After gaining notice for a series of Dorito's commercials and the gay indie "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" (1998), Sean Hayes earned a place in comedy history for his role on network TV's first gay-character-helmed sitcom, "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006). For eight highly-rated seasons, his role of Jack - the flamboyant sidekick of a straitlaced gay lawyer (Eric McCormack) - was not only a favorite of viewers but was a significant catalyst for more widespread acceptance of the gay community in the general media. The Emmy-winning Hayes weathered criticism for playing coy as to his own sexuality during the show's run, but came out in 2010, finding himself at the center of a media controversy about the ability of gay actors to play "straight." Outside of his firm footing as a major player in primetime, Hayes primarily appeared in character roles on the big screen, demonstrating his wisecracking charm and impeccable comic timing.
Born on June 26, 1970, Sean Patrick Hayes was raised in Glen Ellyn, IL, a suburb of Chicago. The youngest of five children, he began studying music as a child and continued his path at Illinois State University where he majored in piano performance and conducting. While attending college, he supported himself as a classical pianist and began to venture into acting with appearances in student productions. He went on to serve as the musical director of the Pheasant Run Theater and composed original music for a Steppenwolf Theater production of "Antigone," while at the same time, honing his comedic skills at the Second City Theater. In 1995, he moved to Los Angeles, where he performed stand-up comedy and landed occasional TV guest spots and national TV commercials, including a famous Super Bowl Doritos ad as the overwhelmed, would-be boyfriend of the gorgeous and limber Ali Landry. His big break came when he landed the leading role of a gay photographer and incurable romantic who develops a crush on a possibly straight male model in "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" (1998). Endearing and self-deprecating, he proved a charming center to the fluffy comedy.
Doors opened quickly for Hayes, who was offered a major role on an edgy new sitcom, "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006). The show was a notable landmark for being the first network program to feature gay principal characters, and it surpassed expectations to become a primetime comedy mainstay in the Nielsen Top 20 for more than half of its eight-year run. With his portrayal of self-centered, over-the-top Jack McFarland, the gay best buddy of the also gay Will (Eric McCormack), he became one of the show's most popular figures, netting a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his efforts. Hayes's manic energy, his catchphrases ("Just Jack!"), and most importantly, his chemistry with equally bawdy co-star Megan Mullally, helped make the show one of the cultural flashpoints of the era. Throughout its duration, Hayes went on to earn six more consecutive Emmy nominations, as well as three Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series.
Meanwhile, Hayes lent his voice to the live action/animated critical disaster, Cats & Dogs" (2001) as a villainous fluffy white Persian named Mr. Tinkles. On a better note, he was surprisingly cast as the brilliantly abrasive comedian Jerry Lewis in the television biopic "Martin and Lewis" (CBS, 2002) opposite Jeremy Northam as Dean Martin. He was less successful in a small role in the Katie Holmes indie hit, "Pieces of April" (2003). As a repressed New Yorker who tangles with the punky Holmes over the use of his oven for her Thanksgiving turkey, Hayes seemed to be caught uncomfortably between drama and comedy. Hayes also voiced the fussy, computer-generated Fish in the critically mauled adaptation of "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat" (2003) and played the snippy agent to Josh Duhamel's titular dreamboat in the flop "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" (2004). In 2005, Hayes split his time in front of the camera on "Will & Grace" with a behind-the- scenes job as executive producer of "Situation: Comedy" (Bravo, 2005), a reality show that chronicled the search for the next great sitcom. He went on to serve as director of the top two contenders, "The Sperm Donor" and "Stephen's Life," although neither sitcom -nor the reality show itself - had any staying power.
As "Will & Grace" finished its run, rumors circulated that Hayes and Mullally would be given their own spin-off, but the show never materialized. Although he occasionally popped up on TV in the wake of the influential sitcom's final season, Hayes remained mostly out of sight until his supporting role in the bittersweet comedy/drama, "The Bucket List" (2007). Hayes played the long-suffering personal assistant of a crotchety old corporate tycoon (Jack Nicholson) whose life begins anew when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After making his New York stage debut in a City Center production of "Damn Yankees!" Hayes lent his voice to the animated family feature "Igor" (2008) and appeared in "Soul Men" (2008) with a supporting role as the obnoxious manager of a reunited music act (Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac).
