Can love last forever? William H. Macy says, 'Yes, it can.'
Shameless star William H. Macy, 72, heads to the big screen in the star-studded cast of Maybe I Do (in theaters Jan. 27), joining Diane Keaton, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in a multi-generational comedy about love. Macy and Sarandon are parents to Allen (Luke Bracey) and Keaton and Gere are parents to Michelle (Emma Roberts). They all come together one night for a family dinner to discuss whether Michelle and Allen should take the next steps toward marriage. What happens next is a surprise to everyone.
The title, Maybe I Do, sounds like a rom-com, but the tone is very different and it has a lot more dialogue than most movies. Is that because it was originally a play?
Yes. [Writer/director] Michael [Jacobs] did this play [called Cheaters] way back when he was 22 years old, one of the youngest guys ever on Broadway. It was a hit. It ran for a good long time. So, he had those rhythms and those laugh lines and jokes in his head.
I have seen other plays—well, to be blunt, The Producers, which ran on Broadway forever—turned into movies, and you could tell that even though there was no audience there, they would pause where the laughs had come on Broadway. Hats off to Michael because he cut a lot of stuff that worked beautifully in the play when he adapted it for the screen. But you’re right, it’s a very wordy screenplay. That’s one of the things I loved about it.
Maybe I Do asks the question: Does love last forever? Do you think there is a simple answer to that?
Not a simple answer, no. Can love last forever? Yes, it can. Can the same kind of love last as it is forever? No, I think it’s got to evolve. My wife [Felicity Huffman] loves to make the joke you want to get through your first husband as fast as you can, so you can get to the good stuff. The assumption being we all blow it the first time out—and statistics would hold that true.
I think this film is about how tough it is to find a life partner. Back when the marriage contract was born, people lived to age 50 or less. “Forever and ever, amen” meant a different thing. Now we live two complete lifetimes, or the equivalent of it. I think we’ve got to keep rolling with the punches and adapting. He cast us because we’re all of a certain age and we know this story vividly.
My wife rather disarmingly said a couple of years ago, “Well, you’re in your third act. What are your plans?” It caught me off guard because I didn’t realize I was in my third act and third acts are traditionally very, very short.
Your character Sam is so lonely and unhappy in his marriage. And yet, he’s the one who’s encouraging Allen to marry Michelle. How is he still a believer in love?
I think people are born that way. I think he believes in marriage, and he believes in love everlasting almost as a political belief. He believes it deeply in his soul, and God love him for that. I do too. I believe in love. The older I get, the more I believe in it.
Do you believe that there’s one person that’s right for us? Or could there be several people?
There can be several. And no harm, no foul, I say. But I also believe that you can meet someone when you’re 20 or 25 years old and that person is a great partner for you for the rest of your life. I think it happens; love evolves, and both people have to evolve with it. But it’s possible. And it sure is a romantic ideal, isn’t it?
When Sam takes off his jacket in the motel room and he’s wearing suspenders rather than a belt, I thought, “Is that something you did to help us know who he is?”
What a great question and what a cagey question. There isn’t a lot of backstory, and so I took clues from the few stage directions there were. I decided, with Michael’s blessing, that Sam retired, sold his company very, very well, so money is not a problem. And he’s still vaguely involved with it in some sort of a capacity. And, in fact, when I go to the movie theater [where I meet Diane’s character], I’m coming from a business meeting that I have to do once a month, meet with the board or something like that, so I wanted a nice suit. Braces are making their way back in the world and I love them, so I thought if I love them, he loves them.
The best line in the movie—and it’s yours— is, “By not touching each other [physically], we touched each other.” Did that speak to you, as well?
Oh, yes. It’s a beautiful, beautiful script. I hope it translates to the screen. I’ve only seen it once and it’s hard for an actor to watch his own work the first time. But, yes, I love that line. I love his romance. There are some fabulous phrases in there. Also, in Sam’s rage against his wife and her rage against him, oh, my God, some of the insults are just delicious.
It’s a great cast—Richard Gere, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and you—Oscar winners and nominees, so with some very funny stuff in this film, which of the four of you broke the most often?
Good question. It might have been me. And if it wasn’t me, it would be Susan. She’s got such a delicious sense of humor and, God, she’s so wicked smart. She sees the humor in everything. Diane’s an odd duck. She spends most of her time with her peeps and by herself. She’s taken that persona that she’s developed of being sort of confused and not quite knowing what’s going on and it’s kind of become her.
And yet she writes books and flips houses and all kinds of other things, so it can’t really be.
Right. What a career. I will tell you straight up I was gobsmacked to join this cast, and so pleased. I love these actors. I’ve revered them my whole life. I couldn’t help myself, the first day of shooting I brought up that moment in Reds where Diane’s waiting for Warren to get off the train and it appears that he’s not getting off the train and she’s thinking he’s dead, and then when he does step off that look on her face. Oh, my God, I will take that to my grave.
And Susan, every one of my favorite movies she’s been in. The more I spend time with her, I remember she did Thelma and Louise, Bull Durham and Atlantic City, good God what a sexy movie. I did The Client, I had a very small part in The Client. And Susan and Tim Robbins had this company in L.A. called The Actors’ Gang and Felicity and I did one of their plays with them, one of their stage screenings that they do. Susan’s done it all.
You have two daughters, Sophia, 22, and Georgia, 20. When you were doing this movie, did you consider whether there was a message in it for young women?
