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Most of us can only imagine what we’d say to our younger self if we had the chance for a face-to-face meeting, courtesy of a rift in the space/time continuum. Will & Grace star Sean Hayes actually got to have that conversation … minus the whole “rift in the space/time continuum” part. In “Grandpa Jack” — the fourth episode of the hit NBC sitcom’s revival season, which recently arrived on DVD — Hayes’s alter ego, Jack McFarland, has a touching conversation with the grandson he never knew he had, Skip (Jet Jurgensmeyer). Like his grandad before him, young Skip is questioning his sexuality, and while Jack doesn’t have all the answers, he does have life-based advice to impart. “It was hard for me once, too,” he tells his grandson in a rare sober moment for the normally giddy Jack. “But believe me, it gets better.” Should Hayes receive his latest Best Supporting Actor Emmy nomination — an award he was nominated for seven consecutive times during Will & Grace‘s original 1998-2006 run (he took home the prize following the show’s second season) — don’t be surprised if this is the clip that plays at the ceremony.
While the speech is specifically delivered to Skip, Hayes tells Yahoo Entertainment that during shooting, he was aware that he was speaking to a much larger audience — including his childhood self. “I always wish someone had said that to me at a young age,” says the 47-year-old actor, who came out in 2010. “There’s strength to be had in discovering it for yourself, but boy, it would have been an easier road if somebody had said those words to me. There’s so much power in words, so much power in messages, and so much power in comedy. If you can get your message across through laughter, it holds more weight. I wanted to make sure that message resonated with any kid who was watching and struggling with their own identity.”
In both its initial run and this most recent season, Will & Grace has never shied away from delivering pointed political and social messages. And as Hayes tells us, “Grandpa Jack” was specifically written to target conversion therapy camps that promise to alter young kids’ sexual orientation, often at the behest of their parents. In the episode, Jack’s son, Elliot (Michael Angarano) — originally introduced in Season 3 as the product of Jack’s decades-old sperm donation — and his wife, Emma (Natalie Dreyfuss), are passing through New York en route to taking Skip to one of these camps with the hopes of making him “normal.” Hayes makes no attempt to hide his feelings about the fact that such places continue to operate, even as their methods and messages have been repeatedly exposed as ugly and harmful. “It’s a disgusting method that should be shut down forever. It’s only proven to ruin lives; it does nothing to better anyone’s life.”
With Will (Eric McCormack) by his side, Jack turns up at the camp — which, in a pointed casting choice, is run by a married couple played by two openly gay actors, Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells — and stops Skip’s “conversion” in its tracks. Despite the scene’s importance to the episode and to Hayes personally, the actor says that he and Jurgensmeyer didn’t require extensive rehearsals ahead of time. “At the expense of sounding like a pompous actor, we are the vessels to deliver the words, so you let the words work for you and be as honest as you can. And we have the greatest writers in the business. The show has always been under the umbrella of relevancy, so anything that’s relevant — sex, politics, pop culture, religion — is going to be discussed again because the characters live in the same world as the audience.”
If anything, real-world events will ensure that Will & Grace continues to remain relevant when it returns for its next season this fall. As to whether Skip will return, Hayes is all for another grandpa-to-grandson talk, especially since “Grandpa Jack” leaves their relationship in a dramatically rich place, with Skip expressing some frustration with Jack’s “It gets better” advice. “What do I do now?” he asks unhappily, to which Jack replies, “You’re just gonna have to be really strong. I’m going to be there for you as much as I can.” Hayes echoes his character’s advice when discussing what he’d say to people who are having trouble waiting for things to get better. “The most you can do is to share your story with people, but you can’t do the work for them. You have to do the work for yourself and educate yourself further and figure out what does that mean for you individually. You can’t save everybody, but you can definitely help by sharing your story and inspiring them that way.”
Will & Grace is currently streaming on Hulu and is also available on DVD.
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