The sixth season of Shameless already started when William H. Macy attended the Television Critics Association press tour on behalf of Showtime. We’re glad it did, because now we get to see Frank Gallagher (Macy)’s unique ways of coping with grief. The season premiere climaxed, pun intended, with Frank humping his departed lover’s grave.
Rotten Tomatoes was one of select press granted an interview with Macy to discuss the new season of Shameless. We sat outside but moved out the direct sunlight into a shadier spot at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Season six also addresses Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kenney) fighting with Fiona (Emmy Rossum) over keeping Debbie’s pregnancy, and Lip (Jeremy Allen White) continuing his affair with a professor (Sasha Alexander).
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: When you read the cemetery sex scene…
William H. Macy: Thank you for noticing that.
Rotten Tomatoes: Did anyone not notice that?
Macy: Well, just the way you said it: “When you read it.” I think people don’t realize that there is a point where an actor gets the script and says, “Okay, let’s see what we’re doing.” You read it and you go, “Mother of God, are you kidding me?” That scene in particular, I directed a film in the hiatus last time and it was very difficult. It was just a fractious shoot. It’s called The Layover. Directing is so hard, so much harder than acting. I guess coming off of that, I was delighted to go back to being an actor again because it’s so easy. Then I read that scene, and my first impulse truthfully was to say, “Oh, come on. Come on, this is beyond the pale. It’s just not realistic.” But I didn’t. For the whole season I decided, “Okay, whatever you got, I’m going to figure out how to do it.” I thought it turned out pretty well. It made sense what I was doing and realized you’d have to be somewhat lit up to do that in public, so I made sure that he was heavily medicated, but I thought it went down pretty well.
Rotten Tomatoes: That’s one for the record books. No one else has ever done that.
Macy: Sex with a grave? I don’t think so. I think the Golden Globes should have a category: Sex With the Most Unusual Thing.
Rotten Tomatoes: After that, was wearing the panties nothing?
Macy: Right. Oh, it’s outrageous. You just have to sort of park your ego and your sense of self at the door sometimes with these things.
Rotten Tomatoes: Can you be shameless as an actor?
Macy: To me, that means chewing the scenery, to be shameless. I’ve never been that. I’ve had my moments of chewing the scenery but generally speaking, that’s why I love this role so much. It gets me out of my normal zone, but I’m not a flamboyant actor, generally speaking. At least I don’t think of myself that way. Frank is quite outrageous. It’s new. It’s different for me.
Rotten Tomatoes: Have you ever been surprised by the depravity they write for Frank?
Macy: Oh yes. Starting with this season.
Rotten Tomatoes: Just starting now?
Macy: It’s hard to get surprised now but some of the stuff they’ve done. I wrote one of the episodes, so I got to hang out in the writers room with them a couple seasons ago. Finally with a couple of them, I said, “Do you hate me? Do you hate Frank?”
Rotten Tomatoes: Which episode made you say that?
Macy: There was a moment written I think in the second season and I did demur for that one. I just said, “It’s too early. That’s so depraved. I don’t know how to recover from that. That’s just too much.” That’s the one and only time I’ve said, “No, I don’t want to do that. At least not this early.”
Rotten Tomatoes: Have you ever talked about what the scene was that got cut from season two?
Macy: No, I don’t talk about it too much because there’s a part of me that thinks I don’t want to embarrass the writers.
Rotten Tomatoes: Coming up, Frank is trolling the cancer wards and hooking up with a crack addict. What did you think of that?
Macy: It was great fun. One of the fabulous parts about my role is that these wonderful guest stars come in and I get to act with these people just for an afternoon or something, but they were all really great. I personally feel like we always have to be able to laugh and make a joke about anything, absolutely anything. Perhaps good taste sometimes will tell you to keep your mouth shut, but it’s got to be on the table. You’ve got to be able to laugh about everything. I think making jokes about something as deadly serious as cancer is healthy in a way.
Rotten Tomatoes: Frank has been uncharacteristically loving towards his kids since his loss. Do you think that love comes from a sincere place?
Macy: That’s a great question. I didn’t at first. Somewhat as a matter of technique, I don’t push myself to find out where the whole season is going. It surprises me as it does you. John Wells will tell us anything we ask, and I think some of the actors do love to know where it’s going. But I don’t. For the first two or three episodes this season I thought, “Okay, what’s the angle? He says he loves them. What’s the angle?” It was by halfway through I thought, “Wait, I get what they’re doing. There is no angle.” I think because of that love affair he had, real love, selfless love which I don’t think people thought Frank was capable of. I always did, and I love that the writers saw that, but I think the net result is she died so he sees the value in family. He grew up a little bit. I think it’s genuine. I think he loves his kids. I think he’s still a narcissist and he’s still got a screw loose and he’s still at heart a con guy, but given all those provisos I think he really loves his family.
