing did get a chance to return with the play "Birthday Candles." 

As she told The Gentlewoman, the experience proved to be one of the most memorable and challenging of her career. In fact, her character spans age 17 to 107 in the play and she never once exits the stage. In an interview with Broadway Direct, the actress explained that the role had jumped out at her from the beginning. "I have never been presented with a challenge like this, and I probably never will again," she said. "But when something scares the bejesus out of me, that's when I know I have to do it." While Grace Adler may be her most recognizable character, this will probably be one more part she'll always remember playing.

Debra Messing started a podcast to promote equality and social justice

In addition to her acting career, Debra Messing has been busy with another medium — podcasting. Along with Mandana Dayani, Messing co-founded the podcast "The Dissenters." The weekly podcast features interviews with "their heroes." As the official website explains, the podcast is meant to "give you the courage and hope to find your purpose and chase your passion."

As Messing explained to Entertainment Tonight, being the interviewer rather than the interviewee was a new, but rewarding experience. "I've always been a really curious person," she said. "It's extraordinary to be able to have these ... incredibly inspiring people sit in a room with me and they have to answer all my questions." She went on to explain that the experience had been hugely fulfilling and offered her a brand new perspective and outlet after her decades of acting.

The podcast also gave her the chance to become more political than ever. By the sounds of things, Debra Messing's transformation is just beginning.