The new Will & Grace revival just went into production last week—and has already announced a Season 2—but beyond the (refreshing, if surprising) news that the series will ignore the events of the finale and return with its title characters single and living together again, there’s not much known about what the show’s funny foursome will be up to when the series returns in September after 11 years.
Sean Hayes, however, did give us a little scooplet about his Jack McFarland when we sat down with the actor in Los Angeles last week, a day after the revival’s first table read. Having long graduated from his “Just Jack” days performing one-night only stage shows, in the reboot Jack will be peddling a new, saucily-named method of acting.
“I can share one piece of information with you, which is he has graduated in life to being a teacher,” Hayes tells us. “He has branded a form of acting called Jackting, and he will be teaching that to his students.”
When we let out a hearty laugh and ask if we should read anything into the method’s vaguely pornographic name, the Emmy winner winks and says, “I can’t tell you what Jackting involves, but I know everybody will be able to do it.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time our favorite sweater vest-wearing, work-starved aspiring actor has abided by the wisdom of “those who can’t do, teach.”
In the original series, he briefly teaches the “McFarland Method” of acting (key lesson: “acting is attracting”). In Season 7, he even learns that one of his former students, played by Stacy Keach, has taken over the class and has been teaching the McFarland Method without Jack’s knowledge.
Throughout the show he also worked as a student nurse, a sales clerk at Barney’s and Banana Republic, a cater waiter, a magician, a junior executive at a gay television network called OutTV, a talk show host, a back-up dancer for Jennifer Lopez (and, for a short time, Janet Jackson), and even as a real, working actor, in the role of Detective Chuck Rafferty on the TV drama The Badge.
That’s to say that Jack has always lived in a state of arrested development, something that Hayes and Will & Grace co-creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick say won’t have changed too much when the reboot begins airing. That’s part of the reason the revival will pretend the events of the finale never happened.
The original series finale jumps ahead in time to show that Will and Grace are not only respectively married with children, but also estranged. They reunite after bumping into each other while dropping their kids off at college. As for Jack, he was forced into a relationship with Karen’s elfin nemesis, Beverly Leslie (Leslie Jordan), after Karen is bankrupted and demand Jack marry Beverly for money. When Beverly dies after being swept off his balcony in a gust of wind, Jack and Karen move in together, which the finale shows is still the case in the flash-forward.
“The question we asked ourselves was if we were just watching the show, what would we want? What would the people who care about the show want?” Kohan told The Daily Beast. “If children were in the mix, we wouldn’t be able to write the thing that the four of them do the best, which is be together as friends.”
Mutchnick echoed that the election special the cast reunited for last fall cemented the idea: “I think the reaction to the online video that we made told us everything, because that was just seeing them back together as friends.”
Interestingly, that going-back-to-basics approach initially made Hayes hesitant about the idea of revisiting Jack more than a decade later—and with the character mostly unchanged.
“I said to Max and David, ‘I don’t think I could do this. Because I’ve grown up so much,’” Hayes tells us. “I’m so immersed in this business, the entertainment business, because I’m producing. I am so different from the character now that that’s going to be my challenge, just in terms of energy and point of view.”
(Since Will & Grace ended, Hayes has emerged as one of TV’s most prolific executive producers, with NBC’s Grimm, TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, the long-running game show Hollywood Game Night, and CNN’s documentary series The History of Comedy under his belt.)
Obviously, Hayes has come around to the idea.
“I like that Jack hasn’t changed that much,” he says. “We all have friends like that. My friend who I’ve been friends with since I was 14 years old, she hasn’t changed at all. That means I haven’t changed at all. At the core, we’re all the same. I think that’s what people might find with these characters. Sure, we may look a little older, but we’re still kind of the same.”
One thing that has changed: there have been other gay TV characters and shows about the gay experience since Will & Grace aired. How does Hayes think the way those portrayals have evolved might affect the way we look at the characters of Will and Jack now?
“I don’t think it’s as much of a story anymore, which is a positive thing,” he says, about the landmark nature of these gay characters. “I don’t think them being gay is the focal point. It kind of was by proxy, you know? But now it’s going to be about other things that affect gay people.”
“There are many gifts to comedy that come out of Washington every day,” he continues. “And there are many gifts to comedy that come out of other social movements that aren’t political that we’re going to have the opportunity to shed light on.”