William H. Macy Makes Losing Hot with "The Cooler"
by Wendy Mitchell
William H. Macy has plenty of "loser" roles under his belt (from "Fargo" to "Magnolia") but Macy's latest character, Bernie Lootz, takes losing to new heights. In Wayne Kramer's debut feature "The Cooler," Lootz is a guy with such bad luck that a Las Vegas casino (run by a very beefy and impressive Alec Baldwin) hires him to spread that bad luck to its patrons -- to "cool" the room. But Lootz's luck changes when he starts a surprising romance with a cocktail waitress (Maria Bello).
Macy and Bello's romance is also surprisingly sultry, with some of the steamiest sex scenes on the big screen this year. As Macy jokes, it took several decades for a director to finally ask him to take his pants off in front of the camera. indieWIRE caught up with William H. Macy during this year's Toronto International Film Festival in September, to talk about "The Cooler," which Lions Gate expands nationwide today.
indieWIRE: How did you get involved with "The Cooler"?
William H. Macy: Everything comes through my agent. Wayne Kramer sent the script to her, and I read it and I liked it. And Wayne is not only a great director, he's also one tenacious son of a bitch. He wooed my agent. The only reason I had any doubts about doing it was that I had done so many little indies and I was looking to pay the rent. But then everyone was just convinced I should play this role. Sometimes it's really smart to listen to people because they were right. It's a great role for me, and a wonderful script.
iW: When you read the script, what initially caught your eye?
Macy: I love love stories. Essentially what this movie says is that love conquers all. I love that notion. Even if it's not true, I choose to live my life as if it were true. And this character is transformed by the power of love. I think that's a magnificent story to tell.
iW: Any trepidation about shedding your clothes and your inhibitions?
Macy: We had many. I don't know why they waited until after I was 50 years old to ask me to take my pants off. I have been in good shape all my life, why did they wait this long? They should have come calling when I was 30. I thought that these love scenes were plot driven, I thought at the end of those love scenes the characters were different and that the plot had been put forward. When I read the script, I thought, I would like to see their first interaction like that. That's an important part of the movie. I talked to Maria [Bello], we went to a restaurant a couple of weeks before we started shooting. And I told her how scared I was and she told me how scared she was. And we reassured each other. And then when we got there, Wayne and Maria and I went through one of our runs and we dryteched the entire thing. Every scene, every move. We knew exactly how Wayne was going to shoot it, exactly where the camera would be, and as a result we felt a little bit calmer about it. And it allowed us to be bold.
iW: How do you get to that point with Maria that you are that comfortable?
Macy: Maybe 20 year olds would actually get hot under those circumstances. There are statistics out that say 20 year olds, 18 years olds think about sex 90 percent of the time. They only don't think about sex when they're eating, and that's rare. So it's hard work, it's as horrifying as you would imagine. There's a bunch of teamsters standing around looking at you. On the other hand, what actors are good at doing is walking into a situation that should make you incredibly self-conscious and frightened and doing it anyway. That's the gig, pretending that you are comfortable. And it was easy with Maria because she's such a stand-up broad, I just love her. She's so cool -- she's sexy and feminine and bold and one of the guys and so exquisitely beautiful. And really, she just made it easy. She laughs at the drop of a hat. Her humor just saved the day. Jim Beam don't hurt either. We also invited Jim Beam.
iW: Do you think Bernie is a loser? Where does he fall on that scale?
Macy: He's a loser of biblical proportions. All he has to do is touch a deck of cards and everyone starts losing. I thought, "This is new, this is such a loser that I have to do it. Let me just do this one more." I had sort of sworn off losers and then I read the script and I thought, "This is hysterical." There are no jokes in it, but the movie is very funny.
iW: What was it like filming in Reno?
Macy: It was surreal. We found a casino that was going to be rebuilt. We took it over during the limbo period. We rented out the whole thing. The production offices were in the casino, we lived upstairs, we shot on the second floor. Sometimes five or six days would go by and I wouldn't see the light of day. It was perfect, a perfect environment. I lived on the elevator. I was in almost every scene, there is a lot of shooting.
iW: Did you gamble at all while you were there?
