The Boulder International Film Festival—once named one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world—wrapped on Sunday, but I’m still laughing from Friday night’s “A Conversation with William H. Macy.” The 61-year-old actor (who can forget Fargo?) was in town to accept the Vanguard Award for his “groundbreaking and innovative work” in film.

I caught up with Macy on the red carpet before heading to a retrospective of his work and a sit-down Q&A. As it turns out, the actor is just as quick-witted and humble as many of his on-screen characters.

What does it mean to receive something like the Vanguard Award? At my age, anything called innovative sounds great. I’m a lucky guy; I’ve had a great career. At this point, to get a show like Shameless [his latest role] is really thrilling. I love what I do. I love Boulder. I’m not a Colorado native, but an adopted son. My wife [Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives] grew up in Aspen and we have a home there.

You’ve played wildly different roles throughout your career. What draws you to scripts or characters? In the early days, it was: How does this speak to the human condition, what does this say about humanity, is it truthful? These days, it’s: How much do I get paid and do I have to get wet?

Which of your characters do you most relate to? I think it’s an actor’s job to find yourself in all of them. And when I think back on some of the stuff I’ve done, it makes me shudder. I like it more when I’m driving the bus than acted upon. For whatever reason I’ve been the WASPy guy in over his head, but I like it more when I get to be the killer.

On moving from theater to film: “Everybody who ever did a play, in the shower, rehearses their Academy Award acceptance speech.”

On transitioning his acting from theater to film: “In film, in took me a long time to do what essentially came to throwing out the rules, to stop being so dutiful as I was trained to be as a stage actor, to be spontaneous.”

On Fargo : “Working for Joel and Ethan Coen is like working for two hippies someone gave some money and a camera to.”

On big-budget, special effects-laden films: “I love stupid Hollywood movies. One of the favorite things I’ve done is Jurassic Park III. It’s the exact same plot of Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park; they just got different actors and different dinosaurs and it was amazing.”

On his nine Emmy nominations and two wins: “I’ve been to a lot of awards shows. It’s better when you win.”

On his style of acting: “I’m relatively shallow. I do know actors who want to get in and stay in character all day, and it’s really annoying. It doesn’t last with me because I don’t feel like it’s the actor’s job to put yourself in an emotional state. It’s an actor’s job to act. The less you feel it, perhaps the better. Just do it. Emotions are great to indulge in but boring to watch.”

On his favorite film of all time: “Airplane, if I had to be on a desert island with one film. Genius.”

On who he’d most like to work with: “Gene Hackman. Lisa Kudrow. Meryl Streep. Brad Pitt—I think he’s the bee’s knees. I’ve run into him a few times and he really is that good looking.”

On his current role as Frank Gallagher on Shameless: “I do a pretty good drunk. That ain’t acting; it’s more of a party trick. I’m pretty good at making despicable people palatable.”

Macy also happens to be a decent ukelele player. Watch:

—Image courtesy of Noel Runkle

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at