If you ever spot Megan Mullally in a restaurant, don't waste your money sending over a martini. After catapulting to fame portraying the pill-popping, brash-talking boozehound Karen Walker on NBC's just-wrapped hit sitcom Will & Grace, people seem to expect Mullally to indulge in a drink or two ... or five.
Off the set, Mullally is more of a teetotaler. "People do think of me as quite the lush, but in real life I never drank hard alcohol until a few years ago ... I just never liked the taste of it," says the 48-year-old actor and eponymous host of The Megan Mullally Show, which debuts mid-September in syndication on various networks. Mullally's colorful character made for "must-see TV" every Thursday night for eight seasons. And while she says it was a blast to play someone as out of control as Karen, the three-time Emmy Award winner usually "only drinks water or herbal tea."
On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...
Apparently, obsessive Karen fans and talk-show junkies who are expecting the helium-induced lilt made so famous on Will & Grace are in for a big surprise this fall. Not only is Mullally breaking away from her sitcom comfort zone -- launching a show, with nods toward Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, that is part-variety, part-talk, featuring skits, a live band, and correspondents -- she's also playing herself for the first time.
So will the real Megan Mullally please step forward? Her voice is deeper and raspier than one would expect, and the other differences don't end at happy hour. Where Karen Walker rebuffed all solid foods, Mullally is an organic-food fan. "I don't eat a lot of sugar, and eating unprocessed foods makes a big difference in my weight and energy. As you get older, your body just doesn't really tolerate outside interference, including alcohol and junk food," she says.
Mullally's husband -- carpenter and actor Nick Offerman -- is a role model for her in this regard. "He grew up in a small town where people don't have the healthiest eating habits, and he has retrained himself to eat healthier and work out ... he's really self-motivated."
She is relying especially on his healthy influence lately, as she prepares to take center stage in her latest creative endeavor. "I'm just trying to get a lot of sleep and eat healthy. I am psychologically gearing myself up for the change in workload," she says.