William H. Macy / Stuart Gordon
Cinequest 16 Film Festival - San Jose, CA - March 2006
William H. Macy is a previous winner of the Cinequest Film Festival Maverick award for his stylized performances on screen. As an actor, he is one of the rare few who can say as much with a look as he can with a line. His characters have always been depth-filled and memorable, whether it be in films like “Fargo,” or “Boogie Nights.” His most recent film out to date is “Edmond,” Originally a play written by Dave Mamet, it is a dark tale of a man pursuing the wrong side of the tracks. The bleakness of the main character, played by Macy, is rivaled only by the blunt vulgarity of his person. This is the tale of a man falling down, and hard. A character of this nature requires a performance by an actor who can hold his ground, and who truly knows his craft. How to immerse himself into a being that is totally removed from the actor. William H. Macy joined Cinequest 16 to talk about his new film as it premiered at the film festival. Joining him in the press junket was “Edmond” director Stuart Gordon, himself a first-timer to Cinequest.

This was primarily set up as a brief talk by Mr. Macy about the film, and a bit about his own method. This was followed by a Q&A from the audience, which is covered in here.

As Mr. Macy made his way up to the podium, he offered his usual quip and comment to start the chat.

WHM: Don’t get up. (quickly looks around the room) I think that’s enough for today.

(everyone laughs for a moment)

WHM: As an actor you have to impersonalize, or maybe identify with the character, at least while you’re playing him.

Q: What aspects did you focus on in playing Edmond - a character a lot of people find repulsive and immoral?
I found... I actually don’t think of the whole that way. I might be different as an actor, but I have a tendency to think of it one scene at a time. And even within the scenes, one moment at a time. I leave it to [director] Stuart and the writer to make sure that it all adds up. I think the first time you read a film, as an actor, it’s smart to read it fast so that you can see the film in your head. If it’s a good film then go make it, and don’t worry about things that aren’t within your control, like making sure that it adds up. You can just do the small moments. In terms of this one, I don’t know if I find him [Edmond] a repulsive character. As a matter of fact, I don’t. I find him sad. Stuart and I were talking about this before. If there is a theme to Edmond, I don’t know what it is.

I feel that Dave Mamet... It’s 20 years old [actually written in 1982 - ed.]. This was originally a play written 20 years ago, and it’s depressingly relevant today. I think David just... through his technique, and through his art, opened himself up and let his subconscious speak. So I find the film to be true, scene to scene to scene. It’s horrifying where it ends up, but all the little pieces I find to be logical and true. True to the human experience. I didn’t have to stretch myself or figure out how this different kind of person spoke to me.

SG: I think what happened to Edmond can happen to anybody. That’s the thing about it that’s so amazing. One of the lines of the film, “How much of your life are you really happy?”... In a year of your life, a minute, two minutes out of the year? It’s about a guy who’s just had enough of the unhappiness and wants to find... wants to alive, he wants to live. He wants to live in a world where people are truthful and kind to each other. What he wants is something good. He’s not a repulsive character. He is us.

WHM: [Referring to himself and Stuart] We were talking [about] before you read the headlines that someone was arrested for some terrible crime... well, we know about it from that point. You might even follow the trial to get the grisly details. But Edmond is about following one of those grisly headlines from the very beginning. How did it happen? What are the elements that makes someone flip out the way Edmond did?

Q: You’ve played so many wonderful characters and roles. What would you say is the most difficult character you’ve had to step into?
Now it’s going to sound like I’m “buttering my bread,” but Edmond is about the toughest thing I’ve ever done. It’s threatening on every level you can think of. The language at once, is exquisite and poetical and complex, and so hard to memorize and speak so that it sounds natural. It’s one of David’s most difficult plays. Some of the speeches are impossible. In the cell, at the end, it starts off with, “You know, you know, you know, you know, you know...” Five “you knows.” And there are a lot of those. It’s difficult technically. It’s so threatening with what the actor has to go through with this thing. From unbridled rage, and racial rage which makes us all so uncomfortable.

When we were making the film, we said, when we do the publicity for this film, what are we going to say, “The ‘N’ word?” Well we have been saying “the ‘N’ word.” But, man... When Jamie Foxx was shooting his pilot for a sitcom or something at this studio. I’m downstairs, we’re outside in a courtyard so my voice really rings out. I’m kicking the shit out of Lonnie [Lionel Mark] Smith, going, “You fucking nigger! You fucking coon!” There are all these guys... (audience laughs as he gestures up and around showing how people are looking down on him) I sort of get red in the face just saying it here, but to really mean it, that was hard to do. He ends up in prison and is sodomized. So you can just about anywhere...

SG: Don’t give too much away.

WHM: And that was just in the first five minutes of the movie. (laughs) So just about anywhere you throw a stone, it’s threatening and difficult to do.

SG: Watching Bill work on this movie was a revelation every day. I was just in awe of him, and so were the rest of the cast. He sort of set the standard, which was way up there. Everybody came to join him at that level. It was just a beautiful thing.

WHM: There were some great performances. This thing was a play. So I was very aware that every actor in America... the scene with the waitress has been performed in every acting class for 20 year now. Someone always does that scene. And I was very aware - it’s like doing Shakespeare - I was very aware that I would be receiving some scrutiny from all the young actors. I wanted to make sure that I had it letter-perfect.

