William H. Macy calls the shots in ‘Rudderless’

Macy Getty Images

Feel like an indie tonight? Rudderless, William H. Macy’s directorial debut, is playing at the Tower Theater through Oct. 30.

We caught up with Macy, who hit it big as a weasely car salesman with murder on his mind in 1996’s Fargo, and hasn’t looked back. He’s since appeared in dozens of films including Pleasantville, Ghosts of Mississippi, Magnolia and The Cooler. But directing this drama — starring Billy Crudup as a grieving dad who deals with the loss of his son by picking up the young man’s demo tapes — presented a whole new set of challenges. But it was an experience the 64-year-old Miami native (fun fact: Macy was born here but moved to Georgia as a baby) was more than happy to take on during his hiatus from Showtime’s dramedy Shameless:

So going behind the camera is kind of a departure for you.

Completely out of my wheelhouse. And it was so good for me to have done it. About 10 or so years ago, I think maybe the acting roles I had been getting weren’t so scintillating, and that’s when I started looking to get an indie production off the ground. But it took a long time. Aren’t I just the luckiest palooka? I’ve got this Shameless gig half the year, which leaves me time to do another movie. I’ll direct another one that starts shooting in February. I think it’ll be easier the second time around.

Would you say making “Rudderless” was a labor of love?

One of the daunting things about directing, I must tell you, is that I was completely and gloriously in over my head. But I surrounded myself with good people who would have done anything for me. Directing could be the world’s highest calling [laughs]. The great thing was I did not have to earn people’s respect; I already had it, and it helped enormously. This crew would have leapt off a roof if I’d asked.

How different is calling the shots to acting?

Just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean you can direct. They’re two different worlds, two different skill sets. We actors think in very small units of time — that’s the way the business runs. A big scene for us is three minutes, and we concentrate as hard as one human being can. You get enough of those moments together, and you can do Hamlet. With [directing], I found myself answering questions a mile a minute, and every question was very important. The ones I answered wrong I’m still paying the price for! It was a lot of work in a very short time.

Was there a director you worked with in the past who inspired you?

On Fargo, there was a calm on the set that was afforded by the exquisite preparation of Joel and Ethan Coen. They’re both like these two hippie kids who have been given a whole bunch of money to make a movie. And my pal Dave Mamet knows how to get the best out of people. He is completely loyal — working with the same people over and over again. He also draws no distinction between an extra and a featured actor. Great with names. I’ve heard him saying ‘Thanks for doing my movie’ to 40 people at 6 in the morning.

Was Billy Crudup always your choice to play the star?

I had seen Almost Famous as an example of a film with a lot of music in it, and I wanted to copy what I liked. I watched a lot of movies to find the right person, and Billy popped into my head. He’s quite picky in his career. He did a very unactorly thing. We sent him the script on a Thursday. He called me Friday to let me know he was going to read it again and call me the next day. And he did. For that, I will follow him to the ends of the earth.

How do you direct yourself?

I’m no good at it. I directed an episode of Shameless, and I saw the rough cut, and I didn’t like it. So I had an AD [assistant director] step in.

Selena Gomez plays a singer in the movie. Was she hounded by paparazzi on the set?

No, it really wasn’t a problem at all. We shot in Oklahoma City, and they’re a laid-back bunch. Now when we went to Sundance, it happened to be on the day the schools were out. Different story altogether. We actually had to get in a car to drive her across the street!