Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when "Will & Grace" was at the height of its powers, Sean Hayes -- who played the flamboyant Jack McFarland -- was famously mum about his own sexuality. As times have changed, so has Hayes' public response: he acknowledged his homosexuality in a cover story for "The Advocate" in 2010, though he stressed that he was never hiding anything. "I am who I am," he said. "I was never in, as they say. Never."
"Will & Grace" played a role in how people view the gay community, and something I've always wanted to ask Hayes about is how his past stance might be different if "Will & Grace" had premiered ten years later. Unfortunately, this did not go quite as planned, after Hayes and I got off on the wrong foot when I wouldn't tell him my opinions of his new movie, "The Three Stooges."
What I will say here about "The Three Stooges" is that Hayes' performance of Larry Fine is remarkable. The voice, the look, the mannerisms -- Hayes nails the part. Here, in an often cantankerous back and forth, Hayes discusses what went into capturing the essence of Larry and, yes, when he asked my opinion of his film, he doesn't particularly approve of my answer.
Hey, Sean. How are you?
I'm good. How are you?
Good. I just finished the screening about an hour ago -- so it's really fresh in my head. Have you now seen every "Three Stooges" short? Because your take on Larry is uncanny.
Well, Michael, the first thing you should say after telling an actor you just walked out of the movie is if you loved it or hated it.
Well ... you know, I can't reveal ...
That's like saying, "Hey, Mike, I got you a new car. But, wait a minute. One second."
Well, there is journalistic integrity. I'm not supposed to let you know that either way.
I want to keep you on edge.
I'm sorry you didn't like it. OK, so what is the question?
I did not say that. But I was asking that you had to have watched hours and hours of Larry Fine.
Of course. How else would you do it? Yes, we watched almost every single short -- not just once. And I also had a lot of help from Billy West. Do you know him? Billy West in an incredibly brilliant voiceover actor. He does "Futurama." He does "Ren & Stimpy."And nobody does a better Larry Fine than he does. It was a lot of work, but fun work. And I enjoy a challenge.
Larry was always my favorite Stooge. He seemed the most reasonable.
Well, when you're young, your eye is always drawn to Curly -- his physical largeness and also his comedy largeness. Then, as you get older, my eyes kind of went to Larry. You realize, "Wow, he was so in it." He was so present. He would improvise in almost every scene -- just the smallest, most subtle movements. He seemed to be the most real and react the most real.
He was the closest they had to a straight man. Of the three, he was the least of a caricature.
Yes. That's a very good way to say it. He was the least of a caricature, even though they were all playing heightened versions of themselves.
What was the hardest thing to get down?
The voice. To me, I didn't even know where to start. There was nothing distinctive about his voice. I mean, everyone can imitate Curly, "soitenly!"
That was pretty good, actually.
And Moe is actually a little more difficult and I thought Chris did a good job. But Larry, in the way he was in the background of the three physically, he was in the background vocally.
It would be like if someone told me, "Do a Sean Hayes impression." It's like, "OK, what does that mean?"
Yeah, exactly. And Larry was very much that way. You know who's great at that? A lot of "Saturday Night Live" cast members who imitate something in popular culture, then everyone else imitates the imitation.
George W. Bush doesn't actually sound like Will Ferrell's Bush, but that's the impression everyone does.
Did you ever get poked in the eye?
Of course. Oh my God, so many physical problems. Will [Sasso] got the crap beat out of him. Chris [Diamantopoulos] almost broke his back during that theater slapfest where we slapped the crap out of each other. Just the slapping -- my jaw. And just the shaving of my head every day.
How were the cast from "The Jersey Shore"? I know Chris did the most with them, but if I were told, "You're going to be working with them," I'm not sure how I would react to that.
We were like, "Oh, what's 'The Jersey Shore' doing in the script? But in true Peter and Bobby Farrelly fashion, they know better than anybody. And after it was done and we shot it, it was like, "Well, that's really fucking funny." That's hilarious that they're in the movie and Moe interacts with them. And I think it's wish fulfillment that they all get slapped around.
And microwaved. That was a dream come true for a lot of people to see. But, it turns out, they are all very, very nice people.
There's something I've wanted to ask you for awhile. It's more personal than movie related.
Listen, I'll have no problem telling you that I rather talk about the movie.
Oh, OK ...
So shoot, and if I don't want to, we'll talk about the movie.
Fair enough. When "Will & Grace" was on, people made a big deal that Eric McCormack was married. But you were always ambiguous. You're open about it now, but if "Will & Grace" were on today, would you handle that differently? I feel things have changed quite a bit since the '90s, but I've always been curious about your perspective.
What is "it" and "that"?
I'm guessing that's me being unnecessarily delicate based on what you said right before I asked the question.
It's 2012, you can say the word "gay."
I'll rephrase: If "Will & Grace" were on in 2012, would you have still been ambiguous about being gay?
Well, the show wasn't about me being gay or not.
Well, I know that. Look, today, Neil Patrick Harris has no problem being on a sitcom without people talking about his sexuality. Back then, for whatever reason, your sexuality was a story. Today, from your perspective because you went through this, does it matter?
For an actor to be gay? I just think ... no.
OK, last thing. You mentioned earlier the voice being difficult. But there's a lot of choreography. What was the toughest routine to learn?
Of the routines? There was one that didn't make it into the final cut of the movie, but it's near the buffet table. Actually, it's in the new trailer. And that took a while just to get down and you appreciate the efforts and how time consuming the choreography was that went into all of those routines created by the original Three Stooges. But, now, we're just imitating. They laid the groundwork, but we had to do it ourselves. But, in doing it, you realize how difficult it is.
Was there ever an urge to amp it up? Like, "They did it this way, maybe we'll take it to another level"?
I think the idea was always, "Don't fix what's not broken." We just tried to stay true to an authentic to who the Three Stooges were and present them in this updated modern world. And I think the combination of the two, actually, surprisingly, worked extremely well. And I was so pleasantly surprised when I finally saw the film in that, "Wow, it actually worked." It's hilarious, charming and touching for all ages. So, that was the intent of the movie.
Well, again, as the person playing my favorite Stooge, it was really uncanny. It felt like watching Larry Fine.
Oh, thanks. I really appreciate that, Mike.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter