LDS movie-watchers know Rick Macy for his powerful performance in The Testaments as Helam (the Nephite father healed by the resurrected Christ) as well as his warm portrayal of Joseph Smith Sr. in films such as The Restoration, Emma Smith: My Story, and Joseph Smith: the Prophet of the Restoration. If you look closely, however, he pops up everywhere in church films: as the shepherd kneeling in reverent awe at the manger in Joy to the World, as the missionary who baptized Wilford Woodruff in A Search for Truth, and as the creditor representing the law of justice in The Mediator, for example.
A prolific talent and a veteran of stage and screen, Rick has recently been seen staring down a firing squad in Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, predicting the end of the world in The Last Man(s) on Earth (a brilliant comedic turn for which he won Best Supporting Actor at the Filmed in Utah Awards), and as the mysterious “Man in the Grey Tweed Suit” who steers Ephraim Hanks in the right direction in Ephraim’s Rescue (now in theaters).
I recently had the great pleasure of visiting with Rick about his faith, his impressive career, the people who inspire him, and his theory on the true identity of the “Man in the Grey Tweed Suit.”
Jonathan Decker: Rick, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. You know, the first film I remember seeing you in was that Buttercream Gang movie you did back in the early 90’s. What’s your background? How did you get into acting?
Rick Macy: Broadcast journalism was my major at the “Y.” For some unknown reason I picked theater and film as my minor, but I had never acted before or even expressed interest in acting when I was growing up. I got bored with broadcast journalism my first semester at the Y so my second semester I started taking acting classes.
Most of my background was in sports. I played baseball for 10 years up until the time I was 18. A lot of Little League, Babe Ruth league and then American Legion back in Oregon.
JD: Let’s talk about your role as Helam in The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd. As I recall, Hawaii doubled for Central America. How long was that shoot? How does one prepare, spiritually and otherwise, to play such a righteous character?
RM: I really had no idea that The Testaments would impact my life so profoundly, but it did. The Book of Mormon segments of that film, shot in Hawaii, took about two months to film. As I strengthened my skills in acting I knew early on that this gift or talent that the Lord had given me would be used for missionary work and as such one tries to live the missionary life so that the Spirit can be with you to do whatever the Lord requires.
JD You get what is arguably the film’s most powerful moment, in which the blinded Helam is healed by Christ and is able to look upon his resurrected Savior. Can you tell us about your experience playing that scene?
RM: That scene was very poignant for me and, as I found out later, for many of the cast members and visitors that were on the set that day. We were told by one of the General Authorities that, though many of us had great talent in this field, it was not enough. The Lord would have to bless us beyond our natural abilities to do the work that this film meant to do. This last scene in the film was evidence of that very thing. The Lord blessed us with a great outpouring of his spirit.
It was and still is very humbling to have been a part of that experience. After shooting that scene, and a couple others that followed, Keith Merrill took me aside and said “You realize I’m not the one directing this film, don’t you?”
JD: The Testaments is such an influential and beloved film in the LDS community. Naturally, it’s meant to stand alone and be considered for its message, so I understand why there’s no DVD special features, but would you mind giving our readers a peek behind the scenes with any funny or interesting anecdotes? I’ve heard there’s a great gag reel floating around somewhere…
RM: Yes, actually there is a gag reel that most people won’t see. There is a scene in the film that most people will remember where Helam meets his son Jacob on the road, who has come back from trading on the coast. I was with my daughter Mara, who carried her pet monkey Chaio in her backpack. Whenever we would stop, Chaio would jump out and sit or perch on Mara’s shoulder. One particular take we stopped and I was speaking with Jacob when the monkey jumped out of the backpack, onto my shoulder, then on my head. It wrapped its big long furry tail around my mouth. As a trained actor you are taught to continue with the scene and I did so, pulling the furry tail from out of my mouth, and continued my line. But Keith and the crew started laughing because of that and because the extras behind me, in full view of the camera, had huge grins on their faces. We couldn’t keep the scene, obviously.
JD: Another noteworthy performance of yours is as Joseph Smith Sr. in films such as The Restoration, Emma Smith: My Story, and Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. What did you enjoy about that role? What do you think we can learn from Joseph Sr?
RM: I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Prophet Joseph Smith’s father. Mr. Smith, as Lucy Mack called her husband, was a quiet and reserved man with a keen sense of humor. He loved his family dearly; only the Lord he loved more. In the early part of this decade, approximately two years before I would portray Father Smith, I was prompted to study church history but I wasn’t quite sure why at that time. Although I always had a keen interest in the restoration of the Gospel I had never to that point in my life made an in-depth study until then.
One of the things that I think we all can learn from Father Smith is to learn to wait on the Lord. God will do things in his own time and in his own way. Father Smith loved the Lord and studied the scriptures daily with his family before his son Joseph restored the Lord’s church. He wasn’t religious until then because he was waiting patiently to find a religion that he could give his whole heart to. To have greater faith in the Lord, I would say then, is the great lesson to learn from Father Smith.
