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William H. Macy Q&A: ‘The world needs more laughter’

On one of New York City’s first truly spring-like days, William H. Macy is hunkered down over a Caesar salad lunch at Gabriel’s restaurant, talking TV. Not coincidentally, his wife, Felicity Huffman, is being quizzed elsewhere in the same establishment alongside her “Desperate Wives” costar Doug Savant. All in a day’s work for the Macy/Huffman duo, which recently became a two-TV-star family when Macy premiered on Showtime in January with “Shameless.”

As Frank, the drunken and largely shiftless papa to a clutch of kids who survive largely by their own wits, Macy couldn’t be happier … even if he has to figure out how to get his hair to stay in place.

You’ve done extended guest appearances on shows like “Sports Night” (starring your wife Felicity Huffman) and “ER,” but “Shameless” is your first starring role on a TV series. Why now?

I wasn’t working as much as I wanted to, so I decided it was a great time to do a TV show. Nothing blew up my skirt until [executive producer] John Wells called. At my age, to get this character — this show is a godsend.

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Wait, we hear that roles for women over 40 are tough — this is true for men too?

Everyone’s having problems. It’s called life. The business has changed; indie films are really in trouble.

Is playing Frank a particular challenge week after week?

They give me these huge, three-page gazonga-logs. It’s like reciting a book in film time, and it’s not easy to memorize three a week. I love doing it. I love showing up. They say, “Let’s run through it once,” and I do it flawlessly the first time out. That was a note from my wife: “Learn the lines early.”

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You give each other notes?

I’m really lucky. I’m not jealous of her, and I know she’s not jealous of me. Kids, don’t try this at home, but we talk about our careers and the biz and we ask for notes from one another, we run scenes together and talk about how to play something.

Your hair has to be fairly long to play Frank, and you’re tossing it around a bit –

Yes, how do you keep yours out of your face?

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Tons of hairspray. Are you enjoying being free and easy with your locks?

I’ve got the Farrah Fawcett thing down, but I’m trying to find a butch version of Farrah Fawcett. But it’s in my freaking face all the time. Still, chicks dig it — that’s what I’ve discovered.

I read once that your former teacher David Mamet gave you your aesthetic. What does that mean?

He taught us about the attitude that one brings to the theater. The director should be the biggest gorilla in the room on a set. When an actor has all the power on a set it’s tough, because it’s easy for an actor to misuse it — sometimes unwittingly.

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Have you been guilty of that?

I flatter myself that I’ve been pretty good about it. It’s not really an actor’s fault — it’s their job to fall in love with their character. So anything in the script that makes you look bad or uncomfortable, you’re going to want to cut. It takes a big person to say, “I’m supposed to be uncomfortable; I’m supposed to look like an … here.”

You often take roles where you’re kind of … well, a yutz. Have you been typecast?

I swore I’d never play that role again — and “The Cooler” came along, so that went out the window. But Frank is not a loser — he’s strong, and there’s a part of him that’s a little dangerous. In one scene, as Frank, I head-butted my own son, Ian — broke his nose, blood everywhere. When I read it, I loved it. But someone cried uncle on that one. We had to shoot a scene where I apologized. That’s the only apology he’s made on the show.

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So are there other roles you’d still like to play?

I could play a truly desperate, dangerous, cold-blooded man — I’d like to give that a shot in the movies. But right now I feel like I only want to do comedy and laugh at myself. The world needs more laughter.

calendar@latimes.com


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