Influences: William H. Macy

Photo: Jeff Minton

It’s impossible to ask about your influences without bringing up David Mamet.
Well, see, Dave was our teacher. We met at Goddard College. The last time Dave mentored me was during the round of agents. You get Dave talking about agents and producers, and most of it is not going to be printable.

What inspired you when you were young?
One of the reasons Dave Mamet was such a big influence was that I was a blank slate; I grew up in Maryland and Georgia, in rural settings, and had hardly ever been to a play.

What was the first movie you remember seeing?
Old Yeller just tore me up. I went with my chums, and later my mom threatened to never let me go to the movies again. But Gone With the Wind was the first. My mother took me. Earlier, there had been a big publicity stunt, to audition Scarlett O’Haras all over the country; of course, it was jive. Vivien Leigh was always going to play it—but my mother was in one of the auditions. She was a southern belle. She loved Bette Davis.

What did you decorate your bedroom with when you were a teenager?
I had no idols. No posters. My room was filled with critters: aquariums, mice, and snakes.

What music did you listen to in high school?
I liked to just clamp on the old headphones and listen to this naïve, gentle folk music. It would make me so sad, and I was such a callow youth anyway. I had a crush on Mary from Peter, Paul, and Mary that hurt for years, and then I finally met her. I tried to say something sophisticated, and all that came out was “I love you.”

When you were 10, or 20, who was the most important artist to you?
I grew up on television. Wally and the Beav, Princess [the young girl of Father Knows Best]—I wanted to do things to her. But I was a neophyte hippie when I got out of high schooI, and I went to these depressing films then: Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet. They Shoot Horses Don’t They? The household I grew up in was jovial, by and large. I was probably forced to internalize some of my teenage angst, so movies like that affected me profoundly.

After college, you moved to Chicago, a hotbed for live performance. What impressed you?
Going to the Organic Theater in Chicago and watching what those guys were doing—Stuart Gordon, Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna—those guys just did amazing stuff. It was so stoned and new and young and colorful and funny, they were great.

What’s the piece of visual art that has affected you most in your life?
I was a young man, and I was at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was shown to this lady’s office, rather small, no big deal, and there was Edward Hopper’s people in the diner [Nighthawks], hanging on the wall. I thought, “That’s odd—why have this print on your wall? Why not just look at the real deal?” Then the lady came in. I said, “Is this the painting?” She said, “Yes, that’s it.” It was the first time I’d ever been in the presence of greatness on that level. I could have touched it.

Any pop music you love?
I’m kind of disillusioned with pop. I always thought it was a bad sign when the singer’s whispering, because when people whisper it’s because they’re not telling the truth or they’re talking about illicit sex. If you’re not talking about illicit sex, please speak up.

Any hidden talent?
Well, I have a wood shop [pictured]. It eats up a lot of spare time, when there is spare time. It doesn’t calm me down, though. As a matter of fact, sometimes it puts me in a rage.

Has a documentary ever moved you?
I saw this documentary called The Proof. It’s about this mathematician who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, and it was all about the meaning of life and this quest—it was brilliant. So I bought it and I’ve spread it around to a lot of different people. We all sit just weeping like babies to this story about a mathematician.

What’s popular that you love?
Pixar movies just slay me. And they frighten me because there aren’t any people in them.

What’s popular that you despise?
There’s going to be a new reality series where they trick actors into thinking it’s a real movie. Oh, boy! It turned my stomach. I think we should put a contract on whoever came up with this concept.

Is there anybody out there that you just nakedly envy?

You’re not going to say who?

Well, I’m an ambitious fellow. I try to keep it in check, and, as a matter of fact, I spend a lot of energy keeping it in check. But I am an ambitious fellow. The only thing that I’m completely satisfied with is that I married well and that I have fabulous kids. That’s a delight every single day.

The Wool Cap
November 21.

Influences: William H. Macy