SAVANNAH, Georgia — Perhaps it was his excruciatingly convincing turn as Jerry Lundegaard, an in-over-his-head Minnesotan who hatches a plot to kidnap his own wife in Fargo, or his deep ties to Chicago playwright-cum-filmmaker David Mamet, or the Windy City dirtbag he plays on the Showtime series Shameless, but I was under the distinct impression that William H. Macy was a proud child of the Midwest.
Not so. Though born in Miami, Macy moved to Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of one, where his father, a highly decorated WWII fighter pilot, ran a construction company. He proceeded to move around Georgia quite a bit during his early years, with stints in Macon and Decatur, before the family settled down in Maryland when Macy was nine. So it was quite a thrill for him to shoot his new movie, Krystal, in Atlanta. “We loved shooting there, in McDonough. The whole town embraced us, and they couldn’t have been nicer. We came down to Savannah for two days of shooting on the beach, too. I do love Savannah,” he says.
We’re chatting in a tucked-away room at the 20th annual Savannah Film Festival, where Krystal is making its world premiere. It’s Macy’s third directorial effort, and far and away his most ambitious, telling the tale of a lost young man (Nick Robinson) who begins attending AA meetings so that he can get closer to a stripper he’s become infatuated with, played by Rosario Dawson. It’s a film that took Macy 12 years to bring to the screen and is, as Macy puts it, imbued with “magical realism,” as well as an all-star cast that includes Kathy Bates, Grant Gustin, T.I., Macy, and his wife, Felicity Huffman.
And Macy, who is 67, tells me he’s enjoying this new phase of his career, juggling film directing, acting, and serving as the demented Gallagher patriarch on Shameless.
“I don’t think I’ll ever retire-retire,” he tells me. “I still have a full head of hair, although it’s almost all gray. But I’m still healthy, and I’ll move into those elder-statesman roles. And sometimes they’re very good roles.”
Over the course of our discussion, we touch on not only his incredible career, but also his strange connection to former Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon, and the disturbing wave of sexual assault allegations that have turned Hollywood upside down.
Krystal is a pretty wacky, eccentric tale: a young guy attending AA meetings to get closer to his stripper-crush. What drew you to this story?
Rachel Winter produced it, Will Aldis wrote it, and Rachel had worked with Will for a while. Rachel sent it to me to act in, and when she sent it to me, I saw it so clearly—with the magical realism. I found it so legitimately theatrical and wacky, and yet it talked about addiction and fear. I just loved everything about it. This was 12 years ago, and this level of magical realism was sort of novel in films back then. So I got in touch with Rachel and said, “What do you think about me directing it instead?” And so it began. We pushed this rock up the hill for 12 years. We were at the altar twice—within weeks of opening an office—and the financing fell out at the last minute. You can imagine how hard it is to pitch a movie like this!
Had you wanted to direct for some time? Because you’ve been writing since penning an episode of Thirtysomething in the early ‘90s.
Early on I wanted to. My writing partner is Steven Schachter. We wrote a bunch of TV—mostly movies of the week, some of them wildly successful. He’s a director, so I put it on hold. I will credit Krystal with re-sparking that urge to try to direct, because I saw it so clearly. It was such a complicated, delicate script.
Twenty years ago—1997—was a very big year for you. You had three excellent movies come out that year—Air Force One, Boogie Nights, and Wag the Dog—and you married the great Felicity Huffman.
Wow. And yes, I got married to her, which is the best move I’ve ever made. The only thing I remember about it is my wedding. It was the year Felicity did Desperate Housewives that I think of as the craziest year. In one year, Housewives exploded and became an instantly iconic show. She did a film called Transamerica, which was just an amazing performance. So Felicity was in hair and makeup four nights a week for ten months. She got nominated for every single award, and some of them in two different categories, and she won a bunch of them. It was interesting for me to sit back and watch her go through that pressure. That was a rough year. It’s a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, but boy it was a lot for her. And I was the plus-one.
You also executive produced Transamerica. Is it crazy now to think that Steve Bannon had a piece of such a groundbreaking trans film? I believe his company Genius Products had a cut of the ancillary sales—DVD and home video.
You know, I heard that. I heard a whole story on NPR about his early film days. It’s pretty crazy. He was making money off a transgender movie and now he’s this. There are very few people in this world who have an ethic that they carry with them. People…change.
How are you just balancing everything career-wise? You’re directing features now, you’re acting in films, you have a hit TV show in Shameless. Things seem rather busy.
The reality is, I’m not working hard! Although every night I’m tired. Shameless takes half a year to shoot…
…Although Frank is sober this season, which seems a bit less crazy.
