By Steve Ryfle
Their wives are more famous - and that's OK with these guys
Not long ago, William H. Macy was one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, and one of the coolest. Hottest because he could carry a big studio movie, like "Seabiscuit" or "Jurassic Park III," and coolest because he still preferred smaller, indie-minded stuff like "Magnolia" or "The Cooler" or "Welcome to Collinwood." If Macy was in it, you knew it was probably pretty good.
But these days, Macy would prefer to stay home with his two kids and let his recently Oscar-nominated actress wife, Felicity Huffman, keep her hot streak going strong.
The tides have shifted," Macy recently told USA Today. "Now we walk out on the red carpets, and I'm basically invisible. But, boy, does she deserve this. I think since she was a little girl she wanted this kind of success."
Macy is among a handful of actors who've watched their famous wives' successes surpass their own. Some of these fellows are mature and well-adjusted and capable of dealing with their newfound supporting roles, while others apparently are not.
In the well-adjusted group you'll find Ryan Phillippe, husband of reigning best actress Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon. The pair have been married since 1999, when they were co-stars in "Cruel Intentions," but since then her career has seen a steady climb up the A-list while he's found a niche as a high-profile character actor with indie cred.
"I've reached this sort of wonderful precipice," says Phillippe. "I feel like my wife's career is going incredibly well, my kids are happy and healthy in schools, we've both been able to buy a house for our parents, respectively, in the places they live. And now I'm ready to work on my stuff, my career. I feel like everything's taken care of. I'm just in a really good place."
But for every Macy-Huffman or Phillippe-Witherspoon, there is probably another couple out there suffering from "A Star Is Born" syndrome. In that classic 1954 film, leading-man star Norman Maine (James Mason) discovers showgirl Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) and helps launch her showbiz career. When she becomes a superstar and his career tanks, Maine turns into an insufferable mass of envy and self-pity.
At least that's how the tabloids have portrayed the 2005 split-up of Hilary Swank and actor-director husband Chad Lowe, which ended an eight-year marriage. Swank and Lowe met while working together on the indie movie "Quiet Days in Hollywood" and tied the knot in 1997. Since then, Swank has gone on to win two best actress Oscars (for "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby") while Lowe can still shop for groceries without being recognized.
"I think she's an incredible actress. She inspires me so much," Lowe said in 2005, before the breakup. "And I find that we both inspire one another, support one another." The tabloids poked fun when Swank forgot to mention her husband in her first Academy Award acceptance speech, but rumors of tension over the marriage's celebrity imbalance were circulating long before the couple parted ways.
Then there's Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, who finally broke it off last November after three years of marriage and four seasons of reality television. The pair started out as a couple of B-grade pop singers, but after getting hitched in 2002 they went under the MTV microscope for "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica." The gambit paid off, the show was a hit, and Simpson's career took off - a hit album, a line of signature beauty products, a hit movie - while Lachey was relegated to the role of Jessica Simpson's husband.
Finally, there's Matthew Broderick, who has the best of all worlds. He's known for being supportive of his more famous wife Sarah Jessica Parker (she's got "Sex and the City" in syndication and a string of reasonably successful romantic comedies; his latest big screen turn, in the film version of his giant Broadway hit "The Producers," bombed royally), yet Broderick doesn't have to play Mr. Mom, or take out the trash.
"I take care of him," Parker once said in an interview on "60 Minutes II."
"I pack for him, I shop for him, I get his groceries. He's taken care of. That's who Matthew is, people take care of him. It's practically involuntary."