William H. Macy is a priest in 'The Sessions'

William H. Macy attends Fox Searchlight's "The Sessions" William H. Macy attends Fox Searchlight's "The Sessions" Los Angeles Premiere at LACMA, in Los Angeles. (Oct. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight

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William H. Macy is one of the most widely known and honored character actors in the business. The 62-year-old Maryland native was Oscar-nominated for "Fargo," won an Emmy and SAG awards playing a door-to-door salesman with cerebral palsy in 2003's "Door to Door," and has appeared in a variety of films, from "Wild Hogs" to "Boogie Nights."

Macy has been married to "Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman for 14 years, and currently stars in the Showtime series "Shameless." In the new movie "The Sessions," about a man (John Hawkes) paralyzed from the neck down who wants to lose his virginity, he plays a priest to whom the protagonist confesses. He spoke with Newsday contributor Lewis Beale.

When you first read the script for "The Sessions," what did you think?

Great story, subject matter I'm predisposed to like, and nice role. Many years ago, I played a guy with cerebral palsy, and I got involved with the United Cerebral Palsy Association, so I learned something about disabilities. And it's my other favorite subject -- sex.

It almost seems like one attraction for you was that the priest, a virgin himself, is fascinated when the lead character tells how he's losing his virginity with the aid of a sex surrogate.

It didn't seem part of the story that Father Brendan was vicariously going through this. I thought the question was a little bigger. He's clearly a liberal priest, but in the traditional Catholic Church, so the big question is taking on some authority that could land him in hot water -- that's what I find most interesting. I love that I got to play a priest that wasn't about child molestation. And it was a lovely moment when he looks at that statue of Jesus and thinks what would Jesus do? And he thinks Jesus would give him a pass.

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Helen Hunt, who plays the surrogate, is very nude in this film. You've also done nudity in films, like in 2003's "The Cooler." What does that feel like?

It is difficult to do. You drop your trousers in front of a bunch of Teamsters -- you haven't lived until you've done that. Not only will everyone see your body, but you have to go one step further and be intimate, and not be self-conscious. It's a horror, but it does add verisimilitude to some scripts.

How did you get into acting?

It's where you meet girls, I got to grow my hair long, I liked the attention, and I didn't fail onstage, I seemed to have a gift for it. In my formative college days, I was wandering around stoned half the time, then I met David Mamet, who was my teacher at Goddard College, and I never looked back.

You've been involved with Mamet ever since, and have appeared in many of his plays and films. What makes his work special?

He's the smartest guy I've ever met; he is a poet, first and foremost. I've always felt Dave found the music in the way America talks better than anyone before him. People would say he just listens to conversations and writes them down, which shows how ignorant they can be. He writes in iambic pentameter. It feels good to say his language, it's got such an exquisite sound to it. He's got a wicked sense of humor, and he knows a lot about acting.

You've been married 14 years, a long time in Hollywood. Any secrets to your success?

I don't think there are any secrets. Never marry anyone who's not nice, I did that once. It's a complicated thing. I was crazy about this broad , and I pursued her until she said yes. I think it helps we're both in the business; we respect each other's work. We laugh a lot, we talk a lot, we're best buddies, and that helps.

I heard that you're a woodworker, and were once on the cover of Fine Woodworking magazine.

My dad was a handy guy; he and I worked on houses together, we worked on cars together. He was of that generation that fixed it. So that's how I come by it. I have a nice wood shop, I make a little bit of heirloom-quality furniture, but mostly I fix things that break. I just made a beautiful fence. I just like to swing a hammer.

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