‘Shameless’: William H. Macy on Sex, Booze, Playing a ‘Cockroach’ and the Future of the Show

Chuck Hodes/Showtime
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Nothing is certain but death and taxes and the fact that Frank Gallagher will always be a hopelessly drunk screwup. But the guy does have a heart. Showtime’s randy dramedy Shameless is heading toward its Season 7 finale on December 18 with the Gallagher family patriarch—played by Emmy winner William H. Macy—reeling from the return of his gallivanting soulmate Monica (Chloe Webb), who has been stricken with a probably lethal brain aneurysm. Macy gave us a preview.

Monica has been the sore subject of Shameless—the bipolar, bisexual mom who left her husband and kids in the lurch. How’s Frank handling her tragic news?
By remaining in denial. Monica’s return has been incredibly moving. Frank can’t help himself. He’s addicted to the woman, and it’s sweet. She’s the love of his life. He also hates her guts because she’s an addict who steals and always runs away and is so completely unreliable.

Hmm…that kinda sounds like Frank, too.
Chloe and I have talked a lot about that. Monica and Frank are in so many ways a perfect match. Ever since they were kids, they’ve had this intense physical attraction for one another, and their addictions certainly bonds them, as well. She is a reminder of his life when he was young and unstoppable, before age set in. She’s the only person in his life he’s truly sought after. So this [diagnosis] is big. But the situation results in a seismic change for the whole family. A good seismic change. Finally, by the season finale, the family’s doing pretty well. Fiona and Lip and Ian have all found themselves. And little Liam is in a tony school and I imagine he’ll have a good shot in life. The season has a great finish to it. And, of course, a Gallagher party.

Sounds like this could be the end of the series. Is it?
We were only scheduled to do seven seasons but I’m spreading the rumor that we’re going to do 12. [Laughs] No one at Showtime knows that yet! [A Showtime rep says negotiations are currently underway with the cast for an eighth season.]

RELATED: Frank and Fiona are Sick of the Gallaghers in Season 7

The idea of the Gallaghers actually doing well is throwing us for a loop. They’ve always been a one-step-forward-two-steps-back sort of clan. Isn’t that the point of the show? Just when you think they’re winning, there’s a setback, a crisis, a collapse.
And that’s one of the reasons our show is so compelling, The Gallaghers are like a lot of families in America—literally one paycheck away from being on the street. Millions of people are living this close to the edge and that’s finally starting to be acknowledged in this country. After the recent election, a lot of us who live on the two coasts were shocked at how angry people are. But that’s where the Gallaghers’ fight, their spirit, makes a difference. When you start to let it into your consciousness that things are extremely dire, you’re lost. You have to keep the faith. Frank would be the first to say that he’s a cockroach. He will outlast everybody. I believe in Frank. He’s indomitable. He never ever gives up, and that’s a good trait to have.

Does anything you do on Shameless shock you at this point?
Not in terms of Frank’s dreadful behavior. But when I read that we’d be starting off this season with a beautiful Gallagher family water ballet I was, like, “No! This is not Shameless at all!” But, as it turns out, it was very much Shameless. There’s truth behind every strange thing we do. It’s bizarre.

Given Frank’s “F–k you!” attitude toward pretty much everything, it was surprising to discover this season that he actually wants to be a good dad. The guy wants respect as a parent, however unwarranted.
I think it all changed when Frank fell in love with that young doctor last season and she died. He got a taste of unselfish love and was reminded of his own mortality. His liver giving out on him was also a big turning point.

Except that he got a liver transplant and then continued drinking. How do you reconcile that?
I don’t. Frank always messes up, but at least he’s slowly, finally starting to understand what family means. When you lose your liver, life intrudes itself. At the same time, he takes 100 percent credit for any success the family has. He thinks he’s a great father.

How’s it been showing up for work all these years and putting on Frank’s standard outfit—pee-stained pants and a T-shirt with sweaty armpits?
It sure is a joy not to have to worry about how I look. My claim to fame is that I’ve never had a costume fitting for this show—not once in seven seasons. Size doesn’t matter. The wardrobe designer just looks at a pair of hideous-looking, hand-me-down pants and goes, “Eh, whatever. Close enough.”

They also find lots of opportunities for you to get buck naked. How’s that been?
I used to be surprised by it. Now I’m just horrified. At my age! But I also find it gratifying that Frank still gets a bit of nookie. I love how much he loves women—all women, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, all ages. I never imagined I’d become a sex symbol in the third act of my life. [Laughs] OK, a sex symbol for the geriatric set, but, hey, I’ll take it!

Shameless, Sundays, 9/8c, Showtime