Sure. Maybe young men more than young women. I think the message is there are no easy answers and marriage is very difficult, but we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s better to keep trying and fail than to give up. I think Luke’s character says it, “If I love her so much, why would I do that to her, marry her? Because marriages so often don’t work. Why would I do that?” It speaks to me. Why would you do that? Because that’s what life is. Take a chance. If you fail, get up, figure out what you did wrong. But you’ve got to keep moving forward and you’ve got to have faith in the future.
A silly question: In the movie scene when you put the M&Ms in the popcorn was that something that’s in the script or is that something that you do?
Nope, that was scripted. I find it a loathsome habit, but Felicity loves to do it too. You get popcorn and all the candy you want, and you just dump it in there and eat it all together.
Shameless isn’t that far in your rearview mirror. Is there a part of Frank Gallagher that you will carry with you always?
Absolutely. On so many levels. Professionally it was the most profound thing I’ve ever done because it ran for a decade. I really got my 10,000 hours on Shameless. I wish I could have done it earlier in my career. I love Frank, I love his willingness, his boldness to speak the unspeakable. I love his soullessness. He’s just willing to go in the direction that the horse is riding without a lot of heavy thinking about right and wrong. And at the same time there was genuine affection. It couldn’t help but happen because I had affection for all the characters on that. We do become the characters after that long. I loved the cast and crew, and I can see that in Frank a little bit, he loved the cast.
Shameless ran 11 seasons. Most shows don’t make it that long. What do you think it was that gave it longevity?
The thing I think that made the show last that long, aside from the fact that it was really well cast, and it was brilliantly written and directed consistently, was that the concept works. I get a lot of pilots now and I look at them and I think, “Yes, I can see six episodes of this,” maybe I can even see 22 episodes and sometimes I can see two years of this. But the concept doesn’t have legs, and the concept of Shameless had legs. They’re a central family and there’s Frank’s story and you can go in a million different directions. Then there are all those kids, and you can follow each one of those. And then they put the neighborhood in, the next-door neighbor, Sheila. It could go in so many directions.
The second thing it had was that the kids were young, and they grow up, they evolve. So, that’s how they were able to keep writing successfully for 11 seasons. The only one who didn’t change, really, was Frank. That was a big challenge not only for me, but for the writers and for [creator] John Wells to figure out how Frank could stay relevant and current and surprising even though he didn’t really change.
Other than acting is there something you’re passionate about?
Well, I married an actor and one of my daughters is an actor, so it’s pretty much what we talk about all the time. My youngest daughter, who’s not an actor, is ready to kill us all. Other than acting, I’m semi-retired, or at least I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what I’m going to do.
We moved to Colorado, we’re residents now. We bought Felicity’s childhood home, which was an excellent husband move on my part. And we live here now. I’ve carved out part of the barn and I built a wood shop. I like to do woodworking. I turn bowls on a lathe. I’ve built some heirloom-quality furniture. I like to work with carpenters who are better than me.
These days what am I doing? We changed all the fencing on the corral. This fencing was 2 x 6 fir and it’s weathered, some of it’s been there 12 years or 14 years, so it’s weathered deliciously. I’ve saved it all as we’ve replaced the fencing and I’ve figured out a way to make benches out of them. They’re called three-board benches. They’re not really, but they’re as simple a bench as you can possibly do out of this rough lumber. People just fell [in love] over these benches.
What else? I’m the spokesperson for Woody Creek Distillers. I came upon that because my next-door neighbor, literally, here in Woody Creek is one of the owners. His next-door neighbor is the other owner. When they decided they wanted to really ramp up production countrywide and raise their visibility in this market, they walked next door and asked if I would be the spokesperson. The “spokesdude” is the actual name that I’ve taken on. I don’t know if it was laziness on their part; they just didn’t want to walk farther. There are a lot of celebrities here in Aspen, Colorado, and they chose me. So, I’ve been doing that now for about four or five years and it’s taken a particular turn.
I love playing ukulele. I’ve been playing music my whole life. I started with guitar, now I play ukulele. As part of my sales pitch, we’ll do these parties for distributors or a restaurant chain or something. It’s a little private party and I’ve been writing these songs about Woody Creek, Colorado, and the distillery. I do my comic stylings about the history of alcohol and then I do a couple of songs. I’ve been doing that, and I just finished a new song for Woody Creek Distillers. So, I’ve been writing songs. I started out writing songs, birthday songs for my wife and two daughters. I did that for about ten years, I did a bunch of them.
You can see what I’ve done for Woody Creek Distillers just by going on their website and there’s a link to it. I’ve made music videos out of two of them and I’m going to make music videos out of the other two soon.
It sounds like you’re having the best time of your life right now.
It’s pretty swell. I love my life. I’m still healthy, thank God, knock on wood. I still like what I do. I love the fact that I’ve gained wisdom, if I can use that word. Pretty much every time I do a play, I’m the oldest guy. I like my position. I love this business because they don’t cast you aside when you become one of the elder statesmen. If you’ve kept working, the young folks, generally speaking, want to talk to you, want to ask you things. I like it. So, I’ve been doing a little bit of teaching and some philanthropy. Felicity and I started one of those donor-advised funds and with what resources we have, we’ve been giving away money to great causes. Also, it turns out I’m really good at doing nothing at all.