Sean Hayes liked the script for Will & Grace so much, he threw it away. The actor was at the Sundance Film Festival last January, enjoying kudos for his title role in the indie gay romance Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, when a smitten NBC casting exec in attendance faxed him the sitcom’s script. ”I laughed out loud — which is rare during pilot season,” says Hayes. ”But I’d only been at Sundance two days, and I would have had to buy my own plane ticket [to L.A.] just to audition. So I tossed it, thinking there’d be 10,000 more sitcoms.”
Fortunately for Hayes, NBC didn’t take it personally. The network (which co-owns the show) kept after him, and now the 28-year-old Glen Ellyn, Ill., native is winning fans as Jack, Will’s saucy and self-enamored sidekick. ”He comes in and hits comic home runs,” says exec producer Mutchnick. At Hayes’ audition, he adds, the actor exhibited signature Jack sass as he left, barking ”Stop looking at my ass, Mutchnick.” Hayes, meanwhile, saw getting the gig as the fulfillment of his destiny: ”When I came out of my mom’s womb, I had sitcom stamped on my forehead.”
After getting his start in Chicago’s theater scene, Hayes moved to Los Angeles in 1995 — only to suffer the indignity of playing an elf in Kenny Rogers’ Christmas tour. (Acting with the Gambler, says Hayes, is ”like staring into a vast, empty hole.”) He then paid his rent doing commercials, racking up more than 20 spots (including Doritos, Pepsi, and Bud Light) before being cast as Billy’s’ lovelorn gay photographer. His series debut finds Hayes taking obnoxiousness to new artistic heights: ”When things aren’t going well, Jack is there to make it worse.”
While his fey, talk-to-the-hand character evokes gay stereotypes, Hayes doesn’t see Jack as a caricature. ”He’s very eccentric, like Martin Short or Robin Williams,” he says. ”When I think of a stereotypical gay guy, I think of In Living Color’s ‘Men on Film,’ with the snapping and all that. That’s completely different from Jack.”
Nor will Hayes address the personal is-he-or-isn’t-he speculation that’s come with his two out-there roles. ”Right now I’m just starting,” he explains. ”If I was 40 and had $8 billion and nothing to worry about, I’d tell people when I go number two on the toilet.” Please, Sean — don’t ask, don’t tell.