Felicity Huffman Reveals What It's Like Being Directed by Hubby in 'Rudderless' (INTERVIEW)

Under the direction of actor William H. Macy, 'Rudderless' has a dark secret to tell, but its overarching story is about love, redemption, and hope.
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Felicity Huffman Rudderless Photo

Felicity Huffman plays ex-wife Emily in 'Rudderless.' (Photo: J.R. Cooke / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy are a Hollywood anomaly when it comes to the love department: they've managed to stay married for an impressive 17 years and counting. So it's no surprise that when Macy decided to make his motion picture directorial debut, he cast his wife as his leading lady.

The role of Emily isn't a big one by any means, but it is key as Rudderless is the story of a divorced couple, whose lives are further torn apart by the sudden death of their college-aged son, Josh (Miles Heizer).

The film then follows the descent of husband Sam (Billy Crudup), who loses his job as a successful advertising executive, his exquisitely styled home, and proceeds to sink into an alcohol-soaked existence. Sam, who two years later is living on a boat on a lake in Oklahoma, takes whatever manual labor he can find to survive, until the day that Emily drops off a box filled with demo tapes of their son's music.

When Sam plays the music, he reconnects with his son, so much so that one night, he gets up the nerve to perform one of Josh's songs at an open mic night. There, he meets Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a young musician, who badgers him until he eventually convinces Sam to form a band called Rudderless. When Rudderless becomes a hit with the townspeople, it revitalizes both Sam and Quentin's lives, until Kate (Selena Gomez), Josh's ex-girlfriend, shows up and reveals a dark secret.

As a preview to the release of Rudderless, which opens this Friday, Huffman talked to Bio about working with her hubby during his first time in the director's chair, what she's doing post Desperate Housewives, and more.

Rudderless is about the aftermath of a school shooting. Why do you think it's an important topic to address in a film?

You know what? I'm going to answer that in a roundabout way. I personally never like issue movies, and anyone that starts a sentence with "this is an important movie to watch because" makes me not want to see the movie, because I don't want to be taught a lesson; I want to be told a story.

Rudderless Photo

Billy Crudup (right) in 'Rudderless.' (Photo: J.R. Cooke / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

That said, I think it's an important movie to watch because it's a great story. It's about love, it's about redemption, and it's about hope. I think the music is uplifting. You leave the movie singing it, and everybody wants the CD.

To answer your question, it's an important topic to talk about because these national tragedies that we have — it could be anything like school shootings or teenage suicide — I don't know what the answer is, but I know that the answer is not that it lives over there. We're all responsible. It's a community responsibility of figuring our way out of that. It's just so easy to go, "Oh, it happens to those people over there," but it actually happens to all of us.

Tell me a little bit about your role as Emily, the heartbroken mom. How did you see her?

I'm trying not to give away the twist, but when I did my research about the sorrow of school shootings, it's very isolating, because although it's kind of an epidemic, percentage-wise there aren't many parents who can talk about it. That's a good thing, but it's also: Where can I go for research about this? So I went into it by saying: "What must it be like to lose a child? How do you recover from that? How do you go on living?"

What was it like to work with your husband Bill as your director?

When you work with someone who's really good, it raises the level of your game, and when you work with an actor who's turned director, they really understand what you're going through. They know what it's going to take to get you to the place you need to be. They know how to adjust it.

William H. Macy Rudderless Photo

William H. Macy as director in 'Rudderless.' (Photo: J.R. Cooke / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

They also understand all those unspoken things that actors feel, which is every time the director comes from video village, and walks towards you, you're going, "Don't let it be me, don't, don't, don't, don't be me," because it feels like you've done something wrong. So there's a whole unspoken language that [actors turned directors] get.

Music plays such a huge role in this film; it's almost like a starring role. Did you have any input into the songs? Did Bill play them for you? And who knew that Anton and Billy could sing?

My husband's really musical. He plays the ukulele probably eight hours a day; he just carries it around with him. He played the ukulele on set all the time, and then he worked with the brilliant people that actually wrote the majority of those songs. I just got to sit back and listen to all the different renditions.

If you could play anyone in a biopic, who would you pick and why?

Oh, what a great question. Maya Angelou, and, of course, I never would be able to. I can do a lot of things, but I don't think I can do that. I'd want to play Maya Angelou because I feel like she lived life with her whole heart.

I was so excited to read about this ABC pilot you have with Carol Mendelsohn and Rachel Winter. Can you give us some scoops?

Carol Mendelsohn's a wonderful writer, and an even better person. Rachel Winter, who produced the Dallas Buyer's Club several years ago, texted me under the table while she was having dinner with this fantastic idea, and she said, "You've got to come to New York, we've got to talk about it." We started talking about me playing a FBI agent, and we've been developing it, and taking it to different people. When we brought it to Sony, they said, "Oh, we have the perfect person for you, and that's Carol Mendelsohn." If it works, it'll be my first producorial venture in TV land.

You also have American Crime, a limited series, coming up on ABC in early 2015. Who do you play in that?

I love my role. Her name is Barb Hanlon. She's the ex-wife of Timothy Hutton's character. It's about a mother whose son was brutally murdered, and she's seeking justice. It's a wonderfully complex, somewhat unsympathetic character. So it's been challenging to try and do her justice.

Halloween's coming up. Do you have any traditions? Are you and Bill dressing up? Your girls — Sofia, 14, and Grace, 12 — are a little bit old, but maybe they still do it.

Last year they stopped. It's so sad. We used to have the neighborhood party at our house, which was huge, and we'd decorate the whole backyard as a graveyard, and we'd all start out from our house trick or treating around the neighborhood, but last year we stopped. So now it's at my neighbor's house.

Rudderless, directed by Macy from a script by Casey Twenter & Jeff Robison & Macy, is in theaters on Friday, October 17th.