Sean Hayes is a funny guy, as anyone who’s watched him in Will & Grace or Promises, Promises can attest. He’s even proven himself a capable TV producer with Hot in Cleveland. But with his new show, Grimm (debuting tonight on NBC), Hayes shows off a new side to himself: his inner geek. A darker alternative to Once Upon a Time, Grimm takes the original fairy tales as collected by the Grimm brothers and wipes off the Disney gloss so that the stories become warnings once again. Since he’s the executive producer, you won’t see him on the show — yet. But if what you’re really itching for is his return to the screen, he’s got that on the way as well, with a Hot in Cleveland cameo, two new shows in development, and becoming Larry in The Three Stooges. Vulture chatted with Hayes about his many projects, why Zachary Quinto’s coming-out announcement should not be news, and his former co-star Debra Messing’s comeback.
Are you a closet sci-fi/fantasy geek?
Sure I am! Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved anything that’s good, that’s out of the ordinary. Star Wars, like billions of other people; Doctor Who. I loved The X-Files. The suspense of that show every single week, that’s something we want to emulate. We aspire to replicate that tonally and story-wise. I just loved the idea that these things could be really happening right now, if you just allowed your imagination to run wild. You remember that poster on Mulder’s wall? “I want to believe.” I’m Mulder. I want people to believe something could really be out there and grab them.
So your goal is to spread paranoia?
Yes, totally! [Laughs.] It’s like if you’re watching a story on the news, if there’s something about a crime, I want you to think, That could be a Grimm creature. Most of the original fairy tales are actually really gruesome — very violent, very sexual. So we’re exposing the truth of them. When Disney took over fairy tales, they were all cutesy and wonderful and very childlike, very positive. It was brilliant, but it wasn’t the truth of them. People actually die, and they weren’t about happy endings. And now, since life sucks for a lot of people, a lot of the content on TV and film reflects that, so we’re a sign of the times. We have some really terrible things. We have a fractured Hansel and Gretel story that will blow your mind.
Fairy tales are having a revival right now, what with Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and the various fairy-tale movies in production. How will yours break from the pack?
If anyone ever does a Grimm fairy tale, it’s always a period thing. So when my producing partner Todd Milliner called me up and said, “What if they came to life and lived amongst us right now?” I thought that was the best idea in decades, and I’ve only been alive for four of them. So I think our way is the best and most interesting and thought provoking, because it’s taking the crime of each fairy tale and putting a twist on it.
In addition to Grimm, you’re also developing two shows that would herald your return to the screen as an actor: One’s a Western, one’s a comedy.
Right now, both are in the script stage, and if the powers that be deem them worthy of a pilot, that’s the next step. The Western, still untitled, is a one-hour show, with a hint of Northern Exposure. It’s basically about the first therapist on the range, and we’re going to explore mental illness back in the late 1800s, before there was a label for anything; I would play the therapist, Jacob Morris. The other show is called Us, and it’s a half-hour sitcom, and I would play one of the dads, Patrick.
We’ve seen plenty of shows about two parents raising a kid, from My Two Dads to Two and a Half Men, so besides the fact that they’re gay, how will it be different?
Our show is going to be different in a way that we won’t have to have the conversation about being different, as far as parenting similarities and differences go.
What did you think when Zachary Quinto came out recently?
I thought he was already out. What?
He just came out, and then he was surprised that it got so much coverage. Should it be a big deal, or do you think whether someone is gay or not shouldn’t be a big deal?
Well, of course it’s important. And it’s great. Everybody who comes out does so according to their own individual level of acceptance. But I think that anytime someone comes out, it should be boring, you know? It shouldn’t be news. Hopefully, in time, we won’t care. Grimm, by the way, is not gay. [Laughs.]
Good to know. Did you get injured at all making The Three Stooges?
You know, we all had stuntmen, but we all got hurt pretty bad! My jaw got really hurt from being slapped so much, that I had to ice it all the time. But people will laugh so hard at it. We did.
What about your upcoming cameo on Hot in Cleveland?
I just did that on Friday! I play Chad, a hand model who goes on a date with Wendie Malick. It’ll probably air in January.
Which will be around the time we get to see Debra Messing in Smash — both of you back on the air again.
I love Smash. I e-mailed Debra, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen you do” — and she’s done some amazing things. She’s so talented. And if one of my other shows happen, we’d both be back on the air full-time. That would be wild.