‘Will & Grace’ added to its count of Emmy nominations in 2019 with recognition in 3 categories, with one well-deserved nod to Glenda Rovello and her design team’s work on the season 2 finale.
If you’re a lifelong Will & Grace fan, close your eyes. Now, visualize Will Truman and Grace Adler’s apartment. If you are truly a fan, you can see it so clearly, can’t you? The large, blue couch in front; the hutch behind it; the fireplace with the mirrored mantle, with that strange painting of a sullen looking man who looks a lot like Will hanging beside it. Those details and countless more are thanks to the work of production designer Glenda Rovello, who has been with the show since the beginning of its run in the 1990s and who returned to the reboot when it launched in 2017. This year, she is nominated for an Emmy for her work alongside Conny Marinos (art director) and Peter Gurski (set decorator) for season two’s finale, “Jack’s Big Gay Wedding”. While the nomination is indeed an honor, the true gift for Glenda is still being a part of this show so many years later.
“It’s a joy coming back to being with so many people that I started my career with,” Glenda shared about returning for the reboot. “Will & Grace was my first production design job and we were a really tight group back then. Coming back 20 years later, it’s so comfortable with this group of people. It’s lovely.” Lovely indeed, and with the show’s return being such a smash, Glenda’s team has been given the opportunity to explore many new locales with Will, Grace, Karen, and Jack — from a mom and pop bakery in the Village, to a recreation of a 1912 tenement in last season’s Christmas episode (which was also nominated for an Emmy). This season’s big change of scenery was the backdrop of Jack’s wedding, Will’s engagement, and the show’s first, grand scale musical number: an airport. While perhaps not as exciting as the Taj Mahal, the construction of the airport had to be precise to meet the needs of the story, and Glenda’s team was up for the challenge.
“We may have seen airport gates before on Will & Grace, but never on the scale of this,” she explained. “It was a logistical feat; it took so many people working 14 hours straight. We had to take out our permanent sets, like Will’s apartment and Grace’s office, and then install this ginormous set, which went from almost stage wall to stage wall. It was over a hundred feet of airport.” Aside from building the space itself, another obstacle was how to make an airport, a place many detest when traveling, feel special and romantic enough as the setting for Jack’s wedding after his flight is cancelled. The answer presented itself in a rather genius way. “I wanted to drive in the idea of New York, so, in the gift shops, we either sourced or manufactured souvenirs that really tell us that we’re in New York. We had the Big Apple image, towels with the New York skyline, and, of course, the rainbow colors because it’s Will & Grace. We even had little lights that might’ve had the Statue of Liberty on them. So all those things… we wanted to see whatever Jack used as decorations at his gate, we saw them earlier in the gift shop. We pulled things off the shelves. The towels became the runner and all the lights, we strung around. The Big Apple here and there; it’s an echo of what’s already happened or it refers back to something that we’ve already seen.”
But perhaps her favorite moment came after Jack finally says, “I do,” as Glenda added, “We rearranged the chairs and I thought it was a very funny move, that all of a sudden there was a little bit of a crowd of what looked like guests at his wedding. Then, there’s a gate change and most of the guests leave. I thought that was really funny.” As for that fabulous musical number, Glenda reveals much of the action in the intricate set was ultimately “cut for time”, but that it was still a “phenomenal” space to see come to life. “That set was really completed with almost no time, so that when [director] Jimmy Burrows and the actors came in, they knew what they had and just started working [the dancing routine] out. Jimmy’s really great about understanding how he wants things to flow through.”
With the show coming to a close in the upcoming eleventh season, Glenda revealed that fans can expect that her “tremendously talented” team is committed to making design choices that will both take these beloved characters to new places and elevate their experiences in the old ones. Last season, Glenda worked to redesign Grace’s office with more “art deco” theming given the popular trend, and in Will’s apartment, when his boyfriend-now-fiance McCoy moved in, her team redid the little upstage TV nook from the sofa and the TV to a desk. She teased, however, that that particular space will look very different in season three. No spoilers, but she did tease, “something’s going to happen and that [space is going] to change again.”
When the show ended its initial run in 2006, Will and Grace’s apartment was put on display at the Emerson College Library, donated by series creator and college alum Max Mutchnick. While Glenda has no idea if the set will return to the Boston college, her hope is that it will stay intact as it did, with no thieves making off with any of the iconic design pieces — like that painting of a sullen man near the fireplace. But, if you ask Glenda, she’s pretty sure that’s the piece everyone has their eyes on, especially since it’s been given an affectionate name by the team.
“No one has asked me for anything.” Glenda confessed. “But … oh, it’s always that Ricky Ricardo painting. Holy Hosanna, that is like … That’s just nuts! I don’t even understand how that’s become such an iconic Will & Grace piece, that Ricky Ricardo painting. And it’s not even Ricky Ricardo! We’ve always just called it that. It’s just a guy that kind of looks Will.”