Amidst the whiteout of a North Dakota winter, the Coen Bros gave us one of the great noir movies of all time in 1992 - Fargo - and Miami-born William H Macy, who is 61 today, was the tragic, pathetic, alienated star. He was helped, of course, by the dream support crew of Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi.
WH, with his Elisha Cook Jnr looks, is clearly a noir star born out of time. Even so, he has put together an impressive list of movies of interest to noir fans. In the Michael Caine tradition, the story is that he charges a reasonable fee, is always professional in his work and therefore provides good value for money. He has no illusions about the source of his screen persona. "I was a dog in a past life," he explains laconically, "Really. I'll be walking down the street and dogs will do a sort of double take. Like, Hey, I know him!"
Macy in Radio Days
He first caught my eye in Woody Allen's handmade homage to the 40s, Radio Days (1987), in a brief scene as a radio actor - he looked completely at home. At this time, he working a lot with David Mamet, who used him briefly in Things Change (1988), in the theatre, and then much more substantially in Homicide (1991), a tour de force for Joe Mantegna in the lead role. Macy and Mamet formed the St Nicholas Theatre Company together. William's love of theatre has remained with him throughout his life, both as performer and teacher. He holds a position as director-in-residence at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York. "Directors work 10 times harder than anyone else," he says, " And get paid a quarter."
By the time he got to Fargo, and after fifteen years of being a jobbing actor, WH was probably beginning to wonder if he'd made the right career choice, but then along came the Brothers Coen and things changed. He had a convincing role in Hit Me (1996), an under-rated heist movie based on a Jim Thompson novel; teamed up with Joe Mantenga again in Jerry & Tom (1997), a tale of two hit men; was the father in the wonderful Pleasantville (1998) and finished the decade with the lead role as the unwilling hitman Alex in Panic (1999) - a film not to be missed!
The new century continued to see William on top form in increasingly dramatic roles. Focus (2001) set in the dying days of WWII in Brooklyn is a gem of a movie; Welcome to Collinwood (2002) showed his lighter side; The Cooler (2003) was tailor-made for him; and Edmond (2005), another David Mamet production, gave him the opportunity to explore the full range of his performance.
More recently, WH has been TV-bound with the US version of Channel 4's Shameless. It's a role that he loves. "My task in this thing is to remain as irascible as I can be without losing the audience completely," he says, "It's a challenge, but I was born to play this role."
The trailer for the extraordinary Panic
William plays the ukelele - not many people know that