Although at the beginning of his career, Hayes had played the boyfriend or husband of multiple women in a series of successful commercials, after the success of "Will & Grace," he found himself unable to get hired for any straight leading roles. He discussed his frustration with the situation, as well as coming out officially as a gay man in a controversial April 2010 cover story/interview with The Advocate. "I feel like I've contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I'm open to it. You're welcome, Advocate," Hayes said. He added, in reference to an earlier piece that had criticized Hayes for keeping his sexuality an open secret at the hottest point of his career: " What more do you want me to do? Do you want me to stand on a float? And then what? It's never enough That's the thing about celebrity: It sets you up to fail because the expectation is so high of what's needed, what's wanted from you that the second you don't [meet it], you disappoint people."
Reaction to Hayes's revelation about his personal life was muted, and he not only sold a sitcom under his production shingle - "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010-15) with Betty White, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves - but he finally earned a juicy, straight role, starring as the romantic lead opposite vocal powerhouse Kristin Chenoweth in the Broadway revival of the musical Promises, Promises in 2010. Critics liked Hayes's performance and the actor was eventually nominated for a Tony. Controversy inspired the media to apply a microscope to Hayes's performance and career, however, when gay Newsweek writer Ramin Sedooteh wrote a piece for the magazine called "Straight Jacket," bemoaning the lack of success gay actors have in playing straight, built around his negative review of Hayes's performance in the play. In part, Sedooteh wrote: "Hayes is among Hollywood's best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm...But frankly, it's weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is " The fall-out from the piece was immediate - co-star Chenoweth wrote a highly charged letter to the magazine's editor rebutting Sedooteh's claims and defending Hayes's performance. The topic briefly became a major cultural talking point in the media, with various commentators weighing in, while Hayes himself remained silent. Meanwhile, the actor was tapped to host the 64th Annual Tony Awards, a mark not only of his status in theatrical world, but also an opportunity to respond to his critics in whatever manner he chose.
Hayes first returned to television in the summer of 2013 as the co-creator and executive producer of a limited-run series called "Hollywood Game Night" (NBC 2013- ), in which host Jane Lynch hosted competing teams of celebrities including Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Hayes himself in a variety of team games. The show returned for a second season in early 2014. Hayes took a more prominent onscreen role as the star of the sitcom "Sean Saves the World" (NBC 2013-14), in which he played a recently-out gay man whose 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage suddenly returns to his life. Although the series was heavily promoted by NBC as a linchpin of their Thursday comedy lineup, "Sean Saves the World" suffered from poor reviews and failed to find an audience; the show was canceled in January 2014. Hayes next joined the cast of the Will Arnett-led sitcom "The Millers" (CBS 2013-14) at the start of its second season. However, ratings for the series plummeted after it was moved away from its hit lead-in "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS 2007- ), and it was canceled partway through its second season.
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Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Moved to Los Angeles, where he found work as a stand-up comedian and stage actor
Landed breakthrough role as Jack McFarland, a flamboyantly gay, frequently unemployed actor on the NBC sitcom "Will & Grace"; received Emmy (2001-06), Golden Globe (2000-05) and SAG (2001, 2004, 2005) nominations for Best Supporting Actor
Made professional film debut in the independent film "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss"
Voiced Mr. Tinkles, a feline out to take over the world in the feature "Cats & Dogs"
Portrayed Jerry Lewis in the television drama "Martin And Jerry" (CBS), received SAG nomination for Best Actor
Voiced the fish in the film adaptation of the beloved literary classic "Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat"
Played Josh Duhamel's manager in "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton"
Executive produced (with Todd Milliner) the unscripted Bravo series "Situation: Comedy"
Featured in a major role in Rob Reiner's film "The Bucket List," starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
Cast in the Encores! production of "Damn Yankee" directed by John Rando at City Center
Voiced character of Mr. Tinkles the Persian cat in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," the sequel to 2001 family film "Cats & Dogs"
TV series executive producing debut, "Hot in Cleveland" (Nick at Nite)
Made Broadway debut alongside Kristin Chenoweth in revival of "Promises, Promises"; earned Tony Award nomination for Leading Actor in a Musical
Hosted The 64th Annual Tony Awards
Co-starred as Larry in the big screen remake of "The Three Stooges," directed by the Farrelly brothers
Guest starred on NBC sitcom "Up All Night"
Played the title character on sitcom "Sean Saves the World"
Played Kip Finkle on "The Millers"
Reprised his most famous role as Jack McFarland on revival of "Will & Grace"