Few actors wear the shirt of despair as well as William H. Macy. Witness his performance in Fargo as the job‑like car salesman whose scheme to have his wife kidnapped develops a handful of fatal wrinkles. Macy's character, a Scandinavian mix of Willy Loman and Faust, smiles at grief, and that suits the Miami‑born actor just fine.
With a weak flicker of hope in his eyes, an elastic cheeriness in his jowls, and that irresistible Minnesota accent, Macy will long be remembered as Jerry Lundegaard even if audiences haven't been repeating his big line‑"Hey! I'm cooperating here!"‑nearly as often as Cuba Gooding Jr.'s "Show me the money!" And although Gooding beat him out for the Oscar, Macy isn't complaining. "Hey, I got to wear a bitchin' tuxedo," kids the forty‑six‑year‑old. "And you know what? I could've done Cuba's guy. I can play black‑just give me a shot!"
This summer gives his diverse talents full rein: Last month, he was the pilot of Harrison Ford's Air Force One, and this month he's a reluctant assistant director in Boogie Nights, a fictional account of the porno‑film industry set in the 1970s.
Macy developed his credo "Good acting is lean: You don't make stuff up, and you don't care it anybody likes you" ‑at Goddard College in Vermont under the tutelage of his theater professor, David Mamet (who also directed Macy in the feature films Oleanna and Homicide). After an eight-year stint on the stage in , where he, Mamet, and Chicago writer Steven Schachter started the seminal St. Nicholas Theater Company, Macy moved to New York in 1980 "I did an embarrassing number of plays. I suppose I should be thankful, but somewhere in those last couple of years, I lost my will to live. It also didn't help that I spent my days going on commercial calls. Five, six calls a day. Grueling.
'Secret ‑strong enough for a man but made for a woman.' That's my most famous voice‑over."
It may have been the six words Macy didn't get to say that compelled him to move to Los Angeles in 1990. "It was a Friday, my last call of the day, and it looked like every human being living in New York was auditioning for this part. This young woman intern, who's probably seen six hundred guys already, starts to tell me how to act. I said, 'Excuse me ‑this was written for a ten‑year‑old, by a ten‑year‑old. It's been on the air for twenty years, and I know how to do it.' Needless to say, I didn't get the part." But he's gotten plenty of others. That's Macy in hospital scrubs as ER part‑timer Dr. David Morgenstern, as well as in the films Mr. Holland's Opus, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and Ghosts of Mississippi. He's about to star in Pleasantville, with Joan Allen.
And those six words he never got to say? "No more ring around the collar."