William H. Macy Interview: "Shameless" Season Finale, Southern Accents and the Foibles of Independent Filmmaking
Image attributed to William H. Macy
Born on March 13, 1950, actor, writer, director William H. Macy has been nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo, won two Emmy Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Award and is a four-time Golden Globe nominee. Since 2011, he has played the main character in the Showtime television series Shameless.
Macy’s film work includes Benny & Joon, Above Suspicion, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Ghosts of Mississippi, Air Force One, Boogie Nights, Pleasantville, Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, Jurassic Park III, Seabiscuit, Wild Hogs, The Cooler and Sahara. His television roles include Door to Door, a made for TNT film, based on a true story, that garnered him two Emmy Awards, and his work on ER and Sports Night was also recognized with Emmy nominations.
"They’re a bit of a caution. I mean, it’s rough. It’s not unusual to do an indie film and ask, 'Where’s my trailer?' They say, 'Well, you don’t have a trailer, but the backseat of that car has been designated for you so you can sit in the back of the car anytime you want to.' They’re rough. Quick schedule. No money. Underfunded. Not enough time."
Walter, the story of a young man who believes that he is actually the son of God and can foretell everyone’s destiny, opens March 13, 2015, in select theaters and on Video on Demand. Macy portrays Walter’s psychiatrist who truly believes in telling it like it is. The film also stars Andrew J. West, Virginia Madsen and Neve Campbell. Macy and actress Felicity Huffman have been married since 1997. They have two daughters, Sophia Grace and Georgia Grace.
William H. Macy: Hi Melissa! You are with Smashing Interviews Magazine.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Based in Alabama.
William H. Macy: No. Really?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs)
William H. Macy: So these are not good interviews, are not really swell interviews, they’re smashing interviews, or do you take the entire interview process and break it all apart and reinvent it? Or all of the above?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): All of the above, and we came up with the name a few years ago because we thought it sounded cool, and we wanted to aspire to a "lofty" title (laughs).
William H. Macy: (laughs) I love listening to you talk. My mom grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and I had a lot of family in that area. I used to have a thick southern accent myself before I started acting, so it sounds just like home.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand you lived in Georgia?
William H. Macy: I was born in Miami, grew up until I was about ten years old all around Atlanta, Macon, Decatur, in that area.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m very familiar with that part of the country (laughs). Let’s talk first about Walter. You appeared to be having an absolute blast as Dr. Corman, the irreverent psychiatrist.
William H. Macy: Yes. When you look at the one-liners that guy has, you can say, “Well, this is a comedy about mental illness, eh?” But it’s the way it was written, the way Paul Shoulberg wrote it. It’s got such a light touch. It’s a guy who’s definitely got problems, but he’s a survivor. Andrew West did a great job. He’s fighting. He’s got emotional problems, but he’s fighting to get healthy. In fact, he does at the end.
I play the psychiatrist, and one of the things I love about him is he’s the sort of a shrink who really wants his patient to get better and stop coming (laughs). Do you know what I mean? His goal is to shock him. It was one of those lovely roles where the psychiatrist gets to say the most outrageous things. He says stuff like, “You’re nuts!” And, “That sounds crazy!” (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Were you channeling any one particular therapist for the role?
William H. Macy: Well, after a fashion, you know, with all the therapy I’ve had in my life. I’ve gone a good bit. To me, it’s like having a masseuse. It’s a bit of an indulgence, and I’m not sure that your muscles are going to feel that much better after the massage, or if your brain’s going to feel that much better after therapy. But I guess, this is what I always wished that the therapist would have the courage to say, “Oh, get over it!” (laughs) “This is the fourth time you’ve been in here, and you’re saying the same things over and over again. Why don’t you just get over it?” I’m not sure that’s good therapy, but he does make you want to hear it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do most actors love independent films because there’s more creativity and artistic freedom as compared to the traditional studio releases?
William H. Macy: I’m not sure actors love them. They’re a bit of a caution. I mean, it’s rough. It’s not unusual to do an indie film and ask, “Where’s my trailer?” They say, “Well, you don’t have a trailer, but the backseat of that car has been designated for you so you can sit in the back of the car anytime you want to.” They’re rough. Quick schedule. No money. Underfunded. Not enough time.
On the other hand, they tell stories that are a lot more interesting because they can be bold. They don’t have to please everyone, and they don’t have to worry about offending no one, so they can tell the story that’s true. They’re not expensive, relatively speaking, so you can tell a bolder story that’s got a more narrow audience. I think its kind of where you go to find the truth. I think television has taken over a lot of the area that independent films used to have because there are so many venues on television now. We’re telling a lot of stories that can target a rather narrow audience. We’re in a golden age here. It’s all good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of television, I enjoy Shameless.
William H. Macy: Outrageous.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes it is. What can you tell me about the season finale?
William H. Macy: It’s very dramatic as we’ve done almost every year. We don’t wrap things up. John Wells is very cagey about how to do this. It’s very dramatic. They wrote a wonderful season for me. It’s so bittersweet and so out of character for Frank Gallagher, the guy I play. It’s something different.
Interestingly, for the first four seasons, my character was toasted in almost every single scene, and that had a lot to do with what he did and how he acted. Then last season, because he got a new liver, Frank’s relatively sober. That was really an interesting acting assignment to get to play this guy with clear eyes and a clear head. Very interesting. I enjoyed it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe my favorite role of yours was Bill Porter in Door to Door, the true story of a door-to-door salesman with cerebral palsy.
William H. Macy: Oh, wasn’t that a sweet one?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found myself crying and cheering at the same time. In preparing for a role do you make up a backstory or history for that character? That, of course, would not be the case playing a role based on real life.
William H. Macy: When I was a young actor, I used to do a lot of background history sort of thing, what’s in your pockets, fake IDs and all of that stuff. Then one time, I had the courage to think, “Wonder what would happen if I didn’t do that?" Not much, I discovered. Everything you need is on the page, generally speaking.
When you’re playing a real person … I felt a real obligation to Bill Porter, a real guy. Bill died two years ago, and he continued outselling every other person in that company until his death. I felt an obligation to tell his story truthfully. I wrote that with my friend, Steven Schachter, who directed it. I loved acting in it. Bill was such a sweet guy. There were all these physical attributes that I had to take on, and I enjoyed doing that, but I think I’m most proud of the writing we did.
It was a difficult assignment to figure out how to tell an interesting, dramatic story with a beginning, middle and end about a guy who was still alive. When I was talking to Bill, I said, “You know, you’ve got no third act yet, man.” (laughs). I was very, very proud of the solution we came up with which was to tell parallel stories which we cold fictionalize, so we told the truth about Bill’s life, but we fictionalized and dramatized the customers that he sold to, and we were able to weave a story out of the whole thing for an emotional punch. I’m very proud of that one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As you should be. Do you see yourself directing more in the future and acting less?
William H. Macy: Yep. Yep. I’m obsessed. I did a film called Rudderless. It was released last year, and it did very well. You can still get it on all the pay per view Video on Demand places, and it was successful. I’m doing another one. It’s called The Layover. I start shooting in about five weeks. It’s a straight up comedy. Then I have another film I want to do next year. So yes, my whole focus is on directing. I directed a Shameless also, and my episode aired last week. I enjoyed doing that. I love directing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks for your time, and Happy Birthday!
William H. Macy: Well, thank you Melissa! Thanks so much, and thanks for talking to me.
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