The dark comedy — available on demand now — offers Hayes an acting challenge, opposite Oscar-winner Allison Janney

By Jason Sheeler
April 10, 2020 11:00 AM
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As the finale for the Will & Grace revival airs later this month, Sean Hayes is looking forward to what’s next.

In particular, Hayes is excited about a movie he wrote and co-stars in, Lazy Susan. It’s about, well, a woman named Susan.

Yes, Hayes plays a woman — a deeply unambitious woman in a small Wisconsin town who doesn’t know what to do with her life. She’s got a tough mother, played by Margot Martindale, and a lifelong rival, Velvet, played by Allison Janney. (Look for a cameo from one of Hayes’ closest friends, Maria Shriver.) The dark comedy, available now on demand, was a welcome acting challenge for Hayes and provided a time to consider his own place in the world.

“I think a lot of us are lazy Susans — have been or will become. There’s that question we all ask: ‘Who do you want to be?’ It’s not always easy,” Hayes tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

Sean Hayes in Lazy Susan
| Credit: Shout! Studios
  • For more from Sean Hayes, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Hayes, 49, took a few questions about his new movie.

You play a woman in Lazy Susan. What was the experience like?
When we were writing it, I thought: “I have not seen this before. A male actor playing a woman where the comedy didn’t come from [her being a woman].” This isn’t drag. Personally, for me, there’s nothing I like about dressing up like a woman. But that’s what I like about being an actor — the challenge of nailing down a character and embracing it fully.

Did you have trepidations about the role?
Sure, but there are reasons people are actors. A couple of people have said, sarcastically, “Well, it must be hard for an actor who’s gay to play a woman.” And how is that different than the challenge of a straight man playing a woman? It’s the same. I didn’t want anything to be a joke. I barely put on makeup.

You’ve played Susan before.
The story is this: When I was 21, I got a call from my agent in Chicago. She said, “There’s an audition tomorrow to replace the white guy on In Living Color.” Jim Carrey was leaving. I grabbed all my wigs and props and characters of all shapes and sizes. One of the characters was Lazy Susan. A few years ago, someone brought up the character. And it was such a great metaphor for someone spinning out of control. A spinning lazy Susan, for someone who can’t get their life together. I love tragic characters, when you don’t know whether to laugh or not.

Will & Grace cast
| Credit: Chris Haston/NBC

Is Susan based on someone in your life?
It’s based on many people in my life, a combination of people I know. It’s me — it’s everybody — when you get stuck. You still don’t know what you want to do, but you’re becoming aware, of yourself and your place in the world. When you have to figure it out or there are dire consequences.

In Lazy Susan, your fans get to see another side of Sean Hayes they’ve never seen. You play the flute.
I tried! [Laughs] But that wasn’t me playing the flute.