LOS ANGELES—William H. Macy, Oscar-nominated for the Coen brothers’ classic “Fargo,” has been on a roll for remarkable eight seasons as Frank Gallagher—his con man patriarch in the critically acclaimed TV series, “Shameless.”
For his portrayal of a perpetually drunk, deadbeat dad of six smart, independent kids, William has earned one Golden Globe and four Emmy nominations. (Emmy Rossum plays Fiona, the eldest of the Gallagher children.) William won an Emmy trophy in 2003 for the TV movie, “Door to Door.”
For the first time—well, for at least a few episodes of the Showtime series—Frank will be sober. “Frank was sober as a deacon for five shows. And I had to think long and hard about how to play a sober Frank,” William said. “It was a challenge, acting-wise.”
The actor, married since 1997 to Felicity Huffman, extolled the virtue of having long hair, which he grew for his booze- and drug-addicted, shiftless grifter. “It’s on my face all the time,” the 67-year-old said. “I like it because I have it and not everyone does.”
On the young actors who play his children, William grinned as he remarked, “I get their respect because I am the old guy, and I’ve been around the block a lot. I have their affection, but we don’t hang out together. ”
Excerpts from our chat:
So, what’s up with Frank, your character, this season? Frank got a job this season. He got a credit card (laughs). And it didn’t last long. He was sober, too. Right now, he is worrying about retirement, and he’s frightened about getting old.
What’s the biggest challenge in being in a show that has lasted for eight seasons? The challenge would be to start phoning it in a little bit. You get so good at the character, and you get so used to the writers that you can skate through it. You don’t dig enough like you did in the first season.
Was there ever a time when you read the script and you said, this is too much—I am not doing this? There was one time. It was early in the series, during its second year.
There was just one gag that I thought, that’s not right. I said, this is too far. And I won.
So, why has your character managed to keep the folks’ affection for him after all these years? People are attracted to someone who will never give up. That’s a very appealing trait. He’s got a wicked sense of humor; he likes to laugh.
How do the show’s fans react when they see you in person? When the show got sold to Netflix, our fan base quadrupled within months. All of a sudden, you can’t walk down the street.
The last time we were in Chicago to shoot exteriors, they had to put up a chain link fence. There were 200 people standing out there. It was raining and they stayed there all day.
What was the most memorable or unusual sex scene that you did on the show? There was a plot with a nurse named Bianca, who found out that she had a terminal disease. I agreed to be her cancer concierge. She had seven weeks left to live. I said, I will make sure that those weeks are the best of your life.
Frank suddenly became a Buddhist. Buddha had beautiful lessons on forgiveness. In your own life, if you decide to ask for forgiveness, who would be the first person you’d go to? Like everyone else, if you live long enough, sometimes you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep and some memory of an awful thing you did to someone just pops in your head. I have my share of those—times where I have been cruel.
What is your own relationship with religion? I was raised a Lutheran. Interestingly, I am about 25 pages from finishing the Koran, which was an eye-opener. I just started reading the Bible. I am very impressed with Jesus.
How shameless are you in real life? I’m not shameless. But, I’m as bold as Frank is in some circumstances.
In every season, we think Frank could never do anything worse than what he did. Yet, he does. Give us a little sketch of Frank’s journey this season. It was a bold choice to put him in an ashram—why would they let a crackhead in there? But, it was funny. To smoke that much methamphetamine, Frank would have to be out of his mind and psychotic for a couple of weeks, at least.
How have you and Felicity managed to have busy careers in television, raise babies (Georgia and Sophia) and now, the girls are all grownup? It’s rough. But, it helps when you have money because we have a magnificent nanny. After the first year when “Shameless” was picked up, they gave me notes on my parenting. We kept the girls out of the limelight as much as we could. We didn’t let them watch television. So, they both read.
“Shameless” may have more seasons, but when the inevitable end comes, how would you like the show to close? I’d like Frank to have a score—a big one—make a lot of money for just a short time. Then, he could lose it all. And I’d like him to meet someone. I mean, I hope he gets laid a couple more times (laughs).
How does it feel when your work, especially in “Fargo,” has been seen and admired by different generations, and actors riff on your original performances? It feels gratifying. It’s been fun.
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