“Hi, I’m Bill,” says the instantly familiar figure, somewhat confusingly, as we enter the hotel room. He may be sporting lank shampoo-ad hair and go by the nickname for William in real life, but from Fargo to Boogie Nights, William H Macy is one of the most recognisable character actors in Hollywood. His latest guise is as Frank Gallagher in the long-awaited US version of Shameless. And as ShortList finds during our thoroughly enjoyable interview, it’s a part the 61-year-old’s more than a little chuffed with.
The Shameless remake was first proposed in 2007 with Woody Harrelson as Frank. Are you glad you won the role in the end?
Oh yeah. I ran into Woody recently, actually. He said, “Whatcha doing at the moment?” And I said, “Shameless,” And he said, “Oh yeah, I talked to them about that.” I thought, “Great, so I’m at least second choice.” He said, “I watched the British version and I just thought it was really good. I didn’t think I could do it better than that.” There was a little bit of a pause and I just went, “I can.” [Laughs]
Is it good to play someone this wild after portraying quite a few straitlaced characters?
I’ve never had such fun. I’ve got the role of the century. He’s inebriated most of the time which means that there is no wrong. For the first time in my life I’ll hold a line so I have time to make more faces. My mom used to drink and she would make the funniest faces. When she was drinking her subconscious would come out — she couldn’t stop it. She’d be trying to be nice but you’d see her do these awful grimaces.
And are you enjoying the longer locks?
I’d cut them off if I could but, honestly, the chicks dig it. And my wife likes it, which is the most important thing. It’s working. Women seem to like Frank. He’s a bad boy who can be bought for a couple of drinks.
Did you take any inspiration from David Threlfall’s portrayal in the UK version?
No, I didn’t. I watched David closely for the pilot and I watched the whole first season. But truthfully, he’s so good that I had to stop watching because the danger was that I would start imitating. I had to make it my own.
Are you a fan of the original?
Well, they say it’s in English but I needed translation. I had to use the subtitles. But I thought it was the boldest thing I’d ever seen. It had great writing and I’m a fan of that kind of indie film, handheld catch-it-as-you-can shooting style. Sometimes it can become too self-conscious, though. Like the cameraman has to pee.
Have you had many Frank Gallagher-style benders in your life?
I graduated from high school in 1968 so I know a little bit about altered states of consciousness. I got stoned quite a lot back then and I can do a good drunk. I’ve tried everything and, with my Scots heritage, I think I can drink with the best of them. But as you get older it isn’t as much fun and the price you pay becomes dearer and dearer.
Had any memorable drinking sessions with cast mates, then?
I was with George Clooney doing the movie Welcome To Collinwood and he destroyed the crew two nights in a row. They all went out with George, came in the next day and they were useless. But he was great. So I went out with him and do you know what he did? Everyone would go, “George, I want to buy you a drink,” and they’d do shots of tequila. I thought, “That guy’s done, like, 30 shots of tequila.” You want to know the truth? He hadn’t had any. He’d go, “Here’s to you.” Then he’d pour the shot on the ground and pretend to down it by throwing his head back. Every drop was on the floor. [Laughs]
Have you had any audition horror stories so far in your career?
I auditioned for Alien Resurrection. It was a French director who spoke little English [Jean-Pierre Jeunet] but he was very chatty so they had two translators there. I was playing the mad scientist who’d been caught by the creature, hung upside down and wrapped in that gooey web. They’re about to suck my guts out but I’ve lost my mind and I’m actually in love with the creature. The line was, “Isn’t it beautiful?” So I sat in this folding chair and went, “Isn’t it beautifu…” and they interrupted: “No! He’s insane.” So I go, “Eezn’t it beeyootiful?” “Good. But he’s almost dead too.” [Straining in his seat] “Isn’t… it… beautiful?” I did it and did it and this guy kept saying more and more stuff to me. Eventually I stood up and said, “It’s not going to happen today, folks. I’ll just give us all a break and leave now.”
Finally, how do you relax away from the film set?
I ride my Triumph motorbike a lot and I took a big trip last year. Basically, I have the best wife. Most guys, their wives won’t let them ride bikes, but she’s pretty cool. She has told me that if I get hurt I’d better get killed because she’s not going to take care of me if I’m paralysed. I’m an old fart, though, and I ride like one.
Shameless starts on More4 at 10pm on 23 June
(Main image: Getty)