William H. Macy has starred in some of our favorite films, from Boogie Nights to Fargo. The man is a veteran of the cinematic world and with Rudderless the supremely talented actor has gone behind the camera for the first time as a big screen director.
We caught up with Macy to talk about why Rudderless was the movie for his directorial debut, how he will owe star Billy Crudup for the rest of his life, the hurricane of talent he scored from his own home and the unique gift of directing his wife, Felicity Huffman, in the powerful tale of how a father grapples with the death of his child through the powerful and soothing power of music.
Movie Fanatic: After decades in the business with all of your stellar work, we’re sure that you have had the opportunity to direct before. Why was Rudderless the right project for you to make your directorial debut?
William H. Macy: Music is a big thing for me. I’m no good, trust me [laughs]. I’m looking around, I have a BB King guitar, three ukuleles, we have a piano, my daughter sings, my wife sings, and we all play a lot of music. It’s a big part of my life and how I got into the business. I loved the fact that it was centered around music. I was in my element. I love how in the script, you feel this violence, this stupid mindless violence that seems to be epidemic and has no solution. So much of it falls under the category of “shit happens.” It was in the process of talking about this film that Casey (co-writer Twenter) came up with the idea, “What if the kid was the shooter?” It scared the crap out of all of us and all of us our first reaction was, “No, no, no, no. That’s just too dangerous. What do we know about that?" It was very quickly after that that I thought, “If it frightens us so much, that’s the story we have to tackle.” It was a dangerous first film.
Movie Fanatic: Given all the challenges you are describing and how the story evolved -- do you feel your background making movies as an actor for decades prepared you to help make the tough decisions? Maybe it made it easier to see what needed to be done, even if it wasn’t the easy choice.
William H. Macy: I think so. I’ve always flattered myself that I have good taste. It’s held me in good stead. If I like it, a lot of people will like it. I was a little more brave in making the film I made because I do believe in my taste and I personally like challenging films, not just in the subject matter, but in the way that they’re told. My biggest complaint of films when I see them as an audience member is when they give me too much information. I don’t need that. I get it, move ahead. My years on stage helped me too; the mantra there is drive to the curtain. There’s a tendency in the theater, you get close to the end and you start to slow down. That couldn’t be more wrong. Audiences can accept a lot more story if you give them little time to dwell on it.
Movie Fanatic: How was it directing Felicity in terms of what you thought it would be like and how the reality turned out to be?
William H. Macy: She’s a thoroughbred. Those scenes were loaded. She had to come on set at a full boil. I thank my lucky stars and my relationship with her that I had the brains to just sit down and take picture of it. When she and Billy just ran through the dialogue in that first appearance of hers, I thought, “Geez, Louise! I just have to tell them where to stand!” I was in the presence of greatness when they were doing those scenes. I also handed her a tough role because I wanted that character to be full and yet I didn’t want to give her any screen time. She’s a very complicated character and I don’t know how Felicity does it. But, she does. You get a lot of backstory just in how she carries herself.
Movie Fanatic: And Billy too, he is always so incredible. How did he come to be in your first movie?
William H. Macy: I spent some time trying to cast it 25 years older. I think everyone should look exactly like me [laughs]. Somebody said that he doesn’t have to be in his 60s. The kid is in college. So, Billy’s name popped up immediately. I will be in his debt for the rest of my days. I sent him the script with a note, through his agent. He called me the day he got it and said he’d read it tonight. The son of a bitch did. He called and said, “It was a great script, I’m going to think about it and call you tomorrow.” And he did. Then he said yes. And that’s that. Billy Crudup is my champion for the rest of my days. I play a drunk on television (on Shameless) and I flatter myself on being a pretty good drunk, but he took me to school with his drunk [laughs]. I will imitate him and give him no credit in this coming season of Shameless!
Movie Fanatic: It sounds like you’ve got the bug. I would guess you would like to direct again?
William H. Macy: You guessed correctly. I got a couple of scripts that I love. Rudderless has been successful, for which I thank my lucky stars. My goal was that my investors would get their money back, and they have. I also wanted it to do well enough that I could direct again. And I will have the chance to direct again. That was the extent of my ambitions for this thing. It has exceeded my wildest expectations. I got the bug. I really want to direct. I feel that I could get really good at it.
Watch Rudderless online and on DVD right now and prepare to be moved and inspired.