We love William H. Macy as the well-lubricated Frank Gallagher on Shameless, a role he will reprise when the series returns to Showtime in January. But there is more to Macy than just his acting talent, which he proves with his first-rate directorial debut, tackling a tender story about finding happiness after suffering loss and pain, known as Rudderless.
Rudderless is the story of Sam (Billy Crudup), a former high-profile advertising executive whose life is hijacked by the sudden death of his son Josh (Miles Heizer). Living off the grid on a docked sailboat two years following the loss, he wastes away his days while drowning his pain in alcohol. When Sam’s ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) drops off a box filled with Josh’s demo tapes and lyrics, his own child’s musical talent is a revelation for him, a grieving father yearning to reconnect with his son.
Sam begins to explore his son’s unknown talent, obsessively learning his songs, until one day he decides to play one of them at a local bar. The song captivates Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a young musician in the audience, and the two unlikely friends decide to form a rock ‘n’ roll band called Rudderless that becomes surprisingly popular and revitalizes both of their lives. But everything changes when Josh’s ex-girlfriend (Selena Gomez) shows up one night and reveals a dark secret.
In this interview with Pop Culture Madness, Macy talks about why he picked this particular script to make his directing debut, the importance of music to the story, how he acquired such a stellar cast, and more.
Of all the scripts in the world, why pick this one to make your directorial debut?
It had a lot of the things that I was looking for. I had decided that I wanted to direct and I had another script that I took almost to the finish line three times, and then it would fall apart at the 11th hour.
Rudderless came along and it checked a lot of boxes. It’s a profound story. It’s significant. I’ve never seen this story told before. It could even be controversial. It has music. The writing was very sharp and fun, and I loved the approach.
This is a topic that’s very much in the news. Do you think it’s important to do a film like this, to keep the discussion going, to show people what the people involved in these tragic events go through?
I think it’s a terrible idea to make a film in order to get people thinking about something, or to further an agenda. I think it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll make a stinky film. What I liked about it is it’s a rollicking story and I loved the twist. I loved the storytelling and I found it redemptive, as a parent myself. I found it a great question of what would you do if…? What would you do if the phone rings and your life is irrevocably different?
And even though it is a heartbreaker, and I find that the audience sort of sits there a little bit decimated — gobsmacked if not decimated — that can be fun. You can see something and cry your eyes out but it’s entertaining.
The script already existed when you became involved in it, but you had some input. What do you feel that you contributed to that and what changes did you make?
Believe it or not, the twist. The twist did not exist originally. I’m not sure who came up with the idea. I say it was Casey Twenter, but he tells everyone that it was my idea, but I think it was his idea. From that point on, because we had to throw out the script as it existed and start anew, we would meet. They did most of the writing, but every once in a while, the three of us would write. Then I did the last patch, which is traditional in a film because it really is a production patch.
Also, I’m pretty good at being funny. I tried to sharpen the jokes. I tried to make sure there was enough. And the music was all me.
The music is like a starring role. How did you song select? It couldn’t have been easy with all the music that’s out there. And also, who knew Anton and Billy could sing?
They’re pretty good, aren’t they?
That totally surprised me.
We did it in the traditional way. Liz Gallacher was the music supervisor and she hooked us up with the Indie music scene. A lot of people sent me a lot of songs, spec songs written just for the film.
First of all, the music is mostly all you see of the character of Josh. And I wanted Josh to be a big player in this film, and he’s only got three scenes. So the music, it had to speak for him. So I sent a letter out saying that I wanted the songs to be pop songs and friendly, and happy. I wanted you to be able to hum the hook after one hearing. I wanted them to be complicated with a verse and the chorus and the middle. I wanted them to be ironic. I did not want them to be about the plot. I said, you can write about anything just don’t write about what we’re watching.
One song bubbled up, Home. It’s the first song Billy sings. Simon Steadman and Chartlon Pettus had written that. And then I heard another of their songs, I’m an Asshole, and from there I thought, “These are the boys.” With the exception of Over Your Shoulder which was by Fink, they wrote all of the music.
How did you get your cast? You have some really great actors in this.
I watched all the films I could find about movies that have bands in them or songs in them, just to see how they did it, and particularly how they shot the songs. I had seen Almost Famous before and I just loved Billy in it. And then through the casting process, we decided we would go younger. So Billy’s name popped into my head immediately and in a very un-actor like way, we sent it to him on a Friday, he read it immediately and called me. And I said, “Thank you man.” He said, “Yeah, let me think about it. I’ll call you tomorrow.” And he did. For that, I will follow him to the ends of the Earth.
We know how you got Felicity. What about Laurence Fishburne?
I’ve known Fish for a long time and gave him the script. He took forever to say yes. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he’s ever said yes, but he did show up and he shot it. He’s stunning in the thing, isn’t he?
What do you hope people take away from it?
I hope they have a good time. I hope they like the music. I hope it gives them a laugh or two. I hope they have a cathartic experience, have a good cry. For me, it speaks to the human soul. We are such a remarkable species.
Rudderless opens in theaters on Friday, October 17.
The post William H. Macy Demonstrates He is Anything But ‘Rudderless’ With His Directorial Debut also appeared on PCM Reviews.