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Interview: Debra Messing

The red-haired actor talks about giving back during the holiday season, her new television series and the joys of being a mom.

Though best known for her Emmy-winning portrayal of Grace Adler on NBC's Will & Grace, Debra Messing's most important role is as a mother to her seven-year-old son, Roman. A native Brooklynite and NYU alumna, Messing recently moved back to New York City to film her new television series, Smash, which debuts next year. Messing recently took some time off from shooting to bring attention to eBay's Give a Toy program, which uses an interactive window display in Herald Square to enable passersby to easily donate money to Toys for Tots. Messing spoke with Time Out Kids about Give a Toy, her favorite New York City spots, and the joys and challenges of parenthood.

Why did you choose to get involved with Give a Toy?
Every holiday season I look for ways to give back to different charitable organizations, and when I was approached by eBay to partner with them on this initiative, I just thought it was brilliant. They have a virtual toy store, and you can take your iPhone [or other smart phone], scan the virtual tag, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to Toys for Tots, which is obviously a well-established organization. It is so easy and so fast. You feel good instantly, because you feel like, I just did something really fantastic, and all you have to do is basically just walk down the street and scan the window. Or you can go online to ebay.com/giveatoystore through December 9. It's a pretty great way to get the whole holiday season going.

Give a Toy is a pretty high-tech project. Are you tech-savvy?
I would never have called myself tech-savvy. I think I still had an 8-track tape until about five years ago. But I've become completely obsessed with taking photos on my iPhone. I have like 400 apps. I already had the eBay app, so I was all ready to go.

You and your husband, Daniel Zelman, have a seven-year-old son, Roman. How do you balance a busy career with family life?
It's so hard, and anyone who says that it's not is a liar and is only trying to make you feel badly. For me, it's one day at a time. Luckily I am on a TV show that is an ensemble, so that means that I don't have to be there every day, all day. And that was by design. I was looking specifically for a job that allowed me to go to my bosses and say, "I have my son's play on this date and I have to be out by 4." Or, "It's curriculum night at school." I think that there are some days that are easier than others, and we do our best.

Can you talk a little bit about the new show?
I am so beyond out-of-my-mind thrilled about this show. It's called Smash, and it's about the behind-the-scenes making of a Broadway musical. I play Julia Houston, the lyricist, and the musical that we're writing is about the life of Marilyn Monroe, so it's sexy and exuberant. There are all kinds of different characters—producers, directors, choreographers, the actors who are auditioning. And there are big dance numbers and songs. And it's an hour-long drama, so you get to see the personal lives of all of these people living in New York City. It's a love letter to New York, and it's a love letter to Broadway. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.

The show films here in New York. Do you go back and forth to your home in Los Angeles?

We moved here.

Oh wow!
Yes, exactly. When the show was picked up, they said, "Okay, guess what! You're going to New York." So we packed up.

What do you and your son like to do together in the city?
Central Park: there's no place like it. We love to go walking or take the soccer ball there. We just took our first handsome cab ride through the park, and that was really fun. He loved that. I think he liked feeding the horse the carrot before we went on the ride more than the ride itself! I have taken him to a couple of Broadway musicals, which he absolutely loved. And we have friends and family in the city, so it's been a special time.

Anything you're looking forward to doing over the holidays?

I am excited to go skating at Wollman Rink.

How has being a parent changed your life?

Becoming a mother was the single defining event of my life. It felt like the whole world shifted. Everything came into perspective for me. I felt a huge sense of relief because there was no time to be self-involved anymore. It's the most difficult job, the most thrilling, most hilarious, most inspiring, most challenging adventure. But the rewards are unparalleled.

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