Playing ultimate drunk Frank Gallagher on Showtime’s Shameless, William H. Macy has snagged, so far, noms for a Critics’ Choice, a Globe and two Emmys. This past season, Macy had the added challenges of directing an episode–it included a sex scene and a shooting–and figuring out how to portray Frank in a rare phase of sobriety. This year he’ll also be cheering on his wife Felicity Huffman at the Emmys, since she’s nominated for her role in ABC’s American Crime. Macy tells AwardsLine about playing a reprehensible alcoholic father of six and what Emmy morning looks like in his house.
How’s Season 6 shooting going now?
I’m back at Shameless on episode three. I’m about to have a scene with Emmy (Rossum). It’s an emotional year. It’s all about pregnancy, this first part of it. We’re dealing with abortion as only Shameless can deal with it. Frank’s position is typically unexpected and right out of left field and his logic is sort of bewildering.
What have been some highlights of playing Frank so far?
Last season Frank actually fell in love. The two characters, Bianca and Frank, run away to Costa Rica for a couple of weeks. She’s dying of cancer and she in fact dies there, but before she does, they spend three weeks on the beach. Any of those scenes, it was just so lovely. Bojana (Novakovic) is just wonderfully talented and so cool and calm and collected and stunningly good looking. Both Frank and I were completely smitten by her! It was so interesting to see a character like Frank Gallagher get the wind taken out of his sails. He was head over heels in love. It was a very interesting thing to act. Then Frank almost died from liver failure and the last possible minute was given a liver transplant. So in season five he’s sober. I had done four years of this guy pretty much high somehow, either drunk or on pills or something. In almost every single scene I had done for four years he was a little lit up. Then suddenly he’s sober as a parson. That was a very interesting acting challenge. Almost from the beginning of the season, I realized I go into this sort of weird voice and strange delivery because he’s always a little bit lit up. Suddenly, I thought, ‘that’s not appropriate.’ It was just very interesting to act the guy sober. I guess obviously it made him smarter, but it also made him much more vicious. Frank is a liar. He lies to everybody constantly, but when I started playing him sober, the lies became really hard to distinguish. He lied beautifully well. He’d look people right in the eye and tell them absolute trash, and you couldn’t tell. He was psychopathically good at lying–an interesting acting challenge.
You directed an episode too–how was that experience?
Directing for television is a rarified event. It’s not like any other directing. In a feature film, the director is the last word. There’s nobody after the director–they have absolute authority. In television it’s collaborative. The director comes in, he has a little input on the script but not much. He has a little input on costumes but not much, same with casting and everything else. It’s many people. The director has to direct those scenes and he gets a brief amount of time to edit the thing, but again that falls to someone else. It’s a very interesting job but one that takes some getting used to. Secondly, I’ve heard, and I think it’s true, that Shameless is the least expensive hour of television on right now. We’re competing with reality shows. A lot of shows, especially network shows, any show that has commercials, has about 45 pages that they shoot. Most shows get eight days to shoot an episode. Our scripts come in at 60 to 63 pages and we get seven days. So as a director, my first three days were all nine pages plus, just to give you perspective. On a big feature film, they’ll shoot a page-and-a-half, maybe two pages, maybe three. If it’s an indie film, it’ll be five pages. On a heavy day it’ll be seven pages. My first three days were over nine pages each. I loved acting with my cast. They’re all stunning actors. Emmy Rossum in particular, I mean she’s a thoroughbred. It was just stunning to watch her. She can do anything.
You’ve also directed the upcoming film The Layover…
What does one call it? It’s a sex comedy. You know, it’s turning out to be a little softer than the title would denote it. I’d say it’s a chick flick. It’s for women. Alexandra Daddario and Kate Upton, they’re best friends and they go on a vacation, which just goes to pieces. It tests their relationship a lot. It’s a comedy, but I’ve always sort of mixed drama and comedy together. This one has more comedy than drama but I’m a little worried. I think this would fall under the comedy category. I put a lot of drama in my comedies. I hope audiences will respond to it. It’s pee-your-pants funny in places. Those two are just delicious.
How will Emmy morning be in your house with both you and Felicity nominated?
The poor women. I feel sorry for them. The show is late-afternoon, early evening and she has to start hair and makeup about 10:30 or 11 in the morning to be ready to go to get in the car. I get my monkey suit on about 10 minutes before the car arrives. We joke about it. A lot of friends call with good wishes and that sort of thing, then there’s the perennial question, ‘should I write a speech just in case I win?’ Then you think, ‘there’s no way I’m going to win, Jeffery Tambor is going to do it.’ But it’s a day off for sure. You don’t do anything else for that day and if you’re smart you don’t plan anything until about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon the next day because if you win you do a little dancing. I don’t think a husband and wife have ever been nominated in one year, so I think we’re going to party. We may stay up until 10 o’clock at night. We might be that wild. There are all kinds of parties you can go to and my wife loves to dance. I think there might be some dancing in our evening. I love to dance with her and I like it when the lights are pretty dim so nobody can see exactly what I’m doing.
You’ve written for Shameless before, will you do more of that?
I think no plans for either right now. I’ve got a pretty full plate these days with finishing The Layover and also I’ve got another film that I’m going to shoot in March, which is called Krystal. It’s a passion project that’s taken me 10 years to get off the ground and now it seems like it’s going to happen. I’ll be starting soft prep for that as soon as I finish The Layover. So no writing or directing Shameless this season certainly. Next season, who knows. I do love this cast. I’m one of the luckiest guys in television, absolutely without question.
What can you tell us about Krystal?
My producing friend, Rachel Winter, brought me the script many years ago. It’s by Will Aldis. She sent it to me to act in and I said, uncharacteristically, that I’d like to throw my hat in the ring to direct this. At that point, Will was going to direct it and he said, “Yeah, let him do it.” Will is a singular writer. It’s very, very theatrical, it’s stage-worthy and it takes place in the South. It’s about a young man who has a heart condition which precludes him from going to college or playing sports or falling in love. Into his life comes Krystal. An ex-heroin addict, alcoholic, hooker, you name it. She’s on the run and she’s got a son and it becomes this unlikely love affair which of course never works out.
What I love about the script is it’s very literary. It sounds like Faulkner might have had a hand in it in some of these speeches. It’s slamming door English farce with a profound story and a little bit of magical realism in it. It’s got a little bit of everything.
And you have the film Room coming out–had you been a fan of the book?
No. As soon as they gave it to me I started the book. I had to shoot it before I could finish the book. The script was taken from the book, although they didn’t tell the entire story of the book, they couldn’t. I think they took the best parts, the best and most cinematic parts from the book. It is devastating. It’s one of those stories that you have trouble wrapping your head around. How can people act that way? How could it be? How could you possibly survive that? I think it’s going to be quite moving. I was only on the thing for about five days. I shot it pretty much in order so they had just gotten out of the room when I arrived on set. I had never seen a cast and crew so traumatized. I walked on set telling jokes and whistling, and they had just been through a war. I guess they shot four-and-a-half, five weeks in a 12-foot room with no light. The claustrophobia had almost overtaken them.