WILD HOGS - Q&A with William H Macy
Interview by Elaine Lipworth
William H Macy joins John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and Ray Liotta in WILD HOGS, a hilarious comedy adventure about four friends who rev up their routine lives and hit the open road on their Harley Davidsons. Looking for adventure and escape, on their thrilling motorcycle trip, they get more than they bargained for, when they cross paths with a biker gang, led by a mean, macho bully, played by Ray Liotta.
They are weekend warriors taking off on their Harleys on the trip of a lifetime. But the mismatched group of pals quickly run into danger when they encounter a menacing gang.
Starring four of Hollywood's most gifted actors, it is hardly surprising that the movie WILD HOGS is already a big hit in America. Packed with action, slapstick and witty dialogue, it tells the story of a group of suburban men, stifled by the usual responsibilities of family and work, who put on their black leather jackets and get away from it all on their motorbikes, taking to the open highway. They are weekend warriors who bike for fun in an attempt to escape the mundane reality of their humdrum lives. Ostensibly they have little in common other than their love of Harleys, but these four guys, who call themselves THE WILD HOGS, also have a deep friendship, behind the jibes and the banter.
Martin Lawrence plays Bobby, a husband and father with a domineering wife, who earns his living as a plumber, but has aspirations of being a writer; Tim Allen plays a frustrated dentist who has almost given up on his dreams. John Travolta stars as Woody, a wealthy businessman with an enviable lifestyle who seems to have it all. But when we meet him at the start of the movie, he is on the verge of bankruptcy and his gorgeous model wife has left him. William H Macy plays Dudley, the only bachelor of the bunch, who is an unashamed computer geek - endearing, funny and loveable. His attempts to attract women are invariably embarrassing and disastrous.
At the instigation of John Travolta's Woody, who simply wants to escape the calamities of his real life, the four friends set off on their bike trip, seeking uncharted territory as they set off on a 2000 mile cross country ride to the West Coast. But the free-spirited fun quickly turns into high drama when the pals stop at a biker bar and run into trouble, clashing with a threatening gang, led by the mean and aggressive Jack (Ray Liotta).
With echoes of those American biker film classics, EASY RIDER and THE WILD ONE, WILD HOGS is the first film for years to go back to the well-loved genre. This one is entirely different and fresh - pure comedy, directed by Walt Becker (NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VAN WILDER). It combines the best of buddy movies, road movies and lively broad humor - with some unexpected surprises. The hard hitting sound track, full of classic rock greats contributes to the pace. Adding a dash of romance, sex appeal and vitality to the mix is talented Oscar winning actress, Marisa Tomei.
William H Macy began his career in theater, working with the acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and director David Mamet, acting on stage extensively in Chicago with St. Nicholas Theater, then on Broadway in New York. He has starred in dozens of films over the years in a distinguished career which spans cinema, television and theater. He received an Oscar nomination for his role in FARGO and his other notable credits include FARGO, MAGNOLIA, PLEASANTVILLE, SEABISCUIT, HAPPY TEXAS, STATE AND MAIN, WAG THE DOG, A CIVIL ACTION, BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE COOLER. He has written film and TV scripts with his writing partner, Steven Schachter.
His recent movies include BOBBY and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. Macy is married to actress Felicity Huffman. They live in Los Angeles with their two daughters.
What was the appeal of your character?
I love Dudley because he's completely honest, he is naive and forthright and yet he's brave - he is the first guy to go after the Del Fuegos. There is a fearlessness about him, he is not afraid of his affection for the other guys; I would love to be more like Dudley. I really admire him. I think he's a pure sprit and I've always thought of him as the drunk who never hurts himself when he falls down. Dudley just seems to be blessed in life. He gets through it even with his naivety. My agent sent me the script for Wild Hogs and said: ‘you've got to say yes to this' and I don't do films like this that often, it is rare for me. I got my wife Felicity to read it. She read it and said ‘this is a great character in a very funny movie, you should do this, it is a fantastic role for you'. So I said ‘ok'. And I am so happy I did. It was such fun playing that character. Plus I got to ride motorcycles.
How much experience did you have with motorcycles?
I had ridden motorcycles before, so I knew how to ride a bike, but I had never ridden Harleys and I can tell you it is as much fun as it looks. It can be really dangerous, there is a horrible period when you have learned to master the bike and you are pretty good, but you are still essentially a novice and that's when you can get hurt. If you get through that period and get some experience, I think it can be safe, if you wear the proper clothing and you ride as if everyone's trying to kill you!
