Following her graduation from New York University's renowned Tisch School of the Arts, Messing had short-lived tenures on the Fox sitcom Ned & Stacey and the ABC sci-fi Prey. She rose to prominence in her role as Grace Adler on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, earning both commercial and critical success throughout the series' eight season run. She also received critical acclaim for her work as Molly Kagan in the mini-series The Starter Wife. She is currently playing the lead role of Julia Houston in the second season of the NBC musical-drama series Smash.
Throughout her career she has been nominated for a total of six Emmy Awards, eight Golden Globe Awards and eight Screen Actors Guild Award. In 2003 she won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance on Will & Grace
Messing was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, the daughter of Sandra (née Simons), who has worked as a professional singer, banker, travel and real estate agent, and Brian Messing, a sales executive for a costume jewelry packaging manufacturer. Messing is Jewish; she is a descendant of immigrants from Russia and Poland. When Messing was three, she moved with her parents and her older brother, Brett, to East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
During her high school years, she acted and sang in a number of high school productions at East Greenwich High School, including the starring roles in the musicals Annie and Grease. She took lessons in dance, singing, and acting. In 1986, she was Rhode Island's Junior Miss and competed in Mobile, Alabama in the America's Junior Miss scholarship program. While her parents encouraged her dream of becoming an actress, they also urged her to complete a liberal arts education before deciding on acting as a career. Following their advice, she attended Brandeis University; at her parent's request three-quarters of her courses were not theater-related. During her junior year, she studied theater at the prestigious London-based BritishEuropean Studio Group program, an experience that solidified her desire to act.
In 1990, after graduating summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a bachelor's degree in theater arts, Messing gained admission to the elite Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts which accepts approximately fifteen new students annually. She earned a Master's Degree in Fine Arts after three years.
Messing met her now ex-husband, Daniel Zelman, an actor and screenwriter, on their first day as graduate students at NYU in 1990. They were married on September 3, 2000, and lived in New York City. On April 7, 2004, Messing gave birth to their son, Roman Walker Zelman. In December 2011 she and her husband separated after eleven years of marriage. Messing filed for divorce on June 5, 2012. As of 2012, she is dating her Smash costar Will Chase.