At 60 years old, and after more than 30 years in the entertainment business, William H. Macy is making his television series debut on Showtime’s Shameless.
My wife [Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman] is on a series and loves her job so much and she gets to act everyday. I do independent films mostly and they’ve dried up to a large extent because of many reasons; I’m sure they’re going to come back, but it’s going to take some time. And I used to do movies of the week, which I would write with my friend Stephen Schachter (who cofounded Chicago’s St. Nicholas Theater Company with Macy and playwright David Mamet in the 1970s)—I’d star in them and he’d direct, and they’ve largely disappeared also. So I was left with nothing to do but raise my children and I thought, I’ll do anything to get out of the house…
Macy is known for being, and typically playing, nice guys, but his character in Shameless, Frank Gallagher, is an alcoholic father of six. But is he a good guy or a bad guy?
Golly, I don’t know. I think at his core, he’s a good guy, but how can you tell if an addict is lying? His lips are moving. Winston Churchill once said Americans will ultimately do the right thing but only after they’ve exhausted every other possibility and I think the same is true of Frank. I think Frank, at his core, when he has no other choice, he’ll do the right thing. But he is a rascal and will remain that way.
So how does an actor prepare to play an addict?
I’m lucky in that I do a good drunk. It’s more like a parlor trick than anything else, but I’m good at feigning the slurred speech, and I’m a pretty good physical actor. The trick of the thing is to make sure I act the scenes because you can just go crazy doing funny stuff; it’s more important that I stop myself every once and awhile, look at the other actors and remember what’s at stake in this scene. That’s the pitfall for this kind of character. But I’m pretty able to turn it on and off.
Shameless is set in Chicago, where Macy started his career in the 1970s at the St. Nicholas Theater.
I love the town; it was very good to me. Best looking city in America if you ask me. And it’s the perfect place to set this show because it just feels like the middle of the country—geographically, politically, ethnically even; it just feels so perfect. New York has got its international feel to it, Los Angeles is so frontier American and Chicago has a little bit of both.
As the father of two daughters—Sofia, 10, and Georgia, eight—does Macy find it difficult to watch his TV daughter, Fiona, played by Emmy Rossum, in her sex scenes with boyfriend Steve [Justin Chatwin]?
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, a little bit, although [Emmy’s] relationship with Frank, they’re more like brother and sister or good friends. I think Frank was unconscious most of her life, so he sort of looks on her with eyes wide as to how lucky he got that she stepped in to do his job. He’s never admitted this to Fiona; he just wouldn’t.
Macy, Rossum and actress Joan Cusak are the veterans amongst a cast of newcomers, many young children:
They’re all really talented people; they’re not to be taken for granted. We did a table read the other day and little Emma [Kenney, who plays Debbie Gallagher] did her scene and brought tears to the eyes of all the actors. You could look around the table and all the “veterans” looked at our scripts and said, “I think I better work on this a little more.”
Shameless premieres on Sunday, January 9 at 10 pm.