How enjoyable was the experience of riding in WILD HOGS?
It is indescribable, it is as close to absolute freedom as you can get and I love it. It is like flying. A Harley-Davidson biker has a patina; an image of being a bad boy, an outlaw and riding these amazing bikes certainly makes you feel dangerous. It is very intoxicating. You get that feeling with Harleys in particular. BMWs are very sophisticated and hardly make any noise, they're proficient and very German, you get where you need to go on them. But the Harleys are great, they have that signature noise and the bike is between your legs and it is so sexy, you just cannot believe how sexy it is, riding one of those bikes.
Do you have to be in good physical condition to ride one?
You do have to be fit. The great thing about Harley-Davidsons is that they are built to be ridden for a long time. It is ‘Harley humor' that in the film I ride a Sportster which is known as a ‘chick bike'. This is the bike that the chicks (women) ride, so for my character it is demeaning. Harley guys would laugh at him. Although when you see that bike I am on, it is amazing, if that is a chick bike I do not want to meet the chick that rides it. It is a huge motorcycle, but it's dwarfed by the other guys' Harleys. My brother came to New Mexico and we rented two Road Kings and rode to Tahoe, which was a couple of hundred miles in three days over the 4th of July weekend. I could not even walk at the end of the trip. When you have been riding one of those bikes for three or four hours, it is painful, your legs can't support you. So it does help if you are in good shape.
In many ways this character provides a lot of comic potential for an actor, doesn't he?
Yes he is my favorite character of the four, very well drawn and I think the other guys realized I had the best role by the second week of shooting, (laughs) but it was too late for them to do anything about it. Dudley walks into a scene and says the funniest things and you realize that he has the punch line to the scene. The third time that happened while we were filming, I could see this look on the actors' faces. I knew they were thinking, ‘you've got a nice role here'. (He laughs.) Actually all the characters are great, but I do feel particularly glad I got Dudley, even though he is the least cool member of the Wild Hogs.
What are the themes in this film - beyond the comedy do you think?
One of them is definitely friendship. These guys really love each other and they are very uncomfortable expressing that love, they don't know how to let it out and Dudley, God bless him, is unabashed in his love for the other four guys, the others learn from him. Dudley does not get embarrassed about affection. Women are affectionate all the time; they are all over each other. I see that with my wife and other cast members on her show, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, they are always grabbing each other. Yet most guys don't even want to sit close to other guys, we are so afraid about that kind of outward affection. Then when men do finally start hugging each other, it is more like pounding each other on the back to stay macho and masculine. I think the film's about four guys who are trying to regain something that they have lost in life, that spirit of freedom and adventure. I think it's also about four guys who are tired of being afraid. They are afraid of saying the wrong thing, they're afraid in their jobs - the whole thing, just afraid of life.
Speaking of afraid, how many of the stunts did you do in the film?
The stunt guys did anything that was dangerous, they were brilliant and they did all the difficult stuff but we did all our own riding. We trained to ride very close to each other and it is frightening even at 30 miles an hour.”
What were the funniest or most challenging scenes?
There is a scene in which we are all in a pond and a gay cop, a sheriff who we have met before, sees us there. I take off all my clothes for a swim and doing that scene was great fun. We were all there standing in water for two days. John C McGinley who plays the sheriff is hysterical, he is so funny and Tim Allen was making jokes the whole time, he is a very loud guy and X rated, you could not print most of his jokes. Everyone shut up when McGinley was around though, because he was so bold and so funny that the boys (John, Tim and Martin) were just standing there like 12 year olds for once. I have never seen them speechless like that.
Was it a difficult scene?
No it was fun, but I was the only one who had to show up naked. When you do that, you wear a sock - you can imagine where you put the sock. I had the costume department decorate it for me with very funny little notes to all the guys. So I was standing on a rock looking at the guys and there was no reaction and I said ‘don't you think this is funny?' And I suddenly realized these are over 40, so they could not see what was written on the sock, because they are short sighted. I cannot tell you what the notes said, most of the messages cannot be printed.
Was that scene embarrassing for you?
