ABILITYs Chet Cooper caught up with William H. Macy for
the first time in a decade. The last time the two spoke was on the
heels of the actors 2002 cable film Door to Door, in
which he portrayed Bill Porter, a real-life salesman with cerebral
palsy. That project earned Macy two Emmys-one for his performance,
and a second for co-writing the script. Perhaps best known for his
Oscar-nominated role in 1996s dark-comedy thriller Fargo,
he continues to toggle between drama and comedy, television and film.
His part in the 2007 buddy road movie, Wild Hogs, was not only
a box office success, but also turned the actor into an avid motorcyclist.
In his most recent film, The Sessions, Macy plays a priest
who helps a man with a severe disability find personal fulfillment
through a sex surrogate. The role is a 180-degree turn from his substance
abusing anti-hero on the current hit Showtime series Shameless.
Macy and his wife, Desperate Housewives star Felicity
Huffman, both recently received stars on Hollywoods Walk of
Fame. Calling in from his home near Aspen, the actor reflects on work,
motorcycles, and his advocacy.
Chet Cooper: How are you?
William Macy: Im good. Im in Colorado for the holidays.
Cooper: So youre a skier?
Macy: I am. Weve got a house down valley from Aspen, and weve
been coming here for years. My wife grew up here.
Cooper: Did you say that you wanted to start inviting me to Colorado
for the holidays?
Macy: I did say that.
Cooper: Are you still shooting Shameless?
Macy: Weve finished for the season. Afterwards I took a celebratory
motorcycle trip for two days to clear my head, and then we came here.
I used to ride motorcycles as a kid, and I got around on a bike the
first time I lived in Los Angeles. But Ive been hooked on bikes
ever since I did this silly motorcycle movie, Wild Hogs, a
couple of years ago. Ive been riding for some time now.
Two of the guys from Shameless and I have done a couple of
trips together. But I also ride by myself; I like that a lot. Two
summers ago I rode here from LA. It took about six days. I saw all
the national parks. Any deep hole in the ground I stopped and looked
at. It was such a legendary trip.
Cooper: You did that alone?
Macy: I did. Everyone tells you how stupidly dangerous it is, but
I ride like an old man. Im very, very cautious, and I keep away
from the fast bikes, because even at my age, I cant stay off
that throttle. Have you ever ridden one of those crotch rockets? Its
astounding. A combination of youth, testosterone and torque; that
kind of speed is a bad combo. (laughs)
Cooper: You dont really know youre even going that
fast, and theyre so quiet. My bike is pretty loud, so people
on the road know Im there. The saying is that noise saves
Macy: Two guys from my show, Steve Howey and Justin Chatwin, both
ride: We drove from LA to Colorado last summer and had the best time.
On our last trip, from LA to Aspen, Harley sponsored us. We took a
ton of pictures and shot some footage. Were going to edit it
and see what we can do with it.
We also rode from LA to San Francisco and back. I wrote an article
about that for the New York Times...Wed go through San Francisco
and theyd set off car alarms with the noise from their bikes.
Cooper: How old is your daughter right now?
Macy: Ive got two, one 10, one 12.
Cooper: Then our last interview was 10 years ago, oh, my gosh.
Because you say in the interview that your wife [actress Felicity
Huffman] is pregnant. Thats amazing. I sent you the link; I
think youll get a kick out of reading it and looking back. You
were just finishing the movie Stealing Sinatra. Thats
how far back it goes, if you remember that movie.
Macy: I can remember that far back. (laughs)
Cooper: (laughs) The thing I noticed in that old interview
is that I asked you if you knew about Media Access and you said, No,
tell me about it. Then, before going over to a screening of
The Sessions recently, I saw you at Media Access. So it was like full-circle.
Macy: Sweet. I love that.
Cooper: I saw you a couple of times at the CSUN
(California State University of Northridge) conference. What took
Macy: The technology conference?
Cooper: Yes, you did some cool things with video, and you did something
with your daughter. There was some funny stuff; do you remember that?
Macy: No I dont.
Cooper: There was a guy who had technology that helped people communicate-
Macy: Oh, yeah, a guy from New York. Thats why I was there,
yes. His son was born with cerebral palsy, and he was an advertising
executive. Hes devoted his life to improving communicative technology,
and hes done a lot of good.
Cooper: His product was fabulous, and he definitely moved the needle
with what he created, but the iPad knocked him out.
