William H. Macy is one of those actors who you can't help but be in awe of. In everything from "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" to his career-defining performance in "Fargo" and his current role as the hapless drunkard in the beloved Showtime series "Shameless," he exudes a steely professionalism, along with a sense of fatherly warmth that is more than just an impressive combination of skills; it's a talent that seems downright magical.
This week, Macy has a small role in a small movie called "A Single Shot." The film, about a man (Sam Rockwell) who accidentally murders a woman while out hunting, features Macy as a shady small town lawyer, who wears a floppy wig that hangs limply over his forehead, and has an off putting demeanor that makes you want to take a shower immediately after watching him.
We got a chance to talk to the actor about what it was like creating such a strange character, the ecstasy of "Fargo," why he's still baffled by his "Psycho" remake, and whether or not we'll ever see him in that "Re-Animator" sequel.
This interview has been edited and condensed
First thing I have to ask is, where did your hair come from?
[Laughs] This series I'm doing, I have a lot of hair, and it's sort of important that I have a lot of hair. At the end of this last season, on camera, we shaved all my hair off, which was quite dramatic. So the idea was to cut it as short as I could and still be able to resume the new season of "Shameless," so we gaff-quaded the whole thing and put on a bald cap. I told the hair and make-up people, "If we can get my wig at Sears & Roebuck, get my wig there." And they did. The whole notion was that he is clearly bald and wears a toupee. For me, it made sense -- a lawyer in that kind of small town, with that socio-economic mentality.
Everybody's pretty weird in the movie.
Yes. There's some stunning acting in this movie.
What brought you to the movie and what brought you to that character, specifically?
The logistics of it worked out. It came at a time when I was available. It was a short stay, it didn't take me long to shoot it. I think Sam Rockwell pretty much hung the moon. I would do anything to be in a movie with him. And I've known the producer for a while. I met with David the director and I liked him enormously. You know, who knows? I shoot from the hip when I make these decisions. I try to just do the movies I'd like to go see.
It did seem like your mere presence gives a nod to "Fargo."
Have you ever gotten the urge to work with the Coens again or was that movie such a lightning-in-a-bottle situation that it would be foolish to try and capture it again?
I would love to work with them and I have not been shy about that every time I run into them. "When are you going to call me? What's the matter with you?" And the only offer I've ever gotten was a play that Ethan was doing at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. And he said, "I offered you something." I had to tell him, "I don't live in New York, I've got two kids. Now offer me a movie." I would love to work with them again. I think they're geniuses. But I don't think you're wrong -- it was sort of lightning-in-a-bottle. It's amazing, you can do everything right and movies click or they don't click. So much of it is up to the film gods, I feel. As you can well imagine, finishing up my directorial debut, I'm wondering which category this film will fall into.
Do you have a feeling on set? Did you know "Fargo" was going to be a classic?
Truthfully, I did. Long before I got there, I read the script, I knew it was a great script. It's the Coen brothers, after all, so I knew it was going to be so stylish and perfect. And I knew it was the role of the century for me. As my friend Dave says, "You want to beware of enumerating prenatal fouls." But I had a very strong suspicion that it was going to be special.
But then on the other hand you have something like "Mystery Men." Did you have any indicators that it wasn't going to work?
There were some, yes. The cast was kind of fractious with each other. As I understand it, we drove the director out of the business. I think he went back into commercial world. We were so rough on him that he gave it up.
It was a lot of personalities.
A lot of personalities. A few too many personalities.
You were in the remake of "Psycho," and I remember you saying that you only did it for Gus Van Sant because Hitchcock hated actors. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.
It's still a mystery to me what exactly we were doing. I do love Gus Van Sant, though -- anything he does. What the plan was there escapes me. I sure liked it. And I liked what I did. I liked what I did with the Marty Balsam role. As far as Hitchcock goes, I've never been a huge fan. I'm going to get a lot of hate mail for this, but I really never was. And because we studied "Psycho" so closely, since it was a shot-by-shot recreation of it, you could see some of the really weird things that he did. For instance, my character drives up to the motel for the first time and gets out of the passenger side. In a hotel. In the middle of nowhere. There's nothing blocking the car. And the only thing we could figure [why he did that] was that he didn't want to cover it, so he just had him slide over. But I always found, with Hitchcock, the leads are fantastic and the filmmaking was quite extraordinary, but when you look more closely he didn't have much time for the ancillary characters.
You were in "Jurassic Park III" and I always wanted to ask what Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's script was like.
[Laughs] Well, it was the biggest movie I had ever done. Probably the biggest movie I have ever done, just in terms of scope, budget, number of people working on it. And it was a truly astounding experience. It was jaw-dropping to watch these people work. And as far as the rewrite that Payne did... It was baffling. I didn't get to see all of it, but it was not usable. It just wasn't logical. The train had left. In order to do those gags, the technical people would have to be working on it months before we shoot it. They just weren't going to happen. They had to write within a structure and they were writing a brand new script.
You just directed your first feature, "Rudderless." What was that experience like?
The short answer is that I loved it and I pray I get to do it again. The longer answer is that it was more like getting hit by a train than making a piece of art. It's a stunning amount of work. I've been an actor my entire adult life and it's not taxing, generally, to be an actor. You stand around waiting for everybody to get ready, then you walk on and do a little bit of acting and wait some more. Directing, though, there's no one behind you. There's no one else in charge. I mean everybody is working their asses off but there's only one guy with his hand on the wheel, and that's the way it's got to be.