Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, but they still behave like a couple of newlyweds. Not in that outrageous way that captures tabloid attention like Billy Bob and Angelina, or J.Lo and, well, whomever she's engaged to at the moment. This is a couple who fix each other's stray hairs before pictures, who poke fun at each other with great affection, who finish each other's thoughts, and who share everything from screen time and childcare duties to a plate of vegetable fried rice.
Huffman is best known for bringing the rare combination of brass and beauty to her Golden Globe-nominated role on Sports Night. Macy is the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated star who will forever be ingrained in our hearts and minds as the hapless car salesman in Fargo. He's also a self-proclaimed "Southern boy" who makes the waitress blush when he calls her "ma'am." The couple has appear-ed together in countless stage, television, and film productions, including Magnolia, A Slight Case of Murder, and Door to Door. They will share an L.A. stage for the first time in The Guys, Anne Nelson's two-character play about a New York fire captain who lost eight men on 9/11. The show has been running at the Actors' Gang with a rotating cast for several months, and Huffman and Macy will fill in through Dec. 21. Back Stage West sat down with the busy couple at Lucky Duck Restaurant & Bar to discuss everything from the current state of television to the joy of sex scenes.
Back Stage West: How did you two meet?
William H. Macy: Through the Atlantic Theatre Company. It was around 1983 and Felicity was going to NYU—
Felicity Huffman: For, like, eight years.
Macy: Yes, because she's really smart. To learn everything she learned took eight years. David Mamet was teaching these classes through NYU, and I was involved in that, and it turned into the Atlantic Theatre Company, which is still running in New York. It's a magnificent little theatre.
BSW: Was it love at first sight?
Macy: No. First of all, we didn't get together for a couple of years. And then we did get together for a while, and then we split up for a while. And then we got back together out here—
Huffman: I had a crush on you at the very beginning, though.
Macy: I had a crush on you, too.
Huffman: [Laughing] Liar! You did not. I was round with a bad perm and big glasses. I was a total nerd.
Macy: I came out to L.A. first. I was sort of sick of New York. I felt like I was spinning my wheels and doing the same play over and over again for the same group of people, so I thought I'd shake things up and move to Los Angeles. And it was a good move. I hit the ground running, did a lot of movies from the very beginning.
Huffman: And then I followed.
Macy: We got back together after a dear friend of ours died around 1994. I heard his voice, clear as a bell, in my head, saying: "Call Felicity, see if she's going to go to the funeral." And I did. So we met up in London, where the funeral was.
BSW: What do you say to people who think they don't need training?
Macy: Some actors don't. If you're talented enough, you can get good at it. But then you have to earn your chops at other people's expense. You do those stupid things that one would hopefully learn at school not to do. I believe in going to school. There's a lot that you can learn. I believe in technique.
BSW: Specifically Meisner technique?
Macy: It's mostly Meisner—as it's been filtered through Dave Mamet, then through Atlantic. But basically I believe it's all about the objective and not the emotion.
BSW: Is this the first time you've done theatre out here?
Macy: This is the first one. I directed a production of Oleanna in, I think, 1994. It was right after the earthquake, I remember rehearsing the day after. It was with Kyra Sedgwick, who was also in Door to Door.
BSW: You both seem to work with the same people again and again.
Macy: We learned that from Mamet. He'd rather work with his pals and hires the same people over and over again. And it really does make life more fun. Some directors are just the opposite. Having worked with you once, they really want to move on.
BSW: Is that insulting?
Macy: Yes, it's hurtful. But more and more, directors really want to hoard people. They realize the benefits of working with people you know.
BSW: Is there anyone you haven't worked with you really want to?
Macy: Gene Hackman for me. I think he's the bee's knees. I'd like to work with some directors. I hope Gus Van Sant does another movie soon. I thought To Die For was one of the great movies of all time.
Macy: Yes, I'd like to work with Soderbergh. He's fab.
BSW: You worked again with Sports Night creator Aaron Sorkin on The West Wing. Why do you think West Wing took off and Sports Night seemed to struggle to find an audience?
Huffman: [Sighing] I don't know. I don't know where to point the finger. It was one of those sad, sad things.
Macy: I went out of my way to see what they replaced Sports Night with, and it just makes me feel lonely, like there's no place in this world for me. Because if they think that those are better than Sports Night, we just don't speak the same language. Look at all these new shows, they're all identical. Every one of them has the same billboard with these beautiful people looking sort of stern. Every network, every show, it's all the same. It is so hard to respect TV execs because of the garbage that they put on that screen. But as soon as you cop an attitude about it, there's some show that breaks out and is just astounding.
Huffman: The Sopranos is fabulous.
BSW: Are there any roles you wish you had played?
Macy: I always wanted to play Hamlet and never got to.
Huffman: There are tons. I'll be at the movies and go: "Oohhhh, man." Mainly I just want to be in them.