I am over being embarrassed. For some reason, after I turned 50, every other movie I took, I found myself naked. I was butt naked for a week in THE COOLER, so I do not get embarrassed easily now, it is ok.
Have you had any crisis turning 50?
No, as actors we get to live such great fantasy lives anyway, so we have the tendency to take our crises and spread them over years. I turned 50 and I noticed that I did buy a Porsche; I don't what that signifies.
Is acting still a passion?
Yes I love what I do. Being away from home is getting tiresome though. But my career has recently expanded a bit. My wife has an excellent TV job and that has afforded me the opportunity to do some things I haven't done before - so I have produced a movie. I wrote it and it is called THE DEAL. The title will probably change. I am so pleased that I actually produced it; I raised three million dollars outside Hollywood from civilians. It has no distributor; an eight million dollar budget and it took me two years to do it. But I am about to start filming in South Africa very soon, it is a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and myself and I am so excited. I have really enjoyed the experience of producing and raising the money.
I hear you are also directing a film?
Yes, it is called KEEP COMING BACK. And I'm also a producer on that one. It is the first film project I have directed for a long time. I have directed one small film for HBO many years ago and this one is my first feature, it is all new for me.
First of all, because I can. Because of Felicity's TV show, I don't have to worry about the mortgage and secondly I got a little bored with acting, although not with WILD HOGS. But on some films, I found that I kept having moments on the set, feeling that I done the same scene before. I would say to myself: "I think I have said this line before in another movie". I felt I was spinning my wheels a bit. But in my career I have always found this to be true, if you can't get a job, plan a vacation and you will get a job immediately, which will ruin your vacation.
It is hard to imagine that an actor of your caliber would be out of work?
I have been. So in the past when I thought I had reached the end and couldn't get any more acting work, I started directing in New York and as soon as I started directing, the acting jobs started pouring in and I found myself in a bind. The same thing happened when I started writing, no sooner did I start writing and accept several jobs, when I got some really nice acting roles and my poor partner Steven Schachter would have to fly all over the place and sit in my trailer while we wrote, because we had deadlines but I had an acting job. At the moment the roles are pouring in though.
How do you balance career and family?
I think in balance I spend more time with my kids than a guy who has a 9 to 5 job. While it's true I go away sometimes for up to three months, I am there the rest of the time, I am mostly unemployed.
How fulfilling is fatherhood?
It is pretty grand, I've got really good kids. Parenting can be challenging though. It is a daunting moment you know, when you open your mouth and your mother speaks. It's you but you are saying the same words that your parents said. My wife is really smart, she says if the way your parents raised you was good enough, then you don't need to make a plan or read a book or learn how to be a parent. But if that wasn't acceptable then you have to make a different plan or you will do exactly as your parents did. I had pretty good parents. However I am still trying to do some things differently.
How much do you love your job?
I love it but there is something bizarre about our profession that encourages people who are really narcissistic and want to be in the spotlight. There is also something bizarre about wanting to live under imaginary circumstances - it's a weird way to make a living and I think well adjusted people don't gravitate towards this way of life.
Despite all that, is it still enjoyable for you?
It is fantastic, I get to learn different skills and I get to go to different places, I meet the most amazing people, I adore actors, I married one. They are never boring and they are fascinating and smart and completely eclectic.
Can you say something about your long-term collaboration with David Mamet?
I would love to work with David Mamet again, God willing, he is the smartest guy I know and he was my mentor. He taught me how to act and I think his writing changed everything and he is very influential. He is the first guy who found the music in the way Americans talk and he is an amazing poet. His words have music and rhythm.
Did you dream of acting as a child?
No, I did some plays in high school then in college. I started acting because I was failing at everything else, but I didn't fail at acting. Then I met David Mamet and he was the guy who taught me about acting and he was the first guy who told me that it is an honorable profession, that the task of the actor is to bring the life of the human soul to the stage. He made it a calling, he made the theatre a church. And I do feel the same about cinema.
Would you like to act with your wife?
Absolutely. We have worked together many times. As soon as she is out of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES in a few years, we want to go to New York and do a play, we are both members of the Atlantic Theater Company and we would like to do a production for them. I love working with her, she is so much fun to act with.
Do you have a role model?
Gene Hackman - he's never bad, he's been in bad movies but he is always great and never has a false moment. We can all take a lesson from Gene Hackman, he is the best.
Question & Answer Copyright Buena Vista International