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Sean Hayes: The Television Legend Layers His Career With a Hit Podcast and a Tony Award Win

With his recent Tony Award win for the Broadway show Good Night, Oscar, Sean Hayes has proven himself worthy of renewed attention at almost 53…

By Matthew Creith

Known for his work as a prolific performer in comedy and a Hollywood producer behind the scenes, Sean Hayes has been out of the closet to the general public for over a decade. Celebrated for his contributions to gay cinema early in his career, Hayes has dazzled audiences on the big and small screen. His work on the Broadway stage has provided the Illinois native with some of the best reviews he’s had to date, and with good reason: He’s just that good.

Some aspects of Sean Hayes’ life and career might be surprising: He is a classically trained pianist, once toured with Kenny Rogers, and currently co-hosts a popular podcast made famous during the COVID lockdown. He became a household name when he starred as Jack McFarland on the television sitcom Will & Grace, a character hellbent on letting everyone around him know how flamboyantly open he was about his sexuality. But LGBTQ+ audiences first became aware of Hayes for his portrayal of Billy Collier in 1998’s Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss. Only the second film on Hayes’ resume and one that debuted months before Will & Grace first hit television screens, the independent romantic comedy was a step in the right direction for gay-themed films at the time. The story about an unlucky-in-love photographer eagerly awaiting a movie-style kiss from a straight barista was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival. It was also nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize and grossed $2 million at the box office.

ABOVE: Brad Rowe and Sean Hayes in Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998)

Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss has become a cult classic amongst LGBTQ+ viewers and a defining moment for queer films. But it was Hayes’ work on Will & Grace that helped make gay characters a mainstream entity. Initially running from 1998 to 2006 and since revived from 2017 to 2020, the comedy series was heralded for its focus on gay and straight friends living in New York City. It was one of the most significant achievements for a television series, as many shows of the era didn’t have lead gay characters. Hayes solidified his legacy on television when he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2000.

During his time on Will & Grace, Sean Hayes broke away from his television roots. He expanded his film resume by costarring in a slew of fan favorites, including the indie hit Pieces of April alongside Katie Holmes, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! opposite out actor Nathan Lane, and as comedy icon Jerry Lewis in the television movie Martin and Lewis. After Will & Grace concluded for the first time, the actor was featured in the Rob Reiner film The Bucket List starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, as well as one-third of The Three Stooges in the 2012 movie from the Farrelly brothers that also starred Chris Diamantopoulos and Will Sasso.

ABOVE: Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes in Will & Grace

Not set on being an actor his entire life, Sean Hayes branched out by forming a production company called Hazy Mills Productions. Hayes and his producing partners are responsible for bringing popular series to television audiences, including Hot in Cleveland, The Soul Man, Grimm, and the Jane Lynch-hosted game show, Hollywood Game Night.

But, his love of live performing on stage has defined Sean Hayes’ most recent triumphs. His Broadway debut came in 2010 when he costarred alongside Kristin Chenoweth and Tony Goldwyn in the revival of Promises, Promises. He received his first Tony Award nomination for the musical, which he followed up with a successful hosting gig at the 64th Tony Awards. His most recent stint portraying American concert pianist Oscar Levant in Good Night, Oscar awarded Hayes the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play.

ABOVE: Sean Hayes as Oscar Levant in Good Night, Oscar, the bio-play by Doug Wright

While starring in a highly acclaimed Broadway show, Sean Hayes has added to his growing plate as one of the three hosts of the Smartless podcast alongside close friends Will Arnett and Jason Bateman. What began amid the COVID pandemic in 2020, when all three men were bored at home with no acting roles to take on, has now become a phenomenon in podcasting gold. Now almost three years in, the hosts have had fun bantering with one another while interviewing impressive guests like Kamala Harris, Martin Short, Tom Hanks, Wayne Gretzky, Emily Blunt, Steven Spielberg, Paul Anka, and comedy legend Eugene Levy.

As varied as his career has become over the past 25 years, Sean Hayes seems to stay grounded amidst his achievements. In 2014, he married his longtime boyfriend Scott “Scotty” Icenogle and often references the couple’s love of Star Wars on the Smartless podcast. When Hayes won the Tony Award this month, he thanked his husband and referred to Scotty as his “purpose.”

A monumental moment for a monumental gay man who seems just to be getting started.

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