Macy: Aren't you pissed off that they made Shakespeare in Love? I hate that they made that movie, because I wanted to be in it.
BSW: Who would you have played?
Macy: Any of them.
BSW: You must really enjoy working together to do it so much.
Huffman: It's really fun on a movie that you get to go to work together and share the trailer and hang out. It's like when you play tennis with somebody who plays a great game, your level of game comes up, and that's how it is with Bill. I act with him and go: "Wow, that was great!"
Macy: You sweet thing. I like it when they let us make out on TV. We made out on Sports Night. [Macy guest-starred in several episodes.]
Huffman: I'm not a fan of making out, period.
Huffman: I mean, on film.
Macy: It's not sexy.
Huffman: Who wants to make out in front of a bunch of people? With someone you don't really know.
Macy: I just did one where I had a bunch of sex scenes with Maria Bello [in The Cooler]. That almost stepped up to fun. Felicity really helped me with it. I was dreading it. I had copped an attitude about it because I hate that stuff. It makes me so self-conscious. Felicity gave me a speech about if I didn't want to do it, I should get them to cut the scenes. But if I believe they belong in the movie, I'd better get on it and change my attitude and make them great.
Huffman: Bill would call up and whine, "Yeah, Maria and I were making out and there was this shot…." I was like, "Really? Let's see, Georgia spit up today, Sofia's teething, I've changed six dirty diapers…."
BSW: How do you balance the marriage and the career and now the children?
Huffman: We're still figuring it out. We don't know how to juggle the family and the career, that's the truth. We're learning. I don't think we both could work at the same time, to tell you the truth, unless it's the same show.
BSW: How did you get involved with The Guys?
Macy: Susan Sarandon sat beside me the night I saw it and basically wouldn't let me leave the theatre until I agreed to try and talk Felicity into doing it.
Huffman: And it's a wonderful play. You think, a 9/11 play? Yeah, right, sign me up. But it's great because it's not about the issue of 9/11, it's more about the central nature about what 9/11 brings out in people's psyches and hearts and what it does to the community.
Macy: One of the things Stanislavski talked about that Mamet picked up was how some moments in a play you have to analyze: How do I act this? How do I deal with this? Sometimes the truth is, I don't know. This is one of those situations. How do you figure out how to feel about something like 9/11? I don't think that you can. The human mind can't wrap itself around something like that. This is too big to be compartmentalized or understood. The only thing you can do is sort of chip away at the edges of it as truthfully as you can.
BSW: What is your opinion of the 99-Seat theatre scene?
Macy: L.A. has got to fix this theatre thing. If anyone from the union reads this: if they're trying to protect us actors, all they're doing is shooting us in the foot. Ninety-Nine Seats is not viable. They should do away with it. You've got to have at least 300 seats. At 99, you're guaranteed to lose money. I'm not saying they should mandate it, but I think it's really unhealthy for a theatre to not live on its box office, and I think it's hard with less than 300 seats.
BSW: Do you remember your first paying job?
Huffman: I did an after-school special when I was 15 called A Homerun for Love. I didn't know what I was doing. The first shot I was shaking so hard they had to keep stopping. I can't remember what it was about, even.
Macy: My first paying job might have been Jesus Christ Superstar in D.C. It was a completely illegal production we ran for three months on a cease-and-desist order. We kept telling them it wasn't a play, it was a concert. They didn't buy that.
[At this point, Huffman excuses herself from the table. As she exits, Macy stands up.]
BSW: You just stood up. You are Southern.
Macy: That was a wedding vow. Honest to God. I wrote all this poetic bullshit and I read it and thought, This is jive. So I just made a list of the things I would do. And one of them was, I'll stand up when you come to or leave the table. One would that I will build you a dream house, and we built a house that's pretty close. The other one was, someday, somehow, I'll get you a closet that's big enough. We now have a closet that has its own zip code. [Huffman returns to the table.] She noticed I stood up.
BSW: What do you think would surprise people to know about Felicity?
Huffman: I'll tell you a good one. We were doing Boy's Life at Lincoln Center, and we'd all go to the bar and talk. Bill had this big Russian sort of fur hat, kind of like in Fargo, with the flaps. Bill went in first and is talking to someone and this table of assholes are like, "Nice hat, nice hat."
Macy: I didn't even know I'd been dissed. But you don't cross Felicity.
Huffman: I was so pissed off, I ordered a huge tumbler of ice water. So I pretended I was drunk and wandered over to the table and was like, "Hi, guys," and dropped it in this guy's lap.
Macy: He was wet from the chin to his knees. He stood up, screaming, "She did that on purpose."
BSW: And the moral of the story?
Huffman: Nobody messes with my man. BSW
"The Guys" runs at the Actors' Gang, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m. $30 for general admission; $15 for firefighters. Pay What You Can Tuesdays. Show is dark on Nov. 28. For tickets and information, contact (323) 465-0566 or access www.theactorsgang.com.