Macy: I'm not a gambler, I don't enjoy it.
iW: Did you do any sort of preparation for this role?
Macy: I'm not much of a preparer. I think sometimes as an actor you need to go out and learn some skills, but in terms of preparation for understanding the character, it's all on the page, and if it's not on the page, you're in trouble. If it ain't on the page, the audience isn't going to understand it.
iW: So before you show up on day one, you just read the script and that's your preparation?
Macy: Smart money is learn the lines. Just learn the whole script before you start shooting. That makes shooting a joy. Even if they rewrite, it's easy. If you learn the whole script before you start shooting, then you're not cranky the night before a big scene. So many actors spend so much energy trying to remember the lines. It's so foolish. Guys are the worst. Women are good, they look at it as "This is unpleasant," but then they do it. Guys stand around and say, "Why do I have to do this, this speech is too long." Women just get down and do it.
iW: Wayne is a first-time director. What was the relationship with him like?
Macy: He taught me a lot. The tone of the movie was very clear in his head. He said the music was going to add immeasurably, and he kept trying to describe this music to me. I just didn't get what he was talking about until I saw it. This is quite the debut. He's off and running, he won't return my calls next year.
iW: Does "The Cooler" still have an NC-17 rating?
Macy: No. You can't release a film if it's NC-17. NC-17 is X now. The rating system is completely screwed up. It has to be redone. It's crazy, it's totally crazy. Do you know how many people, innocent people, were mowed down in "Road to Perdition"? And that got an R. You can see Maria Bello's pubic hair in this and it got an NC-17. Somebody's gotta stand up and say pubic hair is good, murder is bad. Sex is good, violence is bad. I think its America. Perhaps there is such a thing as obscene sex, but I know that violence is always obscene. So I don't get it, that you can disembowel a woman but you can't see her tits. Who made that up? That's sick! I've got two little girls, I'm not scared about sex. I'll teach them, it's not going to kill them. But what could kill them is violence. Guns, drinking and driving, these are the real dangers in our society. They've got to fix that ratings board. As a parent, I want to look at the ratings and know whether I can send my daughter. I can't trust these ratings now. Because an R rating doesn't mean anything. I'm not afraid of her seeing a woman's breasts or a man's penis, that is not going to hurt her. But I do not want my daughters to see this wholesale murder and killing. And you know what I particularly hate? Funny killing. Where somebody shoots someone in cold blood and then makes a joke about it. And the audience roars, and that gets and R rating. America's got to get it together, sex is good, violence is bad.
iW: Are you going to let your young daughters see this movie now or ever?
Macy: Yeah. When I'm dead. The girls don't watch TV, they've never seen anything. The rule is that when they know how to read, then they can start watching TV. They are 1 1/2 and 3. As soon as I had little girls I thought, "Am I embarrassed about anything I've done?" There are a couple [of films] out there that are regrettable but by and large, I haven't done any of those heinous movies that are immoral. I'm doubly committed to not doing one, where they just murder people willy-nilly like it's some videogame. I'm so over that, it's so juvenile.
iW: Do you prefer playing a cameo role in a Hollywood film or leading a smaller film? How do you choose roles?
Macy: I try to read a script in one sitting. And if you do that, you get a sense of what the audience is going to see. Just read the dialogue; get the story as fast as you can and it's like seeing the movie in your mind's eye. If it's a great story, I don't care if I'm not the lead.
iW: What are you headed towards next?
Macy: I'm going to do this thing called "Cellular," which is a potboiler and a couple of people get killed. It's all about law and order. It's quite cool. And then I'm going to do a miniseries for CBS called "Reversible Errors."
iW: Are there any directors you are dying to work with?
Macy: All the big guys. I introduced myself to Scorsese and I said, "If you need someone to do craft services, I'm there." I've never done a Spielberg movie, and we went to the White House together for "Seabiscuit," and I said, "What do I have to do to get in one of your movies? I so want to be in one of your movies." I don't think he answered me.