Why has William H. Macy played so many losers in his career? “When you do something well, they’ll ask you to do it again,” he once said. “Early on, I must have done this well and the reputation was out there. It’s strange because in my life, I don’t feel like a loser. Far from it. I feel lucky.”
Indeed, Macy has enjoyed success that many of his characters could only dream about. After beginning his acting career in the theatre, Macy transitioned to films and built up a lengthy resume while working with some of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Macy himself has become pretty popular with critics and won several awards. In March 2012, Macy and his wife, Felicity Huffman, became only the second married couple to be honored with double stars on the Walk of Fame on the same day.
Born in Miami on March 13, 1950, Macy attended Bethany and Goddard Colleges. While studying at Goddard, Macy first met playwright David Mamet, with whom he would have a long professional relationship. Macy joined Mamet’s theater troupe, the St. Nicholas Company, after college and performed in many plays. He left the company in 1978 and moved to New York. His early work there included the legendary commercial voice-over “Secret: Strong enough for a man, but PH balanced for a woman.”
Macy performed in Broadway and off-Broadway shows, and in 1985 he and Mamet formed the Atlantic Theatre Company. He also began working in television and film, making his movie debut in the 1980 comedy “Foolin’ Around.” During the ‘80s Macy took supporting roles in such films as Mamet’s directorial debut, “House of Games,” and Woody Allen’s “Radio Days.” Macy’s role in Mamet’s 1991 film “Homicide” earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
In the early ‘90s Macy appeared in higher-profile films such as “Benny and Joon” with Johnny Depp and “The Client” with Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon. He received his second Independent Spirit Award nomination for Mamet’s 1994 film “Oleanna,” in which he played a professor accused of sexual harassment. However, his breakthrough wouldn’t come until 1996’s dark comedy/crime film “Fargo.”
Roger Ebert called “Fargo” – written, directed and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen – one of the best films he had ever seen. He singled out Macy’s performance as Jerry Lundegaard, a hapless car salesman who arranges to have his wife kidnapped so he can collect a ransom payment. “Jerry, brilliantly played by Macy, is a man weighed down by the insoluble complexities of the situation he has fumbled himself into,” Ebert wrote. “Macy creates the unbearable agony of a man who needs to think fast, and whose brain is scrambled with fear, guilt and the crazy illusion that he can somehow still pull this thing off. Macy, who has played salesmen and con men before (he’s a veteran of David Mamet’s plays), finds just the right note in his scenes in the auto showroom. It’s fascinating to watch him in action, trying to worm out of a lie involving an extra charge for rust-proofing.” The role earned Macy an Independent Spirit Award as well as a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
Macy had parts in two high-profile 1997 films, “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford and “Wag the Dog” with Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, but his most notable role that year was arguably as an assistant porn director in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” The movie’s ensemble – which included Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle and Philip Seymour Hoffman – received a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Macy reunited with Anderson for 1999’s “Magnolia,” which was nominated in the same category and won Best Acting by an Ensemble from the National Board of Review. “State and Main” – written and directed by Mamet and featuring a cast that included Macy, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Stiles and Charles Durning – received the same award the following year.
His many film credits during the late ‘90s and early 2000s included “Pleasantville,” “Psycho,” “A Civil Action,” “Happy Texas,” “Focus,” “Welcome to Collinwood” and “Jurassic Park III,” but Macy still found time for television appearances. He received Emmy nominations for guest spots on “ER” and “Sports Night” in 1997 and 2000, respectively (one of two Emmy nominations he received in 2000). The TV movie “Door to Door” earned Macy a Screen Actors Guild Award as well as two Emmys in 2003.
2003 marked another milestone for Macy: He was featured in a movie sex scene for the first time. The movie was “The Cooler,” and his love scene with Maria Bello had to be trimmed so the movie could qualify for an “R” rating. Macy complained, “I have been working out for 30 years, staying in shape in the dream that someday I would get to play a sex scene. Finally I get one, and they cut it.”
The acclaim continued in 2004 as Macy received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the movie “Seabiscuit” and an Emmy nomination for his role in the Showtime movie “Stealing Sinatra.” He received two Emmy nominations in 2005 for the television movie “The Wool Cap” and another Emmy nomination in 2007 for the TNT miniseries “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King.”
Macy took a role in another ensemble piece, 2006’s “Bobby”, a dramatization of the events preceding Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel. With a cast including Macy, Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Harry Belafonte, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez (who wrote and directed), Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Laurence Fishburne, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, “Bobby” won Ensemble of the Year at the Hollywood Film Festival. The following year, Macy starred with John Travolta, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence in “Wild Hogs,” one of his biggest hits.
Since January 2011 Macy has starred in the Showtime series “Shameless,” an adaptation of a British television drama set in working-class Chicago. Macy plays Frank Gallagher, a single father of six children with a drinking problem. “Shameless” was Showtime’s highest-rated drama debut in 7 years. Showtime renewed “Shameless” for a fourth season in late January 2013 due to strong ratings.