William H. Macy on Astronauts, Abraham Lincoln, and the Adventure That Most Changed His Life

William H. Macy
William H. MacyNBC / Getty Images

William H. Macy, the dissolute patriarch of Showtime’s Shameless, on astronauts, aging, and why the ultimate dinner party includes Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek.

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What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never lie. It’s the cheapest way to go. Lies cost you a lot, and they’re never worth what they cost.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

David Mamet taught me pretty much everything I know about art, acting, storytelling, and writing. He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met.

Who were your heroes growing up?

The original Apollo astronauts. I thought they were the coolest guys. Even as a boy, I totally got it that those guys were going to strap themselves to a bomb. No one had ever tried it before, and, God willing, they would come back.

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How should a person handle getting older?

Treat it as a success. Celebrate it.

You and your wife, the actress Felicity Huffman, have been together for decades. What’s the secret to a happy relationship?

Sooner or later you’re going to have to talk about it. My wife likes to talk, but I’m not a fan of talking because talking leads to communication, and from there it’s a slippery slope to feelings, and then the next thing you know, you’re living in your life. Nobody wants that.

But you do it anyway?

You’ve got to.

How should a man handle criticism?

Just as he handles compliments: It’s good information, but it’s not the whole story.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Worrying doesn’t help.

What role should vanity play in a man’s life?

A little bit of vanity is fine—as long as you’re willing to play the fool and look like an idiot every once in a while.

What human qualities do you most despise?

Dishonesty. Self-delusion. Lack of character. President Trump is sort of my touchstone for the qualities I do not like.

How should a man handle regret?

Like the flu—you let it run its course.

What living person do you most admire?

I married very, very well. It’s great fun for me to watch Felicity. I love the way she mothers our daughters. And her career—I find myself getting lazy and slowing down and losing my drive. My wife is doubling down.

What adventure most changed your life?

After I got out of college, my best friend and I moved to Chicago to join Dave Mamet. We took all our money and rented a huge industrial space and built a theater company called the St. Nicholas Theater. It was an impossible task; it was a foolish task; it was an illegal task. We were able to do it because we were young and stupid, had boundless energy, and were convinced that we couldn’t fail.

Who would you invite to a dream dinner party?

It would be fabulous to spend an evening with Abraham Lincoln. And George Washington. And wouldn’t it be fun to have Alex Trebek at your dinner party? Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep would be great additions. And Kamala Harris.

I hope you have a big dining table.

I’ll get another table if I have to. Who else? Angela Merkel. Elon Musk would be fun if he’d behave himself. Would we have anything to talk about? I think so.

How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?

I’ve decided not to leave.

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