William H. Macy
Q: What is the film about?
A: In a nutshell, DOOR TO DOOR is about a wonderful salesman named Bill Porter who was born with cerebral palsy but didn't let that stop him from becoming a champion door-to-door salesman. He outsold every other man or woman for the Watkins Company for a couple of years running and is still selling to this day. It's a story of bravery, stoicism and salesmanship.
Q: How did you first hear about Bill Porter?
A: Dan Angel and his partner Billy sent me a tape of the 20/20 piece on Bill Porter. And I, like everyone else, wept like a baby when I saw it. So I sent it to Steve Schachter. Steve and I agreed Porter was a great guy, but at first we had trouble finding the story. Then we came up with the hook of telling the story from the point of view of the people he sold to, and then we were off and running.
Q: This project was really your baby in a lot of ways, wasn't it?
A: Yes. I think when you're the writer, you have a little bit more of a connection. But it was necessary that, once Steven and I wrote it, he had to take over directing and I had to step away and change hats. I had to become the actor. It works best if I just show up on the set and then discover that the scene has been trimmed or that something was cut. I had to put all my attention on acting the role, and that takes all one's energy.
Q: I would think that's the case especially with this role because it's also so physical.
A: My back was hurting me a little bit because Bill has a very particular gait which is kind of wondrous on that 20/20 piece. That's the thing that stood out. I mean his gait says it all to me. You know, I feel odd imitating him. I've played real people before, but I've never truly imitated them. Bill is the first guy I've imitated, and the reason is that I just adore how he looks. With his great big ears and his smile -- the sun comes out. His humor is so disarming. So it felt really germane to the story that I imitate his demeanor as much as possible.
Q: Was there any concern about making it too generic, too "movie of the week?"
A: It could have been very saccharin, because the traditional approach to something like this would be to tell the story that Bill Porter was born with cerebral palsy, grew up, got a job anyway and is still selling. The end. And you would just bring in the orchestra to make it sappy. I think both Steve Schachter and I are allergic to that sort of thing. In the 20/20 piece, what stood out for me was that, to a certain extent, Bill's customers found him to be a sort of chronicle of their lives. He would follow them. They'd move three times and Bill would find their new address and still continue to sell to them. That's when the story came to life for us. We wanted to tell his story through other people's stories.
Q: You also don't want to make people feel sorry for him.
A: There's nothing to feel sorry for. The guy got up every day. He went to work. I've seen lots of interviews with Bill where people want to know why. Why did he do it? He gets a sort of queer look on his face and says, "What choice did I have? Were you going to pay my rent? Were you going to cook dinner for me? I had to go to work. I was earning a living. What's the big deal?" Bill Porter is a remarkable man. I think there are millions of remarkable men and women who, against some formidable odds, get up everyday and go to work. You never hear about them. I've always been attracted to stories that talk about the ordinary Joe who, without thanks and without fanfare, does his job.
Q: What else can you say about Bill Porter?
A: The other thing I love about Bill is his attitude towards his cerebral palsy. It is so stoical. That's the hand he was dealt. When I talked to him, he always said his point of view is that it's his job to make the best out of what he's got. I hope that comes out in this film. But that guy can sell. He could sell ice to Eskimos. He's an excellent salesman, and I hope that's the other thing that comes out of this story. He was a very skillful man. He never gave up. He's still selling.
Q: How were your meetings with him?
A: Steve and I went up and met with Shelly Brady and Bill. Shelly drove us around his route. We stopped at a couple of houses and talked to people who had been buying Watkins products from Bill Porter for 20 years. We went to dinner with him. It was all kind of wonderful.
Q: Is he at all hesitant about this project?
A: He was. When the Oregonian reporter first said he wanted to write a story about him, Bill said no. And, as I understand it, his point of view was that he hadn't done anything noteworthy. But he was persuaded to give that interview. I think he's been somewhat reluctant to do any of this. I don't know, but I'm thinking one of the reasons he decided to do it is that he's going to sell a lot of Watkins products now online. The man is a salesman. He was born a salesman. He'll die a salesman, and I think he was looking at the sales advantage this might give him. Because his attitude towards his own life, as far as I can tell, is completely genuine and completely stoical.
Q: He also was surrounded by very strong women.
A: That's true. His mother was a big influence in his life. I think back then, they didn't give people with cerebral palsy the time of day. They basically said, "Shut him away someplace." His mother was an extraordinary woman to insist that he get out there with no looking back. How much more vulnerable can you get than being a door-to-door salesman? She told him he had talent and to go do it. She was an extraordinary woman.
Q: Shelly was also very strong and selfless.
A: Shelly Brady's a wonderful woman. I think her affection for Bill runs very deep. So much of our script is fiction. We hint at a romantic longing that Bill has for Shelly. In reality, I don't know if that existed, though she's an absolute charmer and very nice-looking. I think the job was very real and she was earning money at the beginning, and then I think the friendship that took over has endured. They bicker with each other, so it's not a saccharin relationship at all. She'll yell and he'll yell right back.
Q: What did you have to go through for the physical transformation?
A: The makeup process was long and involved. I look at Jim Carrey, who did that for The Grinch, with newfound admiration. My makeup guy has infinite patience and consummate skill. He really did a great job. While I sat in that chair, it occurred to me once what it must be like to grow up with cerebral palsy. I think Bill would have loved to have been an athlete. To have to sit in a chair when everybody else is out doing stuff was good preparation.