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Messing Up

May 31, 2007 By:
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Debra Messing is the focus of "The Starter Wife," flanked at top by Judy Davis (left) and Miranda Otto
The Indianapolis 500 may be history, but the race to the finish line for many is a startling starting-pistol-shot to the heart:

Gentlemen, start your ex-es!

But there's nothing gentlemanly about husbands whose zoom-zoom to the zenith of the zeitgeist involves uncoupling the cars that brought them to the race to begin with.

And for many men in Hollywood, those are the "starter wives," women who polish their egos and are left holding the rag of a flag at the end, losing their men to the newer models with a better vroom with a view.

Debra Messing starts the series going as "The Starter Wife," in which she portrays a Hollywood wife whose schnook of a spouse snookers her after making enough fame and fortune to fork over his ego and libido to a lithe lass whose cup size runneth over.

And that's just how Molly Kagan (Messing) feels, run over by a runt of a husband (Peter Jacobson) in a race where the bimbomobile passes her by with its better-oiled engine fueled by an unctuous ex on his way to checkered-flag sex.

The six-hour series gets under way May 31, continuing Thursdays through June 28 on USA, where the transformation of Kagan from blah to rah would hearten Helen Redding.

But, c'mon, who wants to be messing with Messing, a smart Brandeis U. grad with an MFA from NYU and a wow of a summa cum lauded resume in which she's on a first-name basis with Emmy? The amazing Grace of sitcom TV knows from victory laps, but now, in a town of tattered tinsel where lap dances are considered sport, can her Molly mollify the pain of what it means to be shoved into a drawer as an Ex-File?

Based on the novel of the same name by Gigi Levangie Grazer, also the mini-series producer, there's more than a soupçon of super reality related to the movie. Grazer is a Hollywood wife -- married to Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer -- but don't imagine her for a minute to be the arm candy that sweetens a producer's panache.

Novel Ideas
The author has had a triumphant triptych of best-selling books and her latest, Queen Takes King, is just a chess move from store shelves, due to come out this September.

But is Kagan the quintessential pawn?

Depends on her next move in a town where queens rarely can take a king without being knocked off the board -- or charity committee.

Queen for a daze? Check this mate: The happily wed Messing is a Ms. with a mission here, and doesn't mind putting distance -- geographical and emotional -- between her New York-bred Grace and the West Coast of Mollywood.

Messing's up for the transformation: "Subversive, a little perverse, a little mocking" is how the Providence, R.I., native daughter talks of the road taken here in depicting Hollywood in its most nefarious neon.

Oy vey for Hollywood? Will losing her wealthy husband transpose the lifestyle from wine spritzers to keggers for Kagan? What's a wife to do after years of whining and dining?

"I felt something very universal about what Molly was going through and incredibly painful seeing a woman who was so 'successful' in her life as a partner and wife to this incredibly successful man and everything she contributed to his success to be just discarded. And to have all of the respect that had been hers with him sort of walk away with him."

Her own walk down the aisle with screenwriter Daniel Zelman had a Jewish chupah awaiting them at the end of the line. But it was just the beginning for a solid, soulful marriage in which the movie Molly is now a real-life Momma, taking strength not stress from her state of the union.

Just don't get Messing started on real-life "starter wives." Know them? They're hanging from every Hollywood and vine in the area, she says: "All you have to do is walk down Rodeo Drive" to lasso one.

"That world is very real; and there are rules about how you behave, how you dress and how you're supposed to look. Even though the 'starter wives' aren't paid, they have a very, very important job, and it takes a lot of work and a lot of time.

"I would see a lot of them having lunch or at charity luncheons. We would definitely cross paths."

Just cross Messing off the list of those stereotypes for good now. Her graceful exit from a hit sitcom has not gone unnoticed in Hollywood, which has invited her to handle other kinds of roles.

Indeed, not all are nice Jewish girls. There was the part of Mary Magdalene in the miniseries "Jesus," in which Messing's missing the point was one of her main fears. "I was frightened coming into" the film, she says, that being raised Jewish would not give her the catholic view needed for the part, "that somehow I would be missing something, that I wouldn't be able to bring something to the story that perhaps another actress with a different uprbringing could."

For the TV superstar cast in "Jesus," "I don't know how to love him" transposed to "I don't know how I'll be accepted." But critics and public found room in their hearts for her on-point portrayal.

But then she's no "starter wife" either, and just look (and watch) how Messing takes this role and runs with it -- from "Start" to finish. 

 

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