Q: There are certain actors who have a wonder way with dialogue, such as Vince Vaughn... You have a wonderful touch with dialogue, but what I love about you most are your quiet moments, and sometimes just the way that the camera reads you. You mentioned how you read through a script quickly just to “see” the movie. How do you ground your characters so that your quiet moments really speak volumes?
I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I know what you’re talking about, and I recognize that in other actors better than myself. I do know - every actor’s had this too - the experience where, in the middle of a speech, your mind will wander and you’ll think, “Where am I? What am I saying?”, and then there’s a long pause. After the performance someone will say, “That was the most magnificent moment that I have ever seen.” To see yourself, you naturally just went south. But somebody will say, “Man, when you paused and you itched your forehead...” I don’t know. You know, if you’re doing your job right, you have no memory of that sort of stuff.

SG: I know what he’s talking about. In that speech, “You know, you know, you know...”, it’s the stuff in between the speech that is the most amazing, really. We can see you going through all these changes. We can hear your thoughts, in a sense. You’re making the invisible visible.

Q: I want to talk about sex. (audience laughter) Most actors, when they do sexual scenes, they aren’t interesting, they’re not believable, and they’re not erotic. But in “The Cooler,” you did a scene with [actress] Maria Bello that was actually all of those, and a lot of fun too. I was wondering if you could talk about that, about the happier moment in your life.
Um.. I... The first thing we did was... First of all, she’s the coolest broad who ever walked. That made it a lot easier. And I had an acting coach, who I had on set with me. His name is Jim Beam [in reference to the whiskey]. (audience laughs) You know what we did... We went through the script and decided what each scene was about from an acting point of view. What the scene was about, how were we different at the end of each one of these love scenes than we were at the beginning, and what transpired. When we went to the director and said, “We don’t understand two of these scenes.”, he said, “You know why? Because they’re bad.”, and he cut them. So every scene was about something and something was at stake. That helped take the attention off making it look like we’re actually doing one thing. I think... I’m over 50 years old. I have nothing to lose. I thought might as well go for it. I’m not going to get another invitation to roll around with Maria Bello, so... (audience laughs)

Q: Did David Mamet... Other than deliver the script, did he deliver any textural advice to either of you?
He came to the set on the very first day of shooting. I said, “You are welcome here anytime you want.” He said, “That’s sort of like your buddies going on your honeymoon with you.” He was great. I remember being an old friend of David’s. We started out together in Chicago doing theater. Even from the very beginning, David was one of these guys who you could say, “What is this line? What is this?” He’d say, “That’s good writing.” He still uses that line. He’s an amazingly generous fellow. He said the best thing I’ve ever heard a playwright ever say to an actor, which was... An actor was struggling with one of his speeches. [David] would say, “Look, these are just the words. You can do whatever you want, so long as you say those words.” That was such a liberating, freeing thing for him to say to.

So David, we talked a lot about it before the movie got made... He had it in his contract that not one line of dialogue or action could be cut, because he knew how controversial this piece is. He was afraid that a studio would take a hatchet to it. After the movie was done, I showed him the first rough cut. He would say, “You know, we don’t need this line here, or that line there.” He started trimming things. The movie is short. It’s 78 minutes long. But I said, “David, aren’t you worried about that?” He said, “The movie is as long as it needs to be.” This movie... I don’t think anyone would complain that it was too short. It’s a very intense 78 minutes.

Q: [To William H. Macy] Since getting a Maverick award, which is a special quality at the Cinequest Festival, how do you feel about the concept of being a Maverick? Particularly in this political era that we’re going through?
I’d love to be a Maverick. I hope it’s true. I’ll take the statue anyway. (laughs) It’s an exciting time for filmmaking, because a lot of people are making a lot of films. They’re non-studio films. They’re outside of Hollywood. A lot of filmmakers are getting at bat who wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. The technology has changed. Because they are Mavericks... I think films are getting better. Personally, I think films are getting better. They’re getting truer. When the studios control the films, they understandably have to make sure that their film will reach the widest audiences as possible. So they cut off all the high points, and they cut off all the low points, because that’s their financial responsibility. But now... because anybody can make a film... you can tell the truth about a specific audience and it doesn’t have to please everyone. So I love being an actor in this day and age. I’d love to be a Maverick. I like that name attached to my name.

SG: No wonder people [inaudible] when you said, “Every penny went to make the film.”
This film fell apart 16 times, and Stuart picked it up 17 times. It fell apart on the second day of shooting. Stuart was undaunted. He said, “I’m like a galloping horse. If they want to stop me, they’re going to have to shoot the horse.”

SG: We’re living in very fearful times. One of the things that “Edmond” is about, is about fear. It’s about a guy who doesn’t want to be afraid of anymore. I think that’s what a Maverick is, is someone who does something in spite of the fact that he’s afraid. Our voices now are speaking out, and it’s really refreshing that people are getting their courage together and we’re seeing that on screen. Revealed messages and statements being made. So thank God that there are Mavericks.

And with that, moderator Jens Hussey reminded Mssrs. Macy and Gordon that they had to get ready for their next meetings, and off they went.

Edited by
Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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