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Here's the deal on William H. Macy's new movie on moviemaking

Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

"It was bizarre making `The Deal,'" says William H. Macy. "There I was a producer, playing a producer, being the producer."

Indeed, a movie that almost didn't get made about making a movie that almost falls apart several times over, "The Deal" not only was produced by the prolific character actor, who stars as a cynical, broke Hollywood producer opposite a snappy Meg Ryan. Macy and his director buddy, Steven Schachter, also went around soliciting financing for the film, which eventually got made in Cape Town, South Africa. And Macy even did some second-unit directing (a very funny film-within-the-film sequence involving a British starlet in a brassiere, lobbing a hand grenade).

"The Deal" is one of the centerpiece shows for the 17th Philadelphia Film Festival, which gets under way Thursday. Macy will be in town, and will present his flick, for its East Coast premiere, Saturday night.

First screened at Sundance in January, "The Deal" is based on the Peter Lefcourt novel of the same name, and follows the development of a script about 19th-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as it goes from being a classy period-piece drama to, yes, a modern-day action flick starring a black martial arts master (LL Cool J) who's recently converted to Judaism. Ryan plays a studio exec, Elliott Gould is a learned rabbi who signs on as the movie's technical adviser, and Jason Ritter and Fiona Glascott (the starlet in the bra) also star.

It's a fast-paced, larky affair, full of funny, knowing but affectionate barbs aimed at the Biz. And it was royally panned by the two industry trades, the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety.

"There is a sort of unwritten law in Hollywood that you can't make movies about Hollywood, that Hollywood hates movies about itself," says Macy, on the phone from the home in Aspen, Colo., that he shares with his wife, "Desperate Housewives'" Felicity Huffman, and their two kids.

"And foolishly or not, we decided to buck that - we were very well aware of it. I knew we might be in trouble when Geoff Gilmore, the guy that runs Sundance, called me up and started his whole talk with me by saying, `I hate movies like this. They're indulgent, they're smug,' and then, without missing a beat, he said, `I love your movie. It's so funny.' ...

"So, those two reviews, the trades, I was really upset with them. I thought they were low blows."

Macy, 58, has an alarming number of films and television shows and movies to his credit. The IMDB lists 113 titles - and that doesn't include any of the stage productions he's been involved with, from his days with David Mamet in Chicago on. But Macy is just now getting around to producing, and directing.

"I'm trying to put a film together to direct," he reports. "It's been an ongoing, two-year process, you know how that is.

"It's called "Keep Coming Back," a coming-of-age story, and I'm very close. We've got the money, we've got everything, we just need a movie star. It's out to people now."

If that sounds like something Macy's "The Deal" character, Charlie Berns, might have said, well, it very well could be.

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