PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with William H. Macy

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with William H. Macy In recent years, William H. Macy has become a familiar film presence, in movies by such diverse directors as the Coen brothers ("Fargo") and Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia"). Theatregoers, however, associate him primarily with one man: David Mamet. Macy's long association with Mamet goes back to the original production of American Buffalo, in which Macy played young Bobby. Now the actor is returning to the play, but has graduated to the part of Teach. After a sold-out run at London's Donmar Warehouse, the production is currently ensconced at the Atlantic Theatre Company, a troupe Macy co-founded with Mamet. Macy spoke with Playbill On-Line during the final days of the West End run.
William H. Macy in American Buffalo.
William H. Macy in American Buffalo. (Photo by Photo by Mark Douet)

In recent years, William H. Macy has become a familiar film presence, in movies by such diverse directors as the Coen brothers ("Fargo") and Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia"). Theatregoers, however, associate him primarily with one man: David Mamet. Macy's long association with Mamet goes back to the original production of American Buffalo, in which Macy played young Bobby. Now the actor is returning to the play, but has graduated to the part of Teach. After a sold-out run at London's Donmar Warehouse, the production is currently ensconced at the Atlantic Theatre Company, a troupe Macy co-founded with Mamet. Macy spoke with Playbill On-Line during the final days of the West End run.

Playbill On-Line: Is this your first time on a stage since Oleanna?
William H. Macy: Yes.

PBOL: What's it like to return to the theatre after such success in film?
WM: It was a little scary. There were a lot of lines to learn. Thankfully, Philip Baker Hall and I had learned a lot of it before we started rehearsals. But, it's been great. I made my professional debut playing Bobby in the original production in Chicago. I got my Equity card that way. And Mark Webber, who's playing Bobby here, is making his professional debut.

PBOL: So the play has very strong memories for you? Did you find you remembered most of it?
WM: Some of it came back and other parts I had strangely forgotten.

PBOL: I asked you what its like to return to the theatre after a few years. What's it like to return to the work of Mamet, specifically, which you've done so often?
WM: Well, actually, I have been doing him all along [in film]. I just finished "State and Main," the latest Mamet film. Before that I was in "Wag the Dog" [co-scripted by Mamet] for a few scenes, and then the film for "Oleanna." But, this has been a joy. It's like driving a Maserati. And when you've driven a Maserati, it's hard to go back to a sedan. PBOL: Many feel it's Mamet's best work. What are your impressions of the play?
WM: Well, if it's not the best, it's certainly up there. We just did Sexual Perversity in Chicago at the Atlantic Theatre Company and that play has dated a bit. But American Buffalo seems to be coming through as this well-made play.

PBOL: What was the English response to such an intrinsically American work?
WM: Surprisingly, they got everything. There are a lot of references that they couldn't possibly get, that are over their heads -- things that New York audiences wouldn't get, because they are so Chicago. But they laughed in all the right places. I think their response is the same as it's going to be in New York.

PBOL: You've done a lot of Mamet. Was there ever a time earlier in your career when you were afraid you'd be stereotyped as a "Mamet actor."
WM: [Laughs] Well, it would be disingenuous to say I never worried about that. But now, I can say that, if that's what would have happened, there could have been a lot worse fates than being known as a Mamet actor. I could live with that.

PBOL: Any dream roles you haven't played yet on stage?
WM: Hm. I'd like to do a romantic comedy. I think the time's about ripe for that. I'd like to do "His Girl Friday" with [my wife] Felicity Huffman.

PBOL: You mean The Front Page?
WM: The Front Page stinks. No, I think the changes they made to the script in [the 1939 film] "His Girl Friday" really made it work. It works better with a man and a woman. I'd like to do that on stage with Felicity.

PBOL: Concerning Felicity Huffman, what's going to happen to her television show, "Sports Night."
WM: Oh, that's been great. I did about eight episodes [as a guest star] and I expect that the show will come back next season. It's been getting great notices and the numbers have been picking up. It's just too good not to come back. If ABC doesn't, some other network will. I got to kiss Felicity in one of the episodes. I got to make out with my wife on national television.

PBOL: So, the family that works together....?
WM: Oh, yeah. We rocked. We rehearsed that scene a lot. [Laughs]

--By Robert Simonson