William H. Macy's sprawling, varied resumé includes his Oscar-nominated role of Jerry Lundegard in Fargo, Air Force One, Boogie Nights, Pleasantville, Magnolia, Focus, Jurassic Park III, and Thank You for Smoking, among dozens of other films; recurring roles on ER and Sports Night; and the Macy-produced, Emmy-nominated telefilms The Wool Cap and Door to Door (for which Macy won the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Emmy Award). Macy studied under playwright and filmmaker David Mamet at Vermont's at Goddard College before joining him as a founding member of the St. Nicholas Theater in Chicago and, later, the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York City. Their fruitful theatrical collaboration led to numerous film projects, some adaptations of Mamet's plays (The Water Engine, Oleanna) and some original screenplays (House of Games, Things Change, Homicide, Wag the Dog, State and Main, and Spartan). Macy's latest, Edmond, is an adaptation of a 1982 Mamet play.
The film's director is Stuart Gordon. Famous for horror films like Re-Animator and From Beyond, Gordon also came out of the Chicago theatre scene, where he knew Mamet. As founder and creative director of the Organic Theater, Gordon directed the world premiere of Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. I spoke to Macy and Gordon at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, where the pair met the press, screened the controversial film, and answered questions from a full house of film festival patrons.
Groucho: As an actor, you have to personalize or maybe identify with a character at least while you're playing him—in his skin. What aspects did you focus on as a way into Edmond, a character a lot of people would find repulsive and immoral?
William H. Macy: I found—I actually don't think of the whole that way. I might be different as an actor, but I have a tendency to think of it one scene at a time and, even within the scenes, one moment at a time. And leave it to Stuart [Gordon] and to the writer to make sure that it all adds up. I think the first time you read a film, as an actor, it's smart to read it fast so that you can see the film in your head. And if it's a good film, then go make it. And don't worry about things that aren't within your control, and making sure that it adds up is one of those things that's not in your control; you can just do the small moments. In terms of this one, he—I don't know if I find him a repulsive character. As a matter of fact, I don't. I find him sad, and—. We were talking—Stuart and I were talking about this before. If there is a theme to Edmond, I don't know what it is. I feel that Dave Mamet—and this is twenty years old, by the way. It was originally a play—wrote it twenty years old—and it's depressingly relevant today. I think David just, through his technique and through his art, opened up himself and let his subconscious speak. So I find the film to be true, scene to scene to scene, and it's horrifying where it ends up, but all the little pieces I find to be logical and true, true to the human experience. So I didn't have to stretch myself or figure out a different kind of person: it spoke to me.
Stuart Gordon: I think what happens to Edmond could happen to anybody. I think that's the thing about it that is so amazing, that it is, you know—one of the lines in the film is "How much of your life are you really happy? A year?"
SG: "Really alive. A minute? Two minutes out of the year?" You know? And it's about a guy who has had enough of the unhappiness and wants to find—you know, to be alive, wants to live. And live in a world where people are truthful and where people are kind to each other...So what he wants is something good. He's not a repulsive character—he's us.
WHM: We were talking before—you read the headline. That someone was arrested for some terrible crime. Well, we know about it from that point. You might even follow the trial and get the grisly details, but Edmond is about following one of these grisly headlines from the very beginning: how could it happen? What are the elements that make someone flip out the way Edmond does?...
G: Did David Mamet—other than delivering the script—deliver any extra-textual advice to either of you?
SG: He came to the set the very first day of shooting. And I said, "David, you're welcome here anytime you want." And he said, "That's sort of like inviting someone to go on your honeymoon with you," you know? Which I thought was very kind of him, actually. But he was great and, you know, I remember—an old friend of David's is Bill. Y'know, we started out together in Chicago doing theatre. And even from the very beginning, David was one of these guys who you say to him, "What is this line? What is this?" And he'd go, "That's good writing—that's what that is." And he still uses that line. But he's an amazingly generous fellow. And he said the best thing I ever heard a playwright ever say to an actor, which is—an actor was struggling with one of his speeches, and he said, "Look, these are just the words. You can do whatever you want. As long as you say those words." And it was such a liberating, freeing thing for him to say to—it was a great thing. So David—we talked a lot about it before the movie got made. He had it in his contract that not one line of dialogue or action could be cut, because he knew how controversial this piece is, and he was afraid that, y'know, a studio would just, like, take a hatchet to it. But after the movie was done and I had shown him the first rough cut, he said, "Y'know, we don't need this line here or that line there, or all this stuff." He started trimming things. You know, the movie is short; the movie is 78 minutes long. But, and I was saying, I said, "David, aren't you worried about that?" And he said, "The movie is as long as it needs to be." And this movie doesn't—I don't think anyone is going to ever complain that it's too short. I think it's a very intense 78 minutes.
[For Groucho's review of Edmond, click here.]