For a bit! For about four or five episodes he is. My character gets a car, a credit card, and a job. Doing Shameless is a joy, and I’ll admit that when we get to Chicago for the last episode, people are knackered by that time. But Krystal was the last thing I directed, and that was two years ago. I didn’t do anything last year. I’m on hiatus now, and we don’t do anything for Shameless until May or June, so we may do Wild Hogs 2! Tim Allen is trying to put that together, and I think he’s pretty close. I’m ready to act again.
Speaking of Shameless, it’s funny that you play scoundrels so often because off-screen you have a reputation for being the nicest guy. Do you think that plays into it? That it seems so antithetical to everything that you are?
I’ve gone through different periods in my life. I was the callow youth when I first got in the business, and almost always ended up getting punched in the mouth, knocked unconscious and weeping. Then I was the WASPy guy who was in over his head. I really have a great debt to John Wells for giving me the role in Shameless. It wasn’t the obvious choice, because he’s kind of a dangerous guy who’s so extroverted and in-your-face. But after I did Fargo, it was my fear that I would just do that role for the rest of my life—which happens to a lot of actors.
I enjoyed The Cooler but also felt like that was you really reaching the apex of the “loser” character. After that, did you feel as though you were done playing that guy?
Yeah. Definitely. I thought that before The Cooler. I made a rule: “no more losers,” and turned The Cooler down so many times. Wayne Kramer, who directed it, and Ed Pressman, who produced it, I kept saying “no!” and they kept saying, “Just look at it!” And after a while I thought, “You know what, they’re right. This is a great film and that was sort of an arbitrary decision I’d made to no longer play losers. This is one of the best loser roles ever.” So, I’m so glad I did it. But it was around the time of The Cooler that I thought “no more losers.”
You mentioned Transamerica earlier, which you executive produced and is a Harvey Weinstein film. And you’ve done a few Harvey films in your day—including Happy Texas, Bobby, etc. All of these sexual assault allegations are shocking, and have put the industry as a whole under the microscope. What were your dealings like with Harvey?
He was a handful.
Many men in the industry are saying that they knew he was a tyrant and a bully but weren’t aware of the extent of his sexual predation.
Of course people knew. A lot of people knew. A lot of people knew. It’s the shame of our industry that it took so long for this to blow up. You know, I’m going to miss Harvey in a way. There are two Harveys: there’s the Harvey who’s abusive to women, and the Harvey who would make films that no other producer would touch, and would champion those films. The same aggressiveness that he brought to chasing women is the same aggressiveness that he brought to pushing these films. When you think of it in the macro, these guys who are so driven, so smart, and they become so powerful, and they’ve got egos that are outsized—you have to have that to be Harvey Weinstein. You have to be the toughest dog on the block. So, we need no ghost from the grave to think that they’re going to be rough on women, and to take advantage of that. It’s a power thing, and it’s just so wrong.
What makes me saddest is that a lot of these women, when they were propositioned by producers—where it’s put this way: if you want the job, you’ll have an affair with me—they didn’t get mad, they were crushed. It destroyed their belief in themselves that this asshole had done this.
Not to be cliché, but these people are chasing a dream. Many of them moved to L.A. to act, and then this horrifying thing is your entrée into this world.
Exactly. And somebody says, “No, no, no. All you are is pretty.” That’s just devastating. That’s the saddest part of it: that it was so insidious that people couldn’t speak out angrily about it until years later.
And some of the victims—Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie—these are people who are well-connected in the industry. Gwyneth Paltrow’s parents are actors, and her godfather is Steven Spielberg. Angelina Jolie’s father is Jon Voight. It could have happened to anyone and there seemed to be very little in the way of recourse.
That’s true. And in all candor, stuff that happened in my grandfather’s day is illegal now. We’re kind of in the dark ages still when it comes to how to treat women.
You and Felicity have two young daughters. With all the terrible sexual-abuse stories that have come out, what do you say to them if they tell you they want to be Hollywood actresses?
Well, the business is evolving and as painful as this is, all these charges of sexual predation that are being thrown around, it had to happen. So my daughters, yeah, we can put a pin in that. I pity the poor fool that hits on my daughter, Georgia. She’ll knock his teeth out. It’s a different generation, you know? Things are evolving. My daughters are healthier than I ever was. I’m so glad I have daughters.
On a far lighter note, how did you ring in your 20th anniversary with Felicity? Did you go on a trip?
We did! We went to Colorado, just the two out of us—out in Aspen, where Felicity grew up. We spent a few days alone. We took a hike. It was lovely. I love being married to her. I love it pretty much every single day. She’s so fun. She’s crazy about me. She’s so sexy. It’s really the best decision I’ve ever made.