Macy: Because the iPad can do it better. I bet hes pleased about
that. Hes the kind of guy that says, Lets get the
technology, I dont care who does it. That iPad is amazing;
my wife has one.
Cooper: You cant compete with something thats selling
for a few hundred dollars and is accessible to everyone. So lets
talk a bit about The Sessions and how you managed to get wrangled
Macy: The script came to me in the normal way, through my agency,
and I liked it. It was a good story, very moving and unusual. Two
things in it were near and dear to my heart: One, I had lots of opinions
about Americans and the way we view sex, and this script was so refreshingly
candid, human and uplifting. Two, its set in the world of disabilities,
and yet the script is not about disabilities. It just happens to concern
a guy with a disability, which is the way I think we need to tell
stories. It just sparked the rebel in me, and it was not that much
work, really, it was probably a week of shooting to do all those scenes.
So I said, Yes, which was pretty much a no-brainer, especially
to be in a movie with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. I loved my character,
and having done Shameless for three years, it was nice to play a good
guy with a relatively pure heart. I found it outrageous to play a
priest... I dont know what the Catholic Church thinks of our
film, but I flatter myself that they liked it, and that they would
like the decisions my character made, even though its against
church doctrine. I dont know.
Cooper: Once Fox picked the film up for distribution, did you traveled
a lot to promote it?
Macy: Yes, there was some arm-twisting to do as much publicity as
I could manage. I think the results are paying off, too. As I understand
it, the film has done well, and it might do some good. Well
Cooper: You mentioned that this country has some issues around
sexuality. What are your views compared to what you think are standard
folkways and mores?
Macy: Because Ive got two daughters, Im right in the thick
of, Can I see this film, Papa? Can I see that film, Papa?
Thats where ratings come in. And Ive discovered that I
cant trust the ratings board at all, because they have-to my
mind-a perverted point of view about whats appropriate for children.
They think that if you see any part of a male or female anatomy, we
have to protect children from it, which is not true, and they think
almost any level of violence is okay for children, which is absolutely
Theyre really off the mark. Our glorification
of violence is ripping society apart. I dont want my children
exposed to it.
So much of the violence in the movies is b.s. violence: A guy in the
middle of a large city with 14 people lying on the ground that hes
just killed with his superhuman powers, and theres not a cop
to be found. Not a siren to be heard. No price to be paid. Thats
not true, and I dont like that sort of stuff. On the other hand,
theres sex. Our film, The Sessions, has to be one of the most
moral, uplifting, humanizing films that Ive been involved with
in a long time, but it got an R rating. Batman got a PG-13. I loved
Batman, dont get me wrong, but that kind of mindless violence
is not good for young children. And theres nothing in The Sessions
that children of a certain age should not see. My kids are just 10
and 12, theyre a little bit young for it, but if Ive got
to choose which one they were going to see, I would choose The Sessions
every single day.
Cooper: Whos behind assigning a film a rating?
Macy: The industry itself. And let me say quickly, I am against censorship
in any form. I think anybody should be able to make any movie he or
she wants and let the public decide. If its disgusting and they
dont want to see it, they wont go. I believe in the audience.
As an actor, early on, you learn that the audience is never wrong.
And if you think they are wrong, you need to find a different way
to make a living. Collectively the audience is smarter than you will
ever, ever be. The reason they came up with the ratings board is that
there are a lot of movies out there, and parents need some guidance.
Not only for the kids, but for adults, as well. If you dont
like to see a certain kind of film, there should be some rating, so
that you know what youre getting into. But the present system
Cooper: The ratings not only affect viewership, but potential earnings.
Macy: Oh, absolutely. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at
stake in one rating point. The difference between R and PG-13 is huge.
The ratings system is so bogus and people know it. Fewer and fewer
people care. The ratings board has sort of exposed itself. But my
problem is, as a parent, theres this area of film that my daughters
want to see. Theyre not my kind of films, I dont want
to go see them, but I really want to know whether my daughters can
see them or not. The morality of what the ratings board is doing now
escapes me. I dont get it.
Apropos to The Sessions, I worked with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)
for a couple of years. The whole issue of disabilities remains near
and dear to my heart. In the broadest terms, I felt that the recent
presidential election had to do, vis-à-vis, with the safety
net. On one side, the charge was that the safety net is too low. We
cant afford it. Its not good for people to have the safety
net too low... People can take care of themselves better than we allow
them to. So the question arises, where should that safety net be?
