Remember the woman in Stardust Memories who tells Woody Allen that she liked his earlier, funny pictures? Or the old lady on the pay phone in The King of Comedy who begs Jerry Lewis to say hello to her nephew, and when he demurs, she 180s, ”You should only get cancer. I hope you get cancer!” These characters always seemed so implausible to me. What person, faced with a fave artist, would so use their brief moment together? Welcome to celebrity: more humbling than you’d think.
My first real brush with it was the woman who asked for an autograph at the NBC upfronts, months before Will & Grace even aired. ”I can’t read that,” she sniffed. ”Well, that’s my signature,” I smiled. ”There’s a difference between a signature and an autograph!” she snapped.
W&G hit big, but there were always people to keep me grounded. The lady who demanded I stop being contrary and just sign the damn photo…of Thomas Gibson. The pimply blond dude who assured me, ”All my friends say I look like Will.” The man in the Montana ice cream shop: ”You look like that kid from Friends,” he mused. ”No, I don’t.” ”You do,” he insisted, ”you look like that kid from Friends.” ”Nooo,” I said, ”I look like the guy from Will & Grace.” He leaned closer, examining my features…then shook his head. ”Not so much.”
Airports are a hotbed of humanity…and humility. Having just landed at LAX after a horrific flight, my then-infant son wailing in my arms, a girl approached me. ”I have to ask,” she began. ”Sorry,” I said, ”I’m kinda in the weeds here.” ”I know,” she continued, ”I just have to ask… How on earth does Debra Messing get her hair like that?”
The most educational moments are what I call the buildup/beat-down. The restaurant hostess in Vegas who screamed, ”I’ve seen every episode a thousand times, you are my total, total favorite!” ”Thanks,” I blushed. ”I have a reservation.” ”Oh my God!” she cheered, then looked down at her list. ”Name?” I stared back at her. ”You…don’t know my name?” She shrugged. ”I don’t read the credits.”
Nothing beats the theater for keepin’ it real. In Some Girl(s), I played a classic Neil LaBute A-hole opposite four actresses. As the last one, Maura Tierney, exited, leaving me alone on stage, an old guy in the front row turned to his wife and sighed, ”Well, the women were terrific…”
I’m just finishing another Broadway run, playing another bastard, in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, and hearing nightly from the ladies outside, ”You were amazing…but I think I like you better gay.” Hopefully they’ll embrace my new character, Dr. Daniel Pierce, on TNT’s Perception. Or as a woman on Eighth Avenue said yesterday, ”I’m looking forward to Prescription!” You and me both, ma’am.