William H. Macy came to acting by way of Bethany and Goddard Colleges. At the latter school, Macy studied under playwright David Mamet, with whom he would be frequently associated throughout his career. After college, Macy was a member of Mamet's theater troupe, the St. Nicholas Company. The actor performed in a number of productions, many of them written by Mamet, until 1978 when he left the company and headed to New York. Some of his earliest work there included commercial voice-overs, such as the now infamous "Secret: Strong enough for a man, but PH balanced for a woman."
Macy also continued his theater work, forming the Atlantic Theatre Company with Mamet in 1985 and acting in Broadway and off-Broadway shows. In addition, he worked in television and began doing feature films, debuting in '80s Foolin' Around. He continued to act in supporting roles throughout the decade, appearing in such films as Mamet's directorial debut, House of Games (1987) and Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987). In 1991, he won a more substantial role, in Mamet's Homicide, and subsequently began to find work in more well-known films, including Benny and Joon and The Client.
Macy finally got a shot at a leading role with his turn in Mamet's Oleanna. He won positive notices and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his portrayal of a professor accused of sexual harassment. More acclaim followed with his starring role as a hapless car salesman in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's Fargo (1996), for which he garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The next year, Macy's star rose a little higher, thanks to his work in three high-profile films, Wag the Dog, Air Force One, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. He was similarly lauded for his versatility through work in such films as Psycho and Pleasantville, and in 1999 he continued his winning streak as an unconventional superhero in Mystery Men, a gay sheriff in Happy, Texas, and a member of the ensemble cast of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia.
Despite the fact that Macy drew praise for his turn as a reluctant hit man in the 2000 drama Panic, the film went largely unseen, and his next substantial role found him running from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III. As always Macy continued to intercut his more commercial efforts with such decidedly non-mainstream fare as Focus and Stealing Sinatra. Surprisingly, it was just such work that netted Macy some of his most glowing reviews. Case in point was a memorable performance as a disabled traveling salesman in the 2003 drama Door to Door; a role that earned its convincing lead an Emmy. After sticking to the small screen with the Showtime miniseries Out of Order, Macy went wide with the theatrical hit Seabiscuit and the breathless Larry Cohen-scripted thriller Cellular. That same year, the actor would continue to nurture a succesful ongoing collaboration with famed writer/director David Mamet in the widely-praised but little-seen crime drama Spartan. Macy has also continued to do television work, appearing on such series as Spencer, Law & Order, and ER. For his role in the 2004 made for television drama The Wool Cap (which also found him teaming with writer Steven Schachter to adapt a story originally written by Jackie Gleason), Macy was nominated for multiple awards including a Best Actor at the Golden Globe and an Emmys.
In 2005, Macy returned to home turf with the Mamet-scripted thriller Edmond, directed by Stuart "Reanimator" Gordon. The picture reunited the actor and director, who originally collaborated in the early eighties on the stage version of the playwright's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Adapted from Mamet's 1982 one-acter, Edmond dramatizes the descent of a seemingly normal man (Macy) from sanity to unbridled psychosis. While Edmond didn't exactly bomb critically or commercially after its July 14, 2006 premiere, it fell below the bar of previous Mamet efforts on two levels: first, the studio opened it to decidedly more limited release than Mamet's directorial projects over the previous several years (such as Spartan and Heist), thus ensuring that fewer would see it, and it also suffered from somewhat lackluster reviews. Surprisingly, those who did complain of the work attacked Mamet's script in lieu Gordon's direction. Variety's Scott Foundas observed, "The problem is that, too often, we don't fully understand what motivates Edmond, and many of Mamet's efforts toward explanation -- that life is one big shell game, that we're all latent racists at heart -- feel like specious armchair philosophizing."
Macy produced that same year's Transamerica, and graced the cast of Jason Reitman's hearty satire Thank You For Smoking, with a funny turn as senator and anti-tobacco promulgator Ortolan Finistirre. At around the same time, he also voiced a crooked, baseball bat-swiping security guard in that year's family friendly animated feature Everyone's Hero. Meanwhile, audiences geared up for Macy's contribution to the ensemble of actor-cum-director Emilio Estevez's semi-fictional, Altmanesque docudrama Bobby, which recounts the events that preceded RFK's assassination by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel. As the hotel manager, Macy joins a line-up of formidable heavyweights: Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Harry Belafonte, Martin Sheen, Estevez himself, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, and many others. The picture had journalists and moviegoers across America whispering 'Oscar contender' long before its initial release on November 22, 2006. Shortly after production wrapped, Macy made headlines in mid-late 2006 for a comment that involved his allegedly berating Bobby co-star Lindsay Lohan's on-set behavior, in reference to her constant tardiness.
Meanwhile, the trades reported the everpresent Macy's involvement in two 2007 features: the animated Bee Movie (with a lead voice by Jerry Seinfeld), about a honeybee who decides to sue mankind for its use of honey, and Wild Hogs, a farce with Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and John Travolta as a trio of Hell's Angels. Over the coming years, Macy would appear in movies like Shorts, Dirty Girl, and The Lincoln Lawyer, as well as the critically acclaimed series Shameless.