‘Wool Cap’: family values in surprising places
William H. Macy has played some sketchy characters in movies that explore the seedier sides of life. Macy’s most notorious and celebrated role to date is Jerry Lundegaard, the pathetic car salesman caught up in a kidnapping plot in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, “Fargo.” In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” Macy played a porn industry hanger-on who blows his brains out; in another Anderson film, “Magnolia,” Macy was Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, a one-time boy genius who finds himself drunk and desperate in a sleazy bar.In “The Wool Cap,” Macy couldn’t hope to enter such a nasty worlds. The film – co-written by Macy and his longtime writing partner Steven Schachter and directed by Schachter – was made for cable-station TNT, and sponsored by the family-conscious corporation Johnson & Johnson. Macy had worked with TNT and Johnson & Johnson previously on “Door to Door,” the sentimental tale of a man who overcomes his cerebral palsy to become a top salesman. So Macy knew what kind of material would fly with his backers.”With Johnson & Johnson, they want family stories, and wholesome stories,” said Macy. “We wanted something to fill the bill.”Schachter recalled a 1962 movie, “Gigot,” starring Jackie Gleason as a deaf mute who cares for a young girl. But upon watching the film, Macy thought its tone was too sentimental for the times, even for a Johnson & Johnson-sponsored TV flick.
“When we saw it, we saw it was much too simple and naive for these days,” said Macy. “But we knew something could be made of it.”Macy and Schachter moved the setting from Paris to a New York City slum. And they added not just a small amount of grit, but lots of grit. Gigot, played by Macy, is recast as a bitter, tough superintendent of a crumbling, urban apartment building. The young girl, Lou (Keke Palmer), is now a sassy, savvy child of the streets, whose mother is a short-tempered drug addict who often leaves Lou so she can search for her next fix. As Macy says, “There are some nasty things to it.”Johnson & Johnson, however, approved the project. “I was impressed with Johnson & Johnson that they expanded their horizons,” said Macy. “They didn’t want just saccharine.”To Macy, Johnson & Johnson’s acceptance of “The Wool Cap” represented a slow-growing realization in mainstream America that “family” doesn’t necessarily mean father, mother and 2.3 children.
“The moral is, it’s sometimes difficult for conservative America to learn that families come in all shapes and sizes these days,” he said. “It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, but you can find wholesomeness and family values in lots of places.”Gigot afforded Macy a chance to stretch into another corner of role-playing he had yet to explore, as both a writer and actor. In “The Wool cap,” Macy speaks not a word (he grunts one or two). Still, the film never becomes about an actor using all his skills to portray a deaf mute; the story is absorbing enough that the audience focuses on the development of characters and their relationships. Macy takes Gigot from an emotionally walled-off man to someone who puts everything he has on the line to care for Lou.For many filmgoers, Gigot will seem like something of a turn away from the standard Macy role. But as the years roll by since his career-defining, Oscar-nominated performance in “Fargo,” Macy has bolted loose from any acting straitjacket. Yes, he has played a bunch of losers. But he has also played an alpha-male Hollywood filmmaker in David Mamet’s excellent comedy “State and Main” – “a strong guy, smarter than everybody else,” said Macy of the character, Walt Price – and the boisterous, over-the-top track announced in “Seabiscuit,” for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination. In the current hit “Cellular,” he has earned positive reviews for playing a good cop, “sort of the hero, the gun-toting sheriff,” he said.”My characters don’t repeat themselves that often,” said Macy, the 2001 recipient of Aspen Filmfest’s Independent By Nature Award. (Macy is married to actress Felicity Huffman, a product of Woody Creek; the family, including two young daughters, has a property in the Emma area on which it intends to build a house.) “I was worried after ‘Fargo’ that I’d be typecast and keep playing the loser.”
Appearing on the small screen doesn’t make Macy feel like a loser. Though the restrictions of television, especially in terms of time limits and squeezing a story in between commercial breaks, are frustrating, Macy says TV is hardly rigid as regards content. (The Christmas-themed “The Wool Cap” premieres on TNT Nov. 21.)”Some of the most exciting things in the movie industry are happening on TV,” he said. “I don’t think I could have gotten ‘Door to Door’ or ‘The Wool Cap’ made as a feature. But this is the stock in trade for TV. I’m amazed that ‘Angels in America’ was made for TV.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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