Some actors would do anything to research a role, though
veteran William Macy, an Oscar nominee for Fargo, says he doesn't
usually believe in research. Take Boogie nights, the sardonic
film that examines the highs and lows of the American porn
industry in the late seventies. Here, the versatile actor plays a
porn director, so to help him understand that world, he went on
the set of an actual porn flick.
"Of course, I told everyone that was simply part of my
research, but actually I just wanted to see a bunch of naked
women," he laughs. And indeed he did - three in fact,
frolicking around in a hot tub. "It was astounding and
totally bizarre", he recalls. "It was just like a porn
flick; incredibly titillating for about two minutes, then for
about two minutes you think: isn't this odd? Then after that it's
boring." He further remembers "smoking cigarette after
cigarette, being nervous as hell, until I got bored." In
Boogie Nights, Macy's wife in the film is played by real-life
porn star Nina Hartley, who was with the bemused actor on the set
of this real-life porn movie." She actually explained to me
how you can tell which women actually have orgasms." He
couldn't remember the details.
"Everybody knows what
humiliation is, and he's the guy that's humiliated by his
wife, over and over again."
He describes his own character, a tragic figure continually
embarrassed by the openly nymphomaniacal behaviour of his wife,
"as being terribly sad" and a figure with whom he could
easily identify. "Everybody knows what humiliation is, and
he's the guy that's humiliated by his wife, over and over
again." Macy says that he owes a lot to the film's
writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. "He wrote the
character that way, and I just had enough brains not to get in
the way of it."
Boogie Nights is set in the late seventies, and revolves
around Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a seventeen-year-old busboy
at an LA nightclub. Spotted by adult film director Jack Horner
(Burt Reynolds) for the generous bulge in his pants, Eddie is
lured into the world of making porno films. He meets Amber Waves
(Julianne Moore), Jack's part-time lover and full time porn
queen, along with others in the industry such as actor Buck Swope
(Don Cheadle), crew member Little Bill (Macy), the films'
investor known as "The Colonel" (Robert Ridley) and a
woman constantly on roller skates known only as Rollergirl
(Heather Graham). With his natural physical "gift,"
Eddie becomes a big star in the adult film industry and changes
his name to Dirk Diggler.
Working hard and playing harder, Amber introduces Dirk to the
world of cocaine, and soon he becomes hooked. While doing so, he
starts to hang out with Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), his
adult action film co-star, and his friend Todd Parker (Thomas
Jane). Years pass and life is good for Dirk until Jack finds a
new young actor who make take Dirk's place. Soon Dirk's drug
addition gets in the way and his star in the porno industry
fades. As they enter the more conservative 1980's, Dirk and the
others find the industry, and their lives, changing in ways they
had never imagined.
(Boogie Nights) is about, is family values, and about where
you go to find solace in this life."
Though Boogie Nights is set in the world of adult erotica,
Macy believes that the film is not about the porn industry, but
the notion of family. "Ultimately, what the film is about,
is family values, and about where you go to find solace in this
life. The character of Dirk Diggler is kicked out of his own
family, so he has no place to go. Therefore, he creates this new
'family', which just happens to be around pornographic films, and
they are as loving and as complete as any other family you can
find. This a movie about family values, trust and honouring your
An accomplished veteran of stage, screen and TV, the
Florida-born Macy is perhaps best-known for his collaborations
with playwright-director David Mamet, whom he met whilst at
college. "He was the one who helped shape my own
insecurities and turn them into acting. I was this shy, gawky kid
until then." After years of bit parts or supporting roles in
films and TV, Macy finally registered with audiences for his role
as Joe Mantegna's acerbic partner in Mamet's Homicide (1991).
Other screen collaborations with Mamet include House of Games
(1987), Things Change (1988) and Oleanna (1994), in which he
recreated his acclaimed stage role. Macy has gone on to appear in
Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog (1991), Benny & Joon and
Searching for Bobby Fischer (both 1993). He was a doctor in The
Client (1994), a school vice principal in Mr. Holland's Opus
(1995) and a man who plots his wife's kidnapping in the Coen
brothers' Fargo (1996), for which he earned an Oscar nomination
as Best Supporting Actor. "I guess that was the film that
kinda did it for me," Macy now recalls.
Apart from his slew of films, TV audiences best know Macy for
his recurring work on E.R., as head surgeon Dr Morganstern. Macy
turns up in the first episode of the new series, which was beamed
live to its American audience last September. "That was
quite a buzz, almost like a nose full of methedrine. The air was
thick enough you could cut it with a knife. It was great fun
doing it live, though I must say it was more of a gag than worth
doing, because the audience doesn't realise they're seeing it
live. If you do it well enough, then they forget." Macy will
crop up a few times throughout the year on the show, and will be
shooting three episodes in a row next month. "They've
created a specific story for Morganstern, which I'm excited
about. After his heart attack, he looks at surgery through very
"I have one rule of
thumb, these days: do the good stuff and don't do the bad
Meanwhile, the busy Macy will next be seen on the big screen,
in another David Mamet-scripted project, the brilliant political
satire, Wag the Dog, which stars Dustin Hoffman as a powerful
film producer hired by a political aide to mount a phoney war as
a diversion for problems encountered by an American president.
Macy is hilarious as a CIA operative. "It's such a smart
film, and one that says as much about Hollywood as it does about
Macy is riding a wave of success, gratified to no longer face
auditions, and tackle roles in a variety of diverse projects.
"I have one rule of thumb, these days: do the good stuff and
don't do the bad stuff." He also feels that "the time
is right for me to carry a film. I see myself as the leading man
type; may those that matter agree."