Debra Messing: No Fear of Failure

For Debra Messing, winning and losing are both valuable tools for learning. With a new home, a new boyfriend and new career choices, the star of Smash and Will Grace talks about taking risks and learning to love “the gift of change”

by Leah Rozen
debra messing image
Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers tuxedo shirt and silk tie; brooksbrothers .com. Ralph Lauren Collection suede heels; ralphlauren.com. Martin Katz 18k gold ring with white and yellow diamonds; martinkatz.com.
Photograph: Ari Michelson

On the personal front, celebrity is easier now. “I’m in my forties, so the media has a different interest in me than when I was 30,” she says. “It’s more about the journey, lessons and perspective, and that’s something I’m much more comfortable sharing.”

As long as we’re sharing, would she care to discuss dating Mr. Chase? Messing erupts in a huge laugh. Nope, nice try, but she’s not going there. (When Chase starred earlier this year in a Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he included a “Love to Debra” shout-out in his program bio.)

She is more willing to discuss the dissolution of her marriage. She and Zelman wed in 2000, after falling for each other nine years earlier, when both were at NYU. The marriage floundered when they spent three years working on opposite coasts. Messing was in L.A. starring in the USA network’s The Starter Wife, and her husband was in New York producing Damages. “We really tried,” she says. “We made sacrifices and compromises, and in the end we both realized that we like the day-to-day domestic life.”

By the time they were both in New York, it was too late. “Now we are coparenting beautifully,” she says, mentioning that Zelman lives a few blocks from her. “We had Thanksgiving together. In my mind, we will be a nuclear family forever.”

Messing is committed to remaining in New York, where, she says, her son has flourished: “I think it has toughened him up a little and made him more independent.” She has signed to star in and coproduce a sitcom pilot for CBS in which she’ll play a woman prone to lying. If neither Smash, which has first priority, nor the pilot is picked up, what’s next? “I don’t know, I say with a smile on my face,” she says. “And it’s OK that I don’t know. I’m willing to wait for the thing that stirs my soul.”

To her surprise, the uncharted road ahead doesn’t frighten her. She has learned in the past few years that “as scary as change can be and as much as I might resist it, there’s always some unknown gift that comes out of it. I really never thought you could begin again. You can.” She pauses and then repeats, for emphasis, “You can!”

LEAH ROZEN last profiled Connie Britton for More.

First published in the June 2013 issue

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