When William H. Macy and Steven Schachter were working on the script for "The Wool Cap," they wrote dialogue for Macy's character -- even though he plays a mute and doesn't speak a word.

"We had to write the dialogue so we knew what he was trying to communicate," said Schachter, who also directed the made-for-TV film.

"When we were writing, he would say, 'Wait a minute. How will I say that?'

"And I'd just tell him not to worry, that he'd figure it out," Schachter said. "He was nervous, saying, 'But I'm the guy who's got to do it.' But he's just amazing -- able to communicate so much without saying a word."

"The Wool Cap" tells the story of Charlie Gigot, a mute building superintendent with a sorrowful past, who finds hope when he befriends a bright young girl who has been abandoned by her mother.

It's based on the story "Gigot," written by the late Jackie Gleason, who also starred in, and wrote the Oscar-nominated music for, the 1962 theatrical movie.

It was Schachter's idea to take another look at "Gigot," Macy said.

"It was such a good launching pad. But it was quite naive for today's times, too simple for more sophisticated audiences," Macy said.

They took the premise of a mute man and a girl whose mother had disappeared and built the story from there, Macy said. They changed the title because people were mispronouncing it as "Gig-it" and it sounded too much like the title of last year's box-office bomb "Gigli," starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

Macy and Schachter had worked together on "Door to Door," which aired in July 2002 and was the first in a series of TNT original movies sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.

That story about a successful door-to-door salesman with cerebal palsy won six Emmys, including outstanding made-for-television movie, outstanding director for Schachter, outstanding lead actor for Macy and outstanding writing for a movie for the pair.

"Our first hurdle was how to write the ["Wool Cap"] story so it could be a Johnson & Johnson film," Macy said. "It couldn't be too gritty. . . . It does have some violence and features a little girl who is abandoned, but the theme of this movie is goodness."

"Wool Cap" is centered on family values and has an overall uplifting message, but the film doesn't sugarcoat its tough, realistic moments. The setting is urban and some scenes touch on drug use, prostitution or alcoholism. The script also has a rough word or two.

"You have to find that balance between telling the story you believe in -- one that has family values -- but tell the truth about it," Macy said.

If "Wool Cap" has a message, Macy said, it is that families come in all shapes and sizes and colors. As a parent, Macy said, he has found that the most important element in any family is love.

Macy and his wife, actress Felicity Huffman -- one of the stars of this season's ABC hit "Desperate Housewives" -- are the parents of two daughters, 2 and 4 years old.

It was Huffman who designed the wool cap that Macy's character wears in the film.

"My wife had been knitting these caps for our kids, and I happened to be wearing one," when Macy and Schachter got the idea to include it as a part of the story.

"We wanted the movie not to be about a story with a typical affliction -- but Charlie Gigot is carrying around an emotional affliction" centered around his role in a family tragedy, and the wool cap is used to symbolize that, Schachter said.

Another way that they made the movie their own was by giving Charlie Gigot a pet monkey.

"There was a little mouse in the [1962] movie," Schachter said, "but I happened to see an organ-grinder monkey when we began working on the script and thought, 'This is it!' "

Macy and Schachter said that working with the monkey on the set was a great experience.

"The monkey could learn a new trick in four minutes," Macy said. "I've seen critters before on sets with trainers, and the trainers are pretty protective and strict. . . . But this one lived with the trainer at his home and was just a dream to work with."

The monkey takes second billing to several stars in the cast. Don Rickles plays a tenant in the building where Gigot works and lives and tries to help Gigot navigate some rough waters.

Newcomer Keke Palmer, 11, is Lou, the abandoned girl who is befriended by Gigot, and Ned Beatty portrays Gigot's estranged father.

There's a lot about forgiveness in "The Wool Cap," Macy said, especially for Gigot, who has tried to drop out of life for 25 years but makes major changes when he tries to help another human being.

Besides the idea of creating a family, Schachter said, "Wool Cap" focuses on "how people have to confront their demons, for lack of a better word, to get to the other side."

THE WOOL CAP

Sunday at 8 p.m. on TNT