The Miami-born actor got his start with small roles on stage and TV before rocketing to the big-screen success fans know and love today. The award-winning star shot to prominence again in late 2019 when he and his wife of more than two decades were swept up in the infamous college admissions scandal.
Whether it’s Hollywood highs or courtroom lows, Macy’s career has been storied, to say the least. Since the acclaimed actor is turning 70 this month, there’s perhaps no better time to take a look back at how William H. Macy became the household name he is today.
Starting on stage
Like many acclaimed actors, Macy got his start in theater. Speaking to Broadway.com in 2009, the actor was asked about his success and noted that his time on the stage was crucial.
“I’ve put in the time. I’m working on 40 years in this business, and was onstage for 20 before I even started making movies. So it’s a combo platter — I don’t feel I’ve hoodwinked anyone to get to this point, but I’m aware of how lucky I am,” he said.
Macy started the St. Nicholas theater company in Chicago in his early 20s. It wasn’t long before he linked up with acclaimed theater legend David Mamet, the mind behind classic plays such as “Oleanna,” “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
“Dave Mamet taught me everything I know. He was the mayor of that town,” Macy told Variety in 2014. “He was in a very prolific time, and he was doing stunning, stunning work: ‘American Buffalo,’ ‘The Water Engine,’ ‘The Woods.’ And I always wanted to be Gene Hackman. And if I couldn’t be Gene Hackman, I at least wanted him to adopt me.”
As Mamet found success, he brought Macy along with him. The actor would go on to star in acclaimed movies based on the writer’s work such as “Oleanna,” “Edmond,” “State and Main” and many more. However, indie success was one thing, but it would be a long time before Macy got his biggest break and became a popular movie star.
From stage to screen
After Chicago, Macy moved to New York to continue to pursue theater on Broadway for about a decade. Eventually, he left for the West Coast feeling like he’d earned enough credits and name recognition to break into TV and film.
It wasn’t long before he landed a regular role on the hit drama “E.R.” as Dr. David Morgenstern. He continued to work steadily until he got his biggest break yet in the hit movie “Fargo.”
Speaking on the “Today” show in 2019, he admitted that he felt he was born to play the role and pursued the audition with some intense tenacity. He said he literally flew back to New York just to crash the audition.
It was a good thing he did, because not only did he get the part, but it rocketed his career to new heights. He soon found himself up for a part in another fan-beloved hit, “Boogie Nights.” However, this time he didn’t need to fly across the country to be up for the role.
“I had read ‘Boogie Nights,’” he explained. “I was shooting somewhere and they sent me the script. I met Paul [Thomas Anderson] at the Formosa Cafe. I had all my ducks in line to pitch myself for it, but I couldn’t’ get a word in edgewise… It was one of the great moments of my life. I went ‘Oh dear God, I’m not auditioning, he is! I’ve got this role!’ That’s when I thought ‘OK, things have changed.’”
Macy spent the next two decades working steadily thanks to the pair of back-to-back hits.
Not that he needed it, but the actor got another big break in 2011.
Some ‘Shameless’ awards attention
In 2010, Showtime announced it was adapting an acclaimed and long-running British TV series “Shameless.”
Macy wanted to be on board but knew early on that it’s not only risky to adapt an already-beloved show but to lead a TV show in general.
“I was excited. I was nervous. … Doing a series can hold such bounty if it goes well, and can be so treacherous if it doesn’t go well. And I guess the worst of all scenarios is that it’s successful and it stinks,” he told Yahoo in 2018. “’Cause you’re stuck there for a long, long, long, long time. And that’s why actors stuck in those situations turn this weird gray shade. And all they’ve got to show for their efforts is lots and lots of money.”
Macy plays the patriarch of a poor, dysfunctional family named Frank Gallagher. The character is dark and often delves into issues of alcoholism and abuse. The show’s creator told The New York Times in 2010 that the show seeks to depict the American working class, but in a dramatic way.
“It’s not ‘My Name Is Earl’ or ‘Roseanne.’ It’s got a much graver level of poverty attached to it. It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar,” creator Paul Abbott said.
In his interview with Yahoo, Macy said that he’s often struck by the dark places he has to go to play the character.
“I am constantly surprised and horrified, I’m not kidding. I’m a Lutheran from western Maryland. I read these scripts and I have the same reaction as the audience does. It’s horror,” he said. “Some of these things I didn’t know were possible! It’s genius. [Co-creator] John Wells likes to say, ‘Everything you’ve seen on ‘Shameless’ actually happened to one of the writers. Some germ of that idea actually came from one of those writers.’”
Macy was already a decorated actor – having earned an Oscar nomination for best-supporting actor for his role in “Fargo” – but Gallagher is by far his most decorated character, having earned five Emmy nominations since 2014.
According to Deadline, the show will end after the upcoming Season 11.
Without his career, Macy may never have found love.
The same year that “Boogie Nights” came out, Macy married fellow actor Felicity Huffman. However, it was his roots in the theater that helped him land a date with the future “Desperate Housewives” star.
“After 10 years in Chicago I moved to New York. Mamet and Schachter were already here, and Mamet started teaching classes at New York University. He hired me to help him teach, and after about two years of this one class, he said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have anything else to say to you folks and you’re all bored with me. You should start a company,’” he explained to Broadway.com. “So we did, the Atlantic Theater Company. Felicity was in on the genesis of it, and that’s how we hooked up, as the young folks say.”
He added: “I hope you’ve experienced this, but she was my dream girl. I was smitten. I saw her and I thought, ‘Holy moly, I’ve been looking for you my whole life.’ She was smart and she was funny, and for reasons that to this day I still don’t understand, she liked me.”
Together they share daughters Sophia and Georgia. Their family life was, by all accounts, a fairy tale until trouble reared its head in 2019.
College admissions scandal
In March 2019, the infamous college admissions scandal came to light. Huffman and Macy were accused of pursuing fraudulent means to get their daughter accepted to prestigious schools. Huffman was charged with disguising a $15,00 bribe as a charitable donation so that her daughter could have her SAT answers doctored.
Although he was implicated and allegedly aware of the situation, Macy avoided charges. All the same, the star dutifully stood by his wife as she was cuffed by the FBI and released on $250,000 bond. She eventually pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
In addition to serving 11 days of a 14-day sentence in prison, Huffman also received one year of probation, was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service and pay a $30,000 fine.
Prior to her sentencing, Macy penned a letter to the judge in the case noting his wife’s success as a mother despite the hiccup in judgment.
“There is much to be done, and some of the hurt and anger will take years to work through, but we are making progress,” he wrote at the time (via People). “Thank you, Your Honor. If I may I’d like to tell you one more thing: every good thing in my life is because of Felicity Huffman.”