Debra Messing Opens Up About the End of Her Marriage: ‘It Was Traumatic’

Suzy Byrne

Talk about bad timing. Five years after "Will & Grace" went off the air, Debra Messing was gearing up for her big return to network television on "Smash," and just when she was about to embark on a publicity whirlwind to promote the NBC show, news leaked that she had quietly ended her marriage to her college sweetheart, Daniel Zelman, with whom she has a 8-year-old son, Roman.

"It's hard to go through a change in your personal life as big as this anyway," Messing, 43, says in the June issue of Ladies' Home Journal. "But to do it when Smash is premiering, when I'm back at work after almost two years, is not ideal."

Messing wasn't ready to talk about the end of her relationship back then — opting only to release a statement through her rep saying "the decision was mutual" and they were "committed to raising their son as a family" — but now that the dust has settled she is ready to address the topic. "Twenty years. It's a very long time," she tells the magazine. "When I say the move to New York [for 'Smash'] was traumatic, it was traumatic because every aspect of my life was going through a huge change. It's a new chapter in my personal life. I'm walking a path I've never walked before. But I'm optimistic. Every thought is dictated by what's best for our son. We are completely on the same page in that regard. We are dear friends. And 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."

Messing met Zelman, who is an executive producer for the show "Damages," when they were undergrads at New York University and married in 2000. When they announced their separation in December, they were actually still living together with plans to slowly transition into a different living situation. When asked by the magazine if her marriage ended because they grew apart, she replied: "No. I think the institute of marriage is a noble thing. I think the idea of a partner for life is incredibly romantic. But now we're living to 100. A hundred years ago people were dying at age 37. Til death do us part was a much different deal."

Just a week after her separation announcement, Messing was linked to her "Smash" co-star Will Chase, who had recently ended his own marriage. The new couple has since hit the red carpet together, most recently attending a Broadway event last month. While she doesn't comment on him in the interview, she does talk about life after divorce. "I know myself better than I ever have before," she says. "I feel more attractive now than I have in a long time. I feel healthier and stronger… I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible — embracing saying 'no' and being okay with people being unhappy with me." Something she hasn't been doing is exercising. Believe it or not, the slender star doesn't work out. "I don't exercise — that's something I struggle with. I'm naturally lean and I'm constantly walking. I'll exercise in spurts, usually inspired by a dress that I have to fit into. But once that gown is squeezed into, if I continue to exercise, I get sick or I pull my back. For some reason my body literally rejects exercise."

Although she has an incredible resume — most notably her quirky character from "Will & Grace," which won her an Emmy, and now playing Julia on "Smash" — the actress does talk about the role that got away. "When 'Will & Grace' hit, it completely changed all of our lives," she tells the magazine. " We had people hiding in the bushes; we were on the cover of magazines. But when I read an amazing script for a film that was shooting during my hiatus — it was 'A Beautiful Mind' (the role that went to Jennifer Connelly) — I had to fight to get a meeting. They said, 'Oh no, she's funny, she's a TV girl.' I can't fault Ron Howard for looking at Grace and thinking, 'I don't see it.' That's how the world saw me. At some point you have to come to terms with, This is where I am in this community. I'm in a privileged position. But there's always going to be someone in a more privileged position than me."

The June issue of Ladies' Home Journal hits newsstands on May 8.

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