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Ask William H. Macy about any number of the hapless losers, downtrodden everymen and debauched miscreants he’s portrayed over the course of his career, and he’ll tell you he’s played the hero as every one of them. That makes sense if you believe that an actor’s job is to find something worth fighting for in every character he assumes. That doesn’t mean Macy doesn’t judge his alter egos; “There are a lot of stupid assholes in the world, but they don’t think they’re stupid assholes.” They’re simply human, and telling their stories truthfully is how he answers our questions as viewers about why they are the way they are.
Let’s start with the hapless losers, namely Fargo’s Jerry Lundegaard, who he embodied so convincingly we weren’t completely sure they weren’t the same person. On reading the script, Macy knew he was the guy; problem was, the Coen brothers didn’t. So, putting both his career and Ethan Coen’s dog on the line, he launched an offensive that more than paid off. Macy didn’t have to seriously audition for another role thereafter.
After years of steady work, though, he began to find the movie roles he was offered less than scintillating, and decided it was time to take on series TV. Enter Frank Gallagher, another less-than-upstanding citizen he’s made us love. Shameless, which Macy says is like getting paid to return to acting school, has completely renewed his love for his craft. Maybe that’s why he’s so fun to watch – and possibly why received an Emmy nod for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series even after he spent a season dying of liver failure. So things were going well in TV land. That’s when he decided he wanted to direct a feature film.
Macy is nothing if not ambitious, and thought he could do it as well as, if not better, than anyone else; but he calls his first feature effort “a real sock in the nose.” No Minnesotan could understate it better. The first day of prep for Rudderless left him feeling completely overwhelmed and under-qualified to take it on. But he needn’t have worried, guided as he was by the same principle he’d adhered to for over 30 years in the business: Tell the truth, and cut out everything else. What we’re left with is a difficult but authentic story, beautifully scored and acted.
In this conversation, Macy tells the truth about acting technique, the perks and pitfalls of series TV, the process of putting together a feature-length indie, and what he’s learned from his experience on both sides of the camera. We talk about everything, including how to fire George Clooney so he stays fired. Well, almost everything… Sorry, Bill.