And I think its a legitimate subject for debate. I think in
all the smoke and flash of the campaign, it was not clearly discussed,
and I hope some day it will be.
So there will always be people with disabilities. And by my estimation,
the scorecard for the way we take care of those who need our help
the most, those at the very bottom of that safety net, is pretty dismal.
And that has to change.
Cooper: The National Institutes of Health did a study that found
that the average person experiences 13 years of one or more disabilities
in their lifetime. Basically that has to do with aging. As we get
older, we lose our hearing, we get osteoporosis... As we go over
the hill of the bell-shaped curve of life, we start to fall
apart more rapidly. As medicine gets better, we live longer, and then
theres the issue of having disabilities for an extended period
of time because of medicine, which brings up the quality of life issue.
Until people who are absent-minded about this concept of disability
are affected by it, its not on their minds.
Macy: Thats right.
Cooper: I used to use Vice President Dick Cheney as an example.
There was this push around gay rights-a lingering question about whether
people were born with a genetic disposition to be gay, or if it was
something in their upbringing, or even a choice. But you never heard
Cheney, a known conservative, talk negatively about gay issues, because
his daughter, whom he loves, is gay. So he never took part in that
discussion because he knew better; he knew it wasnt anything
to do with the upbringing, because he brought her up. This makes me
think of Myers Briggs and Jungian theory? Are you familiar with those?
Macy: A little.
Cooper: The concept is that there are four core types of personalities
on the planet, and about 75 percent are what some call sensory types.
Meaning they use their sensestouch something, feel it, smell
it to understand it. About 25 percent are intuitives. Youre
probably an intuitive. A lot of people in the artistic arena are abstract,
intuitive thinkers. They can think outside the box, if you will. But
the sensories are the ones who are pushing what you just described
most of the time; they insist that a rule is a rule is a rule.
Until it affects them and they can touch it, feel it and taste it,
they dont get it. Cheney had been directly involved with his
daughters growing up and he understood it from a personal sensory
Macy: That makes sense. Felicity talks about the introvert-extrovert
concept a lot. Shes done a lot of Jungian reading.
Cooper: So what are you?
Macy: I am probably an intuitive introvert. She talks about the difference
between some men and women. Women, in order to recharge their batteries,
gather in groups. They can recharge their batteries with their sisters.
I tend to recharge my batteries in solitude, therefore the motorcycle
trips. I need to be alone. As a matter of fact, I have to be careful.
I could turn into a hermit.
Cooper: It seems like theres a tendency for actors to be introverts.
People would not think that because they see them on stage, on film,
in TV, but theyre playing other characters.
Macy: In the weirdest way, I am never as comfortable in my own skin
as when I was a stage actor in the 20 years before I started doing
film. When the lights came up and I was on stage, I felt secure and
comfortable-even though there was a house filled with several hundred
people. And then I would go to the opening night party afterwards,
trying to mingle, and I have never felt more uncomfortable. It was
Cooper: I guess its about your comfort zone. If youre
an introvert, the comfort zone is more solitude, more alone, than
in a group. The extroverts actually get energy. They do want to go
out in public and be with the public. They dont like being closed
off, which is the opposite of what youre sharing. As you talk
about the motorcycle ride, I think of Paul
Pelland who now writes for ABILITY Magazine; he wants to
ride his motorcycle for one million miles; he said when he gets on
his bike hes just in a different place in his mind.
Macy: Steven, Justin and I had just done a particularly gnarly section
of the Pacific Coast Highway, and we had misplanned our day, so it
was cold and it got dark. It was a windy road right along the coast
with a drop-off.
Cooper: I get anxious just thinking about that. ......
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from the William
H. Macy Issue
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William H Macy Enjoying This
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Restraint Practice; Ashley Fiolek Sending 2012 Out With a Bang;
Humor Trying to (Maybe) Be More Loving; Childrens Book
Rewriting a Difficult Childhood; My Brother My Secret;
China Puppeteer With a Purpose; Long Haul Paul New Column
by a Biker With MS; DRLC Making the Obamacare Fair for All;
William H Macy Enjoying This Stage of His Life; Geri Jewell
Last Minute 2013 Resolutions; Haitian Leader Changing
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Ability; marketability An eSSENTIAL Insert; ABILITY's Crossword
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