Magazine article The New Yorker

Ukulele Days

Magazine article The New Yorker

Ukulele Days

Article excerpt

UKULELE DAYS

William H. Macy's stock-in-trade, discontent, had made him dangerously content. Long the go-to guy for intense anxiety in such films as "Fargo" and "Magnolia," Macy has more recently been playing a drunk on Showtime's "Shameless," which shoots not far from his home in the Hollywood Hills. Over lunch on the Lower East Side recently, he said, "I get on my Triumph motorcycle, tootle to Warner Brothers, the guards raise the gate, we slap palms as I go by, and I feel like the king of the goddam world!"

At sixty-four, Macy appears a decade younger. He has shoulder-length hair, staring blue eyes, and a candid, impulsive manner. "My comfort zone was large," he continued. "I needed to get really, really far out of it." So he directed his first film, "Rudderless," which opens later this month. It's an unflinching portrait of a businessman named Sam (Billy Crudup), whose son, Josh, dies in a shooting rampage on campus. Sam moves away and falls apart, then begins playing songs that Josh wrote, as a way of communing with him. He forms a band, but doesn't tell the others who wrote the songs.

For a while, it seemed as if the film might never happen. "Everyone always told me, 'You could get a movie made in two minutes!' Well, that ain't true," Macy said. "Some people have a fantasy about what celebrity can do--well, my celebrity. If Tom Cruise wanted to direct an indie, he wouldn't have any problem. And people get really nervous when they write checks for millions of dollars--well, in my case, hundreds of thousands of dollars." How big was the budget? "I'm not supposed to say, but if you counted to three"--million--"you'd have passed it by one."

What kept Macy sane, as he fretted at the video monitors, was his ukulele. "It was my pacifier," he said. "Ukuleles! They're completely portable, and anyone can play one--there's only four strings. Every rock band has a ukulele"--he sang a bit of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" to demonstrate--"and two songs in my film use ukuleles. Plus I gave ukes to everyone as wrap gifts. They were all over the place."William H. Macy

All this ukulele talk made Macy eager to shop for one. As he walked the few blocks to Ludlow Guitars, he said that when he looks at "Rudderless" all he sees is the flaws. …

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