Rotten Tomatoes: Even I thought, “I know he’s grieving but he could be expressing that love selfishly to make himself feel better.”
Macy: That’s the way I did it. I’ve seen people like this. You go through something that is so emotional, you sort of love watching yourself go through it. It’s just so dramatic and you’re performing your heartbreak a little bit for people. That’s the way I did it, and it slowly occurred to me: he’s really crazy for this family and he has some inkling of how important they are in his life.
Rotten Tomatoes: When you met with all the different religious leaders, did you have scripted conversations with them? Because we didn’t hear anything but music.
Macy: No, I made all that up. My two favorites — I don’t know if they made it in — I loved telling the Muslims, “That’s not east.” Did you see me pointing? They always pray towards Mecca and what I did in a dumb show was I said, “No, that’s not east, man. East is over there.” And they go, “No, no.” It sort of threw them a little bit. “Oh my God, have we been praying in the wrong direction all this time?” My other favorite was with the Mormons; the two boys on bicycles in their white shirts and black ties had just given me a rundown on Mormonism, and I was just howling with laughter, just howling with laughter. The dumb show is, “I’m sorry, this is just too whacked for me,” and I walked away just howling with laughter. We shot that all in one day. Chris Chulak directed and the script just says he meets with religious leaders. Chris and I had to come up with what’s the little dumb show going to look like. I gotta say, I was on it that day.
Rotten Tomatoes: And the Hare Krishnas?
Macy: Yeah, that was Chris’s idea that I co-opt them. “I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. Give me your tambourine.” Pissing off a Hare Krishna was a shameless thing to do, wasn’t it?
Rotten Tomatoes: Yes. Will Frank support Debbie’s pregnancy?
Macy: Yes. I don’t want to give it away, but that’s one that I thought, “Is this real or is this not real?” It’s totally real. He wants that grandson or granddaughter.
Rotten Tomatoes: Were you conflicted about Frank’s liver transplant? You want to keep playing him, but should Frank be getting a new liver?
Macy: No, I never went there. That’s other people’s jobs. I think Frank wanted to live, and it’s one of his great strengths. He doesn’t take no for an answer. There is always a solution. He never stops trying. That’s a very admirable quality. He’s dogged. It was a weird season, man, I gotta tell you. To be sickly, first of all I went on a crash diet like many actors do. Along with John Jackson, the makeup guy, I looked near death by the end of that. Some of it’s makeup, but also I’m not a big guy anyway, and I dropped close to 18 pounds. I look skeletal. I thought one of the best jokes that they’ve done in the whole season is when they go to the black market to get me a liver and these black marketeers don’t give me a liver but they steal my kidney! [Laughs] I thought that was a great joke.
Rotten Tomatoes: When you said that there’s always a solution, is that the ultimate message of Shameless?
Macy: Yes, it’s the message of Shameless. It’s the message of pretty much all drama, isn’t it? It’s all about what it means to be alive. We love stories of triumph. You can count on one hand the number of “bummer” endings that we love, those stories that make us feel something. No, we want the protagonist to be someone we can relate to and we want him or her to thrive. What’s genius about the way they’ve set up Shameless is that that family is just one disaster away from homelessness. Things that you and me, if we were going home and tonight if we got a DUI and we got sued and all of that stuff, it would screw up your life for a long time but it wouldn’t end your life. You would survive it. You’d hire lawyers. You’d get out of it somehow. Or, if you got a catastrophic illness, it’d be bad but you could do it. When you’re like the Gallaghers, you’d be screwed. You’d be on the street. You’d be done.
Rotten Tomatoes: In real life I’m frustrated how easily it seems some people just give up when I’ve thought of three possible solutions they just won’t try. The Martian was really about that. If you think your problems are tough, try being on Mars with NASA trying to save you.
Macy: I love that movie. I love Matt’s humor. The writers brought all that humor in there. That is just genius. How could you not love that? What a heroic guy.
Rotten Tomatoes: To think that all drama is about that is rather inspiring.
Macy: I think it is. Those are the movies that we love.
Season six of Shameless currently airs Sunday nights at 9pm on Showtime.