Interview: DEBRA MESSING & HART BOCHNER from The Starter Wife

Hart Bochner, Debra Messing

A few weeks ago, Daemon’s TV and other press outlets were invited on the set of USA’s original series, THE STARTER WIFE, which premieres on October 10 at 9pm.

We got to speak with the cast about what is coming up this season. While Molly, Joan, and Rodney are back, Cricket and Sam are gone. As for Kenny, well he’s still here, but there has been a change of actor (in the miniseries Peter Jacobson portrayed Kenny, but he is now portrayed by David Basche).

This season also introduces a new love interest for Molly, Zach, portrayed by Hart Bochner. And this is the perfect time to introduce our first interview.

DEBRA MESSING (Molly) and HART BOCHNER (Zach) sat down with us to discuss their characters’ relationship, their favorite fantasy sequence, and much more. So sit down, relax, and enjoy the interview!

Can you talk a little bit about the first time that your character and Molly interacted and what the encounter was like?

Hart Bochner: Well, the first time we interact is at my writer’s workshop. I play a successful screenwriter and part of my issue is that I’m going through this period of being creatively blocked. And I think one of the ways out of it is to talk about the process and so I put together a group of published writers who come to my house once a week. So the first meeting, I requested that everybody read a portion of their published work. And Debra’s character Molly, is a published writer who has actually written a children’s pop-up book about sharks. And so I didn’t know that going in, but it’s not nearly as legitimate as some of the other writers. But she quickly finds her voice under, I guess my encouragement and tutelage and her work is quite surprising. She’s able to dig deep and into the depths of what she’s been going through and, you know, by virtue of the fact that we’re both recently divorced and we have these seven year old daughters that coincidentally go to school together, we find sort of this kinship. We’re both a bit wounded and shell shocked from these divorces and, you know, the thing about the character that Debra’s playing, which is also something that Debra brings to it is, both Debra and the character are quite adorable.
So for myself and for my character, it’s quite easy to develop this attraction to her. And while I’ve been having these dalliances with, you know, sort of younger babes, there’s something about this girl which hooks me. You know, she’s of substance and she’s interesting and she’s complex and she’s a bit neurotic, and all that makes for this very kind of adorable package. So we at first are trying to keep everything professional. But I can’t sort of stay away from her. You’d have to ask her what she thinks of me and my character, I can give you one side of it anyway.

Are there steamy love scenes? Do tell.

HB: Well, you’ll have to tune in but yeah, it does get quite passionate, yeah. And at first we have sort of an understanding which is, let’s just do the booty call thing and see how that works. But it evolves into something else for both of us. But you have to tune in, because I’m not supposed to [give it away].

Hart Bochner

What about your character’s back story? We heard that he comes from a divorce with a powerful woman.

HB: Yeah, I mean, he was one of those guys who, I think, lives in fear of becoming, you know, suffering from the Orson Welles syndrome. Sort of living your career backwards. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. His first screenplay gets made into a movie, he gets nominated for an Oscar and, you know, there’s that fear that most people in the creative areas feel, which is that they’re frauds and that they’re going to be found out and why were they chosen.
If you hit a dry patch in your career, all that starts to wreak havoc on you. So for Zach, my character, I think what he finds in Debra’s character, in Molly, is his muse. She gets him writing again! She taps into him emotionally in a way that makes him feel safe and admired and loved. Because he came from a marriage where his ex-wife was extremely powerful, and at one point in their relationship, with his then wife, he had the solid footing in his career and she was probably a D girl at development, junior development executive who suddenly became a high powered agent. And so she eclipsed his career. And there’s that, you know, that Fay Dunaway character in “Network,” where the Bill Holden character basically feels like he’s just a piece of meat and she’s not really interested in being in a relationship. And I think that that’s tough.
It’s tough for people, it’s tough for men, I can’t speak from a woman’s perspective. But it’s tough for men in the business to be involved with women in the business, because, you know, it’s a very cutthroat, competitive industry and you feel very often that someone is kind of—that you’re with, is sort of looking over your shoulder for something better. Or their agenda is their ambition, and everything else, it has to take, you know, a second position and that’s tough. And Molly, Debra’s character, as I said, discovers her writing voice fairly quickly and suddenly there’s a lot of attention that’s foisted upon [her].

What’s it like working with Debra [Messing]?

HB: I, from the bottom of my heart, as honest as I can be, I adore her! I have never had such a good time and every single day, I am more impressed than the previous day. She is, you know, considered, I guess, the Lucille Ball of her generation. But what people have yet to really give her credit for, that I know of, is that on a dime she can hit these dramatic beats so brilliantly, with such pathos. You know, it’s very rare to find someone, a woman who can be funny, or anybody who could be funny, but to be able to play both sides of the coin is a very rare gift and she’s phenomenal!
Yeah, it’s just been a blast. You know, I’ve never done a TV series before and I have been directing and so I had taken—sort of, when I started directing, I kind of quit acting for about seven or eight years. And then I directed a movie that came out earlier this year and then it was in India and it was, like, “Okay, what am I going to do next?” And this kind of presented itself to me so I was a bit rusty at first. But it’s just been fantastic.

