Just his luck (and lucky for us): Macy takes on another loser role

NEW YORK — William H. Macy believes in luck.

"You've got to believe in something, right? So why not have a belief system that's good for the world?" said the actor recently as his Lincoln Town Car sped down the East Side of Manhattan.

"I firmly believe that there is such a thing as karma, and if you put out distrust and anger and suspicion and depression, that's what the world will meet you with," he said.

"And I think if you put out faith and joy and happiness and love, the world will meet you with that, too."

As Macy sees it, that's what his new film, "The Cooler," is all about.

In the movie Macy plays Bernie Lootz, the unluckiest guy in Las Vegas, who's hired by a casino owner named Shelly (Alec Baldwin) to spread a little of that bad luck among the tables.

Bernie, in short, is a loser, a character Macy has seen more than a few times before.

"I've done perhaps too many," he said. "I actually had a meeting with my agent saying, 'No more loser roles. Help me say no to these things.' But then this thing came up and one, he's the winner at the end; two, he gets the girl. And it's just a great story."

The girl, Natalie Belisario, is played by Maria Bello, whom audiences see much of in the film. There are two explicit nude scenes featuring her and Macy in "The Cooler."

When an actress bares all in front of the camera much is traditionally made of it in the press, but Macy doesn't think it's any easier for a man.

"I think I've got as much to hide as they do," he said, "but Maria made it easy. She was so calm and she's such a cool broad. The other thing that made it doable for me — because it's tough when you're 50 years old to be taking off your clothes in front of a film set — is that they're really good scenes, they're well-written scenes."

There were originally five nude scenes in the film, but after Macy objected to three of them (he didn't see their point), director Wayne Kramer excised them and talked the actors through a dry run of the remaining two scenes with their clothes on.

"He said he wanted it to be awkward and unchoreographed and improvisatory, and we said, 'OK, we hear you, but that means we've got to choreograph them,' and we did," said Macy. "And I'm really proud of the scenes, I think they're sexy as all get out."

Macy, 53, is known as a character actor. A somewhat slight man with an instantly recognizable face, he looks the part. On this day he's dressed in a suit and sneakers. His voice bears traces of his early years growing up in Georgia and Maryland, and his speech is sprinkled with folksy aphorisms.

Macy's been acting since the late 1970s, with more than 50 films now tacked on to his filmography, making his one of the more ubiquitous mugs in movies today. But it was a lead role, as Jerry Lundegaard in the Coen brothers' 1996 film "Fargo," that made him a name. "And it's true, I threatened to shoot their dog if they didn't give me the role," he said.

Although he's posted some memorable character performances in pictures like "Boogie Nights" and "Air Force One" (both 1997 releases), Macy's now able to make a bigger splash by being No. 1 on the call sheet. He won a Screen Actors Guild award earlier this year for his turn as a traveling salesman with cerebral palsy in the acclaimed TNT movie "Door to Door." But he still considers himself a character actor.

"I was thinking, are there any of them I wish I hadn't made, thinking of my daughter seeing them, and I was pleased to find out that no, I'll stand by them," said Macy of his many movies.

"Some of them are pretty stupid and some of them I'm not very good in, but there are none of the despicable ones that are lies. I want to keep it that way, too."

Macy, in a rush this day to hop a plane to Nova Scotia, where he's shooting a CBS miniseries called "Reversible Errors" with Tom Selleck, Monica Potter and his wife, Felicity Huffman, admits to what many actors in Hollywood won't.

"It's really fun to win things," he said. "When you win it's a lot better, it's so much more fun. If you don't win, you get home and go, 'Well, no, it's just great,' and then in your pocket you find the speech that you didn't get to give."

When told that he more than likely has an Academy Award waiting for him at some point in his career if he keeps up like this, Macy shoots back, "Your mouth to God's ears."

"I would love to win one, I really would. It means something," he said.

"I'm a member of the academy, and one of the things I realized when I walked into the Academy Awards was that I know these people. This is the academy? I know these schmucks. They're just folks, just like you and me."

Maybe he'll get lucky.