5 Acting Tips from William H. Macy

July 8, 2018

William H. Macy’s 40-year career is rich and varied, but he’s likely most known for playing the unemployable alcoholic Frank Gallagher in the Showtime series Shameless and the nervous car salesman Jerry Lundegaard trying to sell TruCoat in the crime film Fargo. Throughout the years, Macy took every opportunity that came his way, and as a result, he crafted a prolific body of work on stage, television, and film. Here are five of Macy’s tips for aspiring actors which deal with auditions, being respectful, and valuing their work.

1. Your career has already started.

In this Archive of American Television interview, Macy urges young actors to take their careers seriously right from the get-go: “To the young actors who are in school, if you think you’re waiting for your career to begin, think again. It did begin. If you’re in school, if you’re in acting school, if you’re doing plays right now, your career has already begun. Look around you. There may be somebody there who’s going to chase the face of the theater–you may have already met her or him.”

Macy speaks from experience. He attended Goddard College in rural Vermont where he studied under a “taskmaster” instructor. “You had to be on time … You had to know the lines … and he changed my whole life. He taught me everything I know,” he insists. This teacher was David Mamet who would go on to become a legendary playwright and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. After graduating, Macy spent the following ten years acting in Mamet’s plays and collaborating in Chicago. When it came to Mamet, Macy says he soon realized, “I’m in the presence of grace here.”

2. Treat people with respect.

Macy strongly believes that acting is a noble career. With the goal of uplifting yourself as well as others, Macy continues “… So you better start treating people with respect. Your career has started. The second you step on the boards, that is your career … Treat your fellow actors the way you want to be treated. That’s it: Golden Rule.” Enough said.

3. Plant Your Flag.

After Macy’s decade in Chicago, he felt drawn to Broadway so he moved to New York. For the next ten years, he acted in over 50 Off-Broadway and Broadway plays. Eventually, Macy moved to Los Angeles hoping to act in film and television but was disheartened when he went almost a year without working. Flustered, he attributed his slump to freezing in the audition room. Being that auditions are a “necessary evil” in the business, Macy knew he had to tackle the problem. “I took it from this point of view. I did two things. One, I talked the talk with the directors,” he told Variety. “I didn’t try to be charming or anything. I said, ‘I think this is a movie about …’ and I said, ‘I think this character is trying to …’ and, “I think in this scene, he’s trying to do the following thing.’ … I sort of planted my flag: this is what I’m going to do. And sometimes they’d go, ‘No, it’s not like that.’ But that was a good thing because I’d say, ‘It’s more like this?’”

4. Auditions are like a first rehearsal.

Macy’s problem was with auditions rather than with rehearsals or actual performances. So, he tried to change his thinking. “The second thing I did,” Macy continues, “was I sort of said to myself that I would carry this attitude: ‘If you cast me, this is what I’m going to do. Because I started thinking about the audition as my first rehearsal. If I get the job, it’ll go all the way, and it’ll be on camera. But I’m at work now. And if you don’t like what I’m doing, don’t cast me. Because this is what I’m going to do. I planted my flag. And it made me bolder.”

5. The Pause Trick

A little bonus tip for the audition room, Macy adds, is actually a trick. “They’ll give you four scenes, right? And in each scene, there’s a moment. And they want to see that character do those moments,” he says. “Pause before you say it. Just pause.” He assures talent that everyone in the room will stop what they’re doing and look up–compelled. Once all that attention is focused on you, he says, “Then you throw the punch line.”