March 13. 1950– William H. Macy:
“I’ve always liked television. I grew up on television.”
There is this little film that I love, I’ve seen it several times and each viewing makes me happy. When I point out this movie to other people and the seek it out, they always thank me. It’s titled Happy, Texas (1999), and here is the gist:
The little girls of Happy, Texas, are sad. The town hasn’t had a finalist the Little Miss Fresh Squeezed Pageant in years. Even the parents in town have stopped coming to the preliminaries. Steven and David, “pageant professionals” show up and are hired by the town to coach the little girls. But, Steven and David aren’t the gay couple that everyone thinks they are.
They’re not actually gay and they are not even Steven and David. They are really Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn), escaped convicts who steal a camper from the real Steven and David, who are professional pageant consultants.
Harry: “So we’re gay? How hard can that be?”
Not too hard in this charming film.
Northham and Zahn have never been better, but the entire cast is really engaging, including Ally Walker as Jo, the town’s banker; Illeana Douglas as Little Miss Fresh Squeezed Pageant coordinator; and the irresistible Macy as Sheriff Chappy.
Happy, Texas feels like a gentle take-off on Some Like It Hot, only it’s the crooks who are in disguise. Harry and Wayne Wayne decide to stay in town to rob the bank, and Wayne tries his hand at choreography in a sublimely silly scene.
Complications arise when Harry falls for Jo, And Sherrif Chappy discovers that he has strong feelings for Harry, much to his surprise. The best thing about this film, and there’s an awful lot to like, is the sweet, but shrewd depiction of gays. Northam and Zahn never act like a gay cliché when trying to pass themselves off as a couple; only a little handholding and affection are is required to convince the townspeople. One of them even tells the boys:
“I saw that Liberace fella once. He was an all-right fella… Far end of the counter from you guys, though.”
Happy, Texas is a small indy film, but what keeps it from being just a trifle is the sweet, heartbreaking performance by Macy as the straight-shooting but not necessarily straight sheriff.
He has a wonderful scene where he takes Harry out in an orchard ostensibly to shoot rabbits. It leads to taking Harry out to a bar where they dance the two-step, and Harry, to his surprise, likes the attention more than he expected.
Macy has become the offbeat-character actor of the ’90s for the past two decades. There is always something very unusual in each character he plays, and in Happy, Texas, it is an assured, cowboy masculine sincerity.
Macy studied Theatre at Goddard College in Vermont, where he worked with David Mamet, at the time, an unknown playwright. After graduating in 1972, Macy joined Mamet in Chicago. They formed the St. Nicholas Theater Company, where Macy appeared in several productions of Mamet’s works. He became the expert at delivering Mamet’s distinct rat-a-tat, punchy and curse-laden dialogue.
Macy got his SAG card for a small role in the romantic drama Somewhere In Time (1980). But, he really wanted a life in the theater. Macy landed roles in a bunch of Off-Broadway shows, and did voice-over and commercial work, and taught classes with Mamet at New York University. The two friends started the Atlantic Theater Company together in 1985, and Macy directed the company’s productions including Mamet’s Radio: An Evening Of Sketches and Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. The company is still going strong more than 30 years later. Last month they presented Mamet’s new play The Penitent.
In 1991, Macy had a major role in Mamet’s film Homicide, which earned him excellent reviews. His career had a big boost when he joined the cast of ER in 1994, playing head doctor, David Morgenstern, receiving an Emmy Award nomination.
It was back to Mamet, when Macy appeared in the controversial Oleanna (1994). But Macy really got my attention when he appeared as a down-on-his-luck car salesman who stages his wife’s kidnapping in Joel and Ethan Coen’s thriller Fargo (1996) with Frances McDormand as a pregnant detective working the case. Fargo received seven Academy Award nominations, including one each for the two actors. McDormand won, as did the Coens for Best Original Screenplay. Macy won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead that year.
Some of my other favorite of Macy’s films: The political spoof Wag The Dog (1997), a movie even more relevant 20 years later; his role as porn film director in the great Boogie Nights (1997); and the bittersweet fantasy, Pleasantville (1998) with young Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire.
Macy moved back to television with Aaron Sorkin’s much lamented comedy Sports Night (1998-200) which starred his wife, Felicity Huffman. They worked together on the television movie A Slight Case Of Murder (1999), which Macy wrote. He received Emmy Award nominations for both.
Macy wrote and starred in the inspirational television film, Door To Door (2002), with Helen Mirren. It’s based on a real-life story of a man with Cerebral Palsy who finds unlikely success as a door-to-door salesman. Macy won two Emmy Awards for this one, as a writer and actor.
The next year, Macy starred in The Cooler with Alec Baldwin. He plays a an unlucky man who breaks other people’s lucky streaks at a casino just by his very presence. Macy said that he thinks he gets cast in these types of downtrodden type of roles because:
“I think I have a knack for letting people see what’s going on in those losers that I play. And I look funny, and it doesn’t hurt to get a laugh when you walk on.”
Even in smaller roles, Macy is memorable, like his horse-racing announcer in Seabiscuit (2003), or as a nervous Senator in the dark Thank You For Smoking (2005), and Grandpa in Room (2015).
Macy helped out his friend Mamet by completing the run of a 2008 Broadway revival of Speed-The-Plow, for their Atlantic Theatre Company, when Jeremy Piven left the show suddenly.
In 2011, Macy returned to television as the patriarch of a highly dysfunctional Chicago family, on Shameless on Showtime. In 2014, he won a Screen Actors Guild Award for this show. He was also nominated for a 2014 Golden Globe Award, and received Emmy nominations in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Just last month, he won the SAG Award for Shameless.
When Macy accepted his SAG Award for playing the totally demented Frank Gallagher on Shameless, he was both surprised and surprising:
“I’m shocked. I’m probably not as shocked as Jeffrey Tambor (who won twice for Transparent in the same category), but I’m pretty shocked. I would like to go against the strain this evening and thank President Trump for making Frank Gallagher seem so normal.”
Next, Macy directs and stars in two comedy films due for release in 2017: The Layover, with Molly Shannon, and Krystal, with Kathy Bates, John Leguizamo, and Huffman.
The Macy/Huffmans live in Los Angeles in an eight-room, 2,100-square-foot Mission style house from the 1920s that Macy purchased while still a bachelor, and completely remodeled himself. An accomplished woodworker, he built most of the furniture also. The home was featured in Architectural Digest, to my thrill and delight.
Huffman played a transgender woman in the film Transamerica (2005). The role earned her a Golden Globe Award, Independent Spirit Award, National Board Of Review Best Female Actor, and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. They are one of my favorite Hollywood couples.