JD: In Richard Dutcher’s Brigham City you play a member of the bishopric whose teenager daughter is raped and murdered (all off-screen, of course).
The scene where you get the phone call informing you of what happened is, if I may say, one of the best-acted moments I’ve ever seen in a film. It was truly heartbreaking. What toll does a scene like that take on you as an actor and as a human being? Do you just “pretend” or do you have to get into that moment as if it really happened?
RM: First let me say that I think Richard Dutcher is a great filmmaker and it was my privilege to be in that film opposite him. Every actor has their own way of portraying the human qualities of the characters that they play. To portray a man whose daughter was treated so brutally and then murdered is and can be very heart-wrenching on the actor. In every role that I am privileged to take on, I take their lives personally. It is my challenge to not only feel their joy but also their pain. That is the question every actor has to ask themselves: “Am I willing to feel this character’s pain?” That can, and has, taken an emotional toll on me and other actors when we have discussed this very topic.
JD: Though a lot of Latter-day Saints know you from these pious roles, you’ve also got a knack for comedic, and even sinister, characters. You and I did a film together in 2008, CTU Provo [watch the trailer], in which you played a corrupt and murderous politician [watch the film]. As I recall, in the Buttercream Gang film you were a villain. You tried to destroy BYU’s mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, a few years back, and you just won Best Supporting Actor at the Filmed-in-Utah Awards for playing a shady doomsayer in The Last Man(s) on Earth [watch the trailer]. As an actor, do you get a kick out of playing the bad guy? Why?
RM: You get a certain reputation when you act for the church (or at least I have), always playing the good and faithful man. I sincerely enjoy playing that and try to live up to it. But there is a seductive quality, if I could put it that way, with playing the villain. I find playing the bad guy to be a challenge and enjoy the immediacy of the audience when presenting a villain on stage. There is something that overcomes the audience when you bring this presence on stage. It’s an immediate satisfaction an actor receives and you know the audience gets it and feels the unpredictability of the character. That is exciting. I love great writing in literature and in screenplays, and let’s face it some of the best lines ever written have been said by the villain.
JD: Is there a type of character or film you’d like to do but haven’t yet?
A genre of film I would love to play in would be a western. I would love to be a villain in a western. That would be wonderful. As far as other people I would like to play T.S. Elliot or Tolkien of the Lord of the Rings series. I would love to portray Abinadi from The Book of Mormon.
JD: One thing I’ve noticed about you is that you enjoy giving back, helping to mold a younger generation of actors. Do you still give acting classes? What are you involved in now?
RM: I love teaching. I taught my own private workshops called The Actor’s Academy for about 16 years. I still teach private coaching as my schedule allows. Currently I am a part-time instructor at Derryl Yeager’s performing arts school, called Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts. We just finished a full year with them this past school year.
JD: In Ephraim’s Rescue you have a small, but pivotal, role as the mysterious “Man in the Gray Tweed Suit.” Did you do any research for the role, or did T.C. Christensen’s script give you enough to go on? Who do you think the man really was?
RM: T.C. begged me to do this role! I’m hoping he reads this. T.C. will get a kick out of that statement. I mostly relied on the script and TC talking to me about the role, as well as what Ephraim Hanks wrote in his journal about the “Gray Tweed Man.” Personally I think he was a heavenly messenger sent to guide to Ephraim in his life’s mission and keep him true to himself. He could have been one of the Three Nephites, as Ephraim has speculated. He could’ve even been a family member assigned to admonish him in his earthly mission and duties.
JD: Just for fun, what are some of your favorite films?
RM: Some of my favorite films? I am asked that fairly frequently. Casablanca, As Good As It Gets, Young Frankenstein, The Notebook, anything with Spencer Tracy in it, or Jimmy Stewart, It’s A Wonderful Life, Ben Hur, the two new Star Trek movies, Iron Man, and the Lord of the Rings series. I have many others.
JD: Finally, other than the Savior, who is your personal hero from the scriptures and church history, and why?
RM: My heroes from church history and/or the Scriptures would have to be Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and Enoch from the Pearl of Great Price. Why? In short, because they were faithful to the Lord under tremendous darkness, personal trials, and extreme adversity. On a more personal note, any person regardless of their age when faced with tremendous odds, with voices calling to them from the media, newspapers, magazines, and friends to do the wrong thing… under this kind of pressure they still make the right choice…… these people are my heroes.
JD: Thank you so much Rick. I’m a BIG fan of your work. Thank you for taking the time and being so thoughtful in your responses.
RM: Thank you for the opportunity, Jonathan.I hope I didn’t ramble.
JD: You definitely did not ramble. This was actually one of the best interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing.
Our thanks here at Meridian to Rick and the tremendous work that he does. Ephraim’s Rescue is now playing in theaters.
For more information, visit the film’s official site.
For more of my writing, including my new review of Man of Steel, please visit www.mormonmovieguy.com