[Debra Messing Joins the Q&A]

Debra Messing

[To Debra] So what’s it like working with this hunky guy?

Debra Messing: Eeeehaw! Well, you know, you said it, he’s hunky.

HB: Really?

DM: Yeah, he just doesn’t—

HB: I didn’t grow till I was fifteen so I—you know.

DM: He just doesn’t know it. He has a little—he’s got—but that makes it even more charming. It’s fantastic. I mean, we, you know, we laugh and I mean, when you spend sixteen hours a day together sometimes, you know, and it’s a relationship that is growing within the story, obviously a trust and a friendship is developed very quickly, if the chemistry is right and if you like the person. And I think that’s what’s happened with Hart. At least that’s—from my end. He may be saying behind—you know…

HB: Well, you missed it.

DM: Yeah, but, you know, I adore him and we’re having so much fun.

HB: There’s also something about Debra which is, these eyes. I was telling David Bashe, you know, who plays her ex-husband, yesterday, because something was going on in my life and he said, “Did you tell Debra?” And I said, “Well, you know, I look in those eyes and all of a sudden I just spill, I mean, I can’t help it.” So I mean, she knows, I think the world of her and this has just been the best, most pleasurable work experience I’ve ever had. You know, the expression, “the fish stinks from the head,” so she sets the tone from the beginning and it’s just been tremendous.

People have really nice things to say about you, so I was just wondering, how much do you pay them to say that?

[Laughter]

DM: Well, you know, that’s confidential, I had to sign confidentiality agreements regarding that. That’s, you know, that’s so nice to hear. Because I love everybody in our cast. I just, I was lucky, because as one of the executive producers, I was, for the first time ever, allowed to be a part of the process of the casting. And so, to work with people who, across the board, I have a deep respect for and a pure like for, it’s a rare thing. And you know, it’s a quality of life thing.
You spend so much of your life, for an intense period of time and so you want to be surrounded by people that are good people, and so I think we have a really great, diverse group of people who have something, each, something very unique to contribute.

Debra Messing

So it’s like putting on the producer hat for the first time. Like, doing both. What’s that like to explore?

DM: You know what? It’s been great. It’s been much harder and much more exhausting than I thought it would be. It’s almost like left brain, right brain. But it’s something that I think I’m good at and I don’t say that about many things. [laughs] But, you know, for me, all I can say is that it helps—I’m always invested in the work that I’m doing. But being able to have—to be a contributor, a collaborator, being able to have my voice heard and considered. Not necessarily always followed, but just having a forum to speak up creatively about something, it’s just made me that much more invested. And makes me care that much more about the project and I am so proud of it. I think it’s going to be great.

Originally you didn’t really want to be involved in an actual series. What made you change your mind?

DM: Ultimately the writing. I think everything always comes back to the writing, for me. I wanted to take, like, five years off after “Will and Grace” and then we went to Australia for the miniseries and Josie and Sara, you know, they did the writing for that and they are now our show runners. And it was a very fertile and fun and intimate, creative experience, doing this in Australia with them. And we just hit it off and afterwards, we never expected it to go on and we said to each other, “Okay, we are going to work together again. This works. The three of us works. We don’t know when, we don’t know on what, but we’re going to do it.”
And so when I got the call that they were looking into it, I just thought, you know what? This is a unique situation, because usually when you start a job like this, when you’re signing on for years, it’s a leap of faith. You don’t have any idea, beyond the pilot, of what this thing is going to become or what it’s like to work with the people. And I had had the luxury of already doing six episodes with the show runners and so I felt like, you know, I know most of the cast and love them, and I love this character and I am interested to know where it’s going. So I took my cowardice hat off and did it.

Can you talk a little bit about where Molly’s career is at this season?

DM: Well, you know, Molly is now a single mom and needs to find a career and a way of supporting herself and her child. And she, as you knew in the miniseries, she was a children’s book author. At the end of the miniseries, she came out, finally, with her second book and you learned that it did not sell, at the beginning of the series.
And so that is really no longer an avenue. But Molly is a rabid writer in her journal, every day, and from that, you know, Hart [Bochner] plays the father of one of my child’s best friends and so we meet in school, at one of the parent- teacher things. But he’s a famous writer and is teaching a writing seminar and so I decide, you know what? I’ll try it and I’ll see if that’s right for me, if there’s something here and—there’s something there.

[Laughter]

Do you journal in real life?

DM: You know, I don’t. I paused, because honestly, I probably own about twenty-three journals. I have a thing for stationery and, like, pens and journals and paper. There’s something intimate about that, versus a computer, and I’ve always loved the idea of journaling. But then I never find the time to do it. And then I do, and I’ll find these journals and it’ll be, like, you know, February 23rd, 1997. Then the next thing will be August 5th, 2001 and I’ll be, like, well, this is no fun.

Hart Bochner, Debra Messing

Can you guys both talk about your favorite fantasy sequences?

HB: Well, I think I’ve been involved in three or four of them at this point and—

DM: You’ve done more than I have?

