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Year in Review / COVER STORY

It's Not Easy Being Jack

Concerned he'll be pegged forever as the 'Will & Grace' diva, Sean Hayes looks to branch out.

December 24, 2000|WILLIAM KECK | William Keck is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

Turns out there was some validity to 1999's onslaught of end-of-the-millennium prophecies. True, we didn't go "kaboom," but 2000 did see "Cats" close on Broadway and Brad Pitt's goodbye to bachelorhood, and after four sold-out concerts, Barbra Streisand won't be singing us love songs anymore.

And as if that weren't wrenching enough, Celine Dion was nowhere to be found. How do we cope? "Trust me," assures "Will & Grace's" flamboyantly fierce, fabulously fictitious Jack McFarland. "Our hearts will go on."

If only we all could view the year's events through Jack's mauve-colored specs. While copies of People magazine and US Weekly flew off newsstands promising exclusive details on the glam weddings of Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and, more recently, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jack kicked back on his sofa submerged in the latest issue of Out. "Snore," he says of celeb couplings. "Call me when Ben Affleck marries Matt Damon."

It's no secret that Jack adores Cher and will always hold a special place in his heart for "the Creek's" James Van Der Beek, but the guy is not all about pop culture. Not completely in the closet when it comes to matters of politics, Jack says he draws "inspiration" from Hillary Clinton's election to Congress ("The woman has almost single-handedly brought back the muted-toned power suit") and dreads the thought of four more years with a Bush in the White House: "I'm riding Alec Baldwin to France," he quips.

Jack's take on life? So honest. So tell-it-as-it-is. So completely . . . gay! Jack's not just openly gay--he's open-24-hours-a-day gay. And we can't imagine him as anything but, which is exactly the reason the man who plays him, Sean P. Hayes ("Can we put the P for Patrick in?"), doesn't want us to know his own sexual preference--ever. Or at least for the duration of his acting career.

"If I play a character that is supposed to be in love with a woman, then hopefully you'll believe that, and if I'm supposed to be in love with a man, then hopefully you'll believe that," Hayes babbles, just as he's repeated ad nauseam in interviews again and again and again since 1998 when he was cast on "Will & Grace," NBC's hit sitcom about the friendships involving gay Will (Eric McCormack), straight Grace (Debra Messing), Jack and Karen (Megan Mullally).

So save yourself the trouble of scanning this article for sexual revelations or Ellen DeGeneresian politico statements. Ain't gonna happen here, folks.

Hayes wants to alter America's perception of him as "Just Jack," his snappy, slightly bitter "halter"-ego. See the rough-around-the-edges lumberjack threads he sports: the plaid shirt and jeans. The unshaven face. The black tank-top rocker look he wore to the My VH1 Music Awards in November.

As for "Will & Grace," a show he adores, Hayes can see himself sliding away from it should the series go beyond six or seven seasons--a near certainty judging by its current ratings and buzz. "Some days," muses Hayes, "it seems like I could do it for 15 years. Then other days it seems I can only do it until next week."

*

On this particular warm December day, the actor is clean-shaven, but that's just because he had to play Jack the night before in a "Three's Company"-like story line that airs during the February sweeps in which Jack and Karen find a letter misleading them to believe Grace is a bipolar personality prone to extreme violence. But his dress is notably different from his TV persona: a navy Georgetown baseball cap, worn khakis and an Abercrombie & Fitch Athletics T-shirt.

"Sean is really hunky, but he never shows it," says "Will & Grace's" McCormack. "He has a great body, and he hides it under big clothing: A, because we don't want Jack to be too hunky, but B, because he does that in life--and I don't know what that's all about." A gym enthusiast, Hayes says his producers have warned him against getting too buff, for fear of Jack losing his "twinkie" appeal.

Clearly his own harshest critic, Hayes says, "Looks-wise, I'm blessed by being an extremely average-looking guy. I think if you're extremely chiseled, that breeds even more insecurity because you're expected to look like that the rest of your life."

Hayes may fall short of lumberjack status--and has himself said he'll never play a cop or a firefighter--but his appetite is very much Midwest manly. In the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, he orders the hearty country meatloaf with sides of mashed potatoes and corn, boasting, "Thank God, I'm a country boy" to the waitress, who leaves the table giggling.

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