HB: Is that right? We did one—well, we did one yesterday that was surreal, which was, “A Few Good Men.” And Debra played Jack Nicholson and I played Tom Cruise. And she was in ultra channel mode. I mean, she walked on set and was, like, this is, like, this is drill sergeant, it was intense, it was brilliant. It was absolutely brilliant. It was just scary.
And then we did one, we did “Body Heat,” which I thought was kind of a blast.

DM: Oh, I loved it. I loved doing “Body Heat.” And he was a brilliant William Hurt. He was a brilliant Tom Cruise last night. You’re really good at these and you’re much more subtle than I am, you know. I’m just like, blah! Here I am! And he’s just like—he’s more subtle and you’re, like, oh, that really is William Hurt.

HB: Hopefully with a better hairline.

DM: It’s the most fun day of the week, of the episode, every episode, for me. Because, you know, it’s such an extraordinary opportunity to be able to just play and to be able to dive into the worlds of these very recognizable movies and it’s fun for the audience and it’s equally fun for us, as the actors and the writers.

May I ask what “Body Heat” scene you did?

DM: The one where the chair gets thrown through the glass. But there’s a twist. You’ll have to see it.

HB: We also did—should we tell them about “Hello Molly”?

DM: Oh, that was literally a dream come true for me.

HB: It was a nightmare come true for me. I had to go to Sony and pre-record the vocals and then learn it, it was, like, I wouldn’t even chant at my Bar Mitzvah. I refused, I had to go in and meet the rabbi who said, “Is there a problem here?” I said, “Yes, there is. It’s my day and I ain’t singing!”

DM: Yeah, meanwhile—I was a hoofer when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Broadway triple threat and so for that one day my dream came true and I was Carol Channing and we were down in downtown Las Angeles in this just magnificent old theatre. And we had the velvet staircase. We had chorus boys and, I mean, the entire cast, you know, singing and dancing and it was insane. It was insane. And I think it actually was one of our most successful ones that we’ve done.

HB: I walked on the set and she was in full Carol Channing regalia.

DM: With lips like this.

HB: Who the hell? And she’s smiling at me. She’s up on the stairs with the wig and everything, and I’m, like, no. Oh, my—you looking at me? What’s going on? It was tremendous. It was tremendous.

Is there one fantasy that either of you have requested or would like to do?

DM: Well, I would really love to do a silent movie.

HB: Oh, that’s a good idea.

DM: Lillian Gish of some kind, you know, and just have the little subtitles underneath. I can’t name one movie, I have no idea, but I just, you know, just the idea of it excites me.

Do you think you’ll sell them on that idea?

DM: Yeah, yeah, I do. What do you think? What would be a good one?

HB: You know, I don’t have—David [Basche] said, you know which one you should do? He said that we should do Bond. You should do a Bond girl and I should be James Bond.

DM: Oh, that would be good. Last night he said that he wanted the three of us to do “Goodfellas.” I’m De Niro, you’re Liotta and he’s Pesci.

HB: That would be great, stabbing the guy in the trunk, that would be good.

[Hart Bochner leaves]

So people have been talking about your son coming to the set, what’s that like and how are you juggling?

DM: You know, especially with the economy the way it is right now, most mothers in America are working mothers. It’s just a fact. And so I’m exactly like every other mother who is struggling with that balance of wanting to be a full time mom and wanting to be able to do the work that you love and you also need to do.
So just like everyone else, I think I just take it one day at a time. I have the privilege of being able to have him with me at my work every day, and I know that that’s a luxury. And so, the one thing I’ll say is that—you know, when a little child comes on the set, everybody just sort of lightens up. Sort of puts a smile on even sort of the dourest of faces, you know, after fourteen hours of work and everyone’s tired and exhausted and then he comes on. It’s a breath of fresh air.

And how helpful is your husband? Because I know he works on “Damages.”

DM: Well, he’s doing everything he can too. We have always been partners, equal partners in doing the parenting. So we’re doing the best we can.

Debra Messing

And as far as the show goes, I was reading that Molly is going to be dealing with the shared parenting with her ex, Kenny. How does that play out through the season?

DM: Oh, you know, it’s been really fun. David [Basche] is hilarious and I think David obviously had the hardest job, because he had to replace somebody. He wasn’t creating a new character. And he came in and he just—he’s brilliant, and we have so much fun together. And, you know, knowing the character from the miniseries, he’s not the easiest of personalities to contend with. Which only makes it more fun.
So, I think you can expect that Molly and Kenny will have differing ideas about what’s appropriate for their child. They have to deal with going to school functions and sharing custody and wanting to switch days. You know, someone was supposed to pick her up at school and—all of the things that I think divorced parents who have kids and they share custody, deal with. Just with the gas turned up on the stove, just a little bit more.

Do you have a favorite travel destination?

DM: Oh, my goodness. One of the most memorable trips I made and I want to go back, is to Fez, Morocco. That was just inspiring, fascinating. I want to go—I’ve been saying this in the last, probably for ten years, everyone’s probably sick of it, because I still haven’t done it, but I want to go to Africa. I want to go on safari. I still haven’t had time because I’ve been working! One of these days.