William Fichtner is an actor who’s fast cementing his reputation as a legend, with his latest film, Drive Angry 3D, proving that he’s effortlessly able to shine in any kind of genre film, drawing full attention to his performance, even when facing off against someone as charismatic as Nicolas Cage.
For me, he displays the same kind of edgy skill I’ve always admired in actors such as Christopher Walken and James Woods, excelling at dark comedy one minute, then switching to loveable and harmless, before being absolutely terrifying.
In films such as Contact and Equilibrium, you could turn to him in a crisis. In Black Hawk Down he kicked ass in a crisis. But when the world was going to end in Armageddon, he pointed a gun at Bruce Willis and risked destroying the entire planet.
Alternatively, he was trusted to play the first person to face off against Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, poised his unknown sinister intentions at Jay Mohr in Go and made Steve Carell and Tina Fey dance for his sexual pleasure in Date Night.
That’s a mere glimpse at William Fichtner’s career, but gives you a firm idea of exactly how great the man is and how little there is out there that he hasn’t done.
On the day I interviewed him, I managed to gather that he was incredibly pleased when TV series Invasion was cancelled, as he would’ve been obliged to continue with it, even though he didn’t like it, while he was incredibly proud of The Moguls (aka The Amateurs) from 2005 with Jeff Bridges, a film I wasn’t aware of, but intend to seek out.
We had the fortune of spending some time with him, as he relaxed into his first non-filmed interview of the day.
Congratulations on your performance in Drive Angry 3D. I thought it wasn’t so much a scene-stealing performance, as an entire film stealing one. When you read the script, did your character of The Accountant come across that colourfully? Or did you get a chance to put your mark on him?
[Laughs] You know, I so loved the script the first time that I read it and much more than… Listen, you know I am here doing press for Drive Angry and I could say a million different things and, of course, I want to say the positive thing for the film, but I kid you not, I saw that script for the first time and I called up my agent and I said, “This is exactly what I love. I love this.”
I love that it’s so well written, the characters are so cool, it’s so tough, gritty, freaky. In particular, I said to my agent, “There’s a character in here called The Accountant and wow!” This guy – you have no reference point. [He] works in hell, he comes back and he’s tough and focused and eventually he understands Nic’s character, Milton, and why he’s here and decides it’s a noble cause. I can help him out and the twist of that was super appealing. I knew I was going to get (to play The Accountant) anyway, but I loved it and I really, truly, loved everything about it from the first time.
The role seemed very much to combine a lot of the elements that you’ve honed in your career. You’ve got the black comedy and the physicality, combined with a sinister threat. Is that something that often appeals?
You should represent me, man. I like where you’re coming from! Yeah, you know what I like. Sure, I like The Accountant because he was tough, he was smart, you know? He had a bit of a wink to him. I’m not a sitcom humour sort of guy, but I like humour. I try to find humour in everything and I think there is, if you look for it, or don’t look for it and just find the moment.
I haven’t seen the film yet. I could have seen it a month ago and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to watch myself,” so I asked my wife, I said, “You go see it. Take your friend.” So, she saw it and gave me her critique. She texted me and said, “You sucked!” I’m like, “Thanks, honey!” So, I knew she liked it.
There was something about [The Accountant], too, that I figured, when I started reading it over and over, before we started shooting, and I thought, “I wonder when the last time this guy- I think he comes back to earth every once in a while. It’s a pretty a rare event that somebody gets out (of hell)”, so each time he comes back I figured, “This must be nice, to get a break,” you know?
He’s in a human form. He must have lived here at one time and he probably was not a good guy when he was here, and similarly to Nic Cage’s character, went to hell. But he got a good job there. He’s the accountant. So, I thought, “When he gets back, it must be nice to stretch it out again, see a woman again and hear music and ahhhh!” [stretches his arms out]
I’ve seen the clip where Todd Farmer, (who co-wrote it with Patrick, who plays Frank with the bald head), when he goes to swing that bat at me and I just nail him against the wall. There is a slight moment after that where The Accountant just goes “Ahhh.” [exhales] And to me that was always, “I still got it. Ah, I still got it. I’m back!”
My favourite moment of yours in the film was the vehicle surfing, where you step out of the truck and on to car.
I think you need to make sure they make you a poster with that on!
Yeah, that was cool. Great stunt co-ordinator guys that figured it out. We did that in the state fairgrounds in Louisiana inside an old auditorium where they have rodeos, and they put up this huge blue screen and got the truck and the cars and everything.
There were like a half a dozen guys on the floor, with little sticks where the cars were, on wheels and they started moving them around just getting it right, where that car would go by this one and you take a step out and the bounce is right and it’s such technical stuff. You sit there at four o’clock in the morning, going, “Did we get it?” and they’re like, “Not quite.”
But once you get it and they put it all together, I guess it comes out really cool, huh?
Yeah, it worked really well.
I also noticed it’s another film you’ve been in with David Morse, but have not actually shared any scenes together again.
Yeah! Have you actually met him?
You know, it’s funny. I didn’t meet him on Contact, didn’t meet him on this, because when David was in town shooting his stuff – if I’m not completely across the country, if I have three days off, I go home. I was home as much during the two months of shooting this as I was there. I just want to be at home with the kids and everything.
I missed him on this too. But I met David, on a photo shoot like ten years ago. This Vanity Fair photo shoot, and I am a huge fan of his. And since then, a couple of times, I’ve run into him on the street in New York. I used to live in New York, so there’d be a “Hi, David” “Hey, Bill”, even though I don’t really know him. But when I run into him it is always a pleasure to talk to him. I am such a fan of his. He is a real gentleman and I am sure. I mean, he is great in the movie, right? I mean he is so grounded. I know when they told me that he was going to play that guy I was like, “Yeah! Of course.”
He is fantastic. Looking back, it was your performance in Go that really put me on to your work.
Yes! I then followed your career avidly after that role. How did that fall into place? I know you’ve worked with Doug Liman on a cameo as well since.
I played the voice of the therapist in Mr and Mrs Smith. You know [laughs], the day that I auditioned for Go – Doug is… you’ve got to get Doug’s rhythm. He is so intelligent, but unless you really know Doug, or have worked with him, he is kinda quiet.
When I auditioned for Go, I remember I left that audition room and I called my agent and he said, “How’d it go?” and I said, “It sucked. I sucked. It sucked!” I was just- ah, man, I was just so bummed out. I was terrible, I thought. A couple of days later he said, “You may have felt that, but they offered you the role,” and I was like, “Ohhh! Maybe they don’t know what they’re talking about, ‘cause I sucked.”
Doug is great, great to be around and for a lot of Go, Doug held the camera and there was always an intimacy. If you talk about favourite characters, The Accountant, Detective Burke, they fit in that same sort of feeling. Hopefully, this performance is memorable, so if [my role as Burke is] memorable. Hopefully, this is for you too. I never know. You try your best and at the end of the day – hey my wife saw the film and said I sucked, so you know!
I wouldn’t ever go against your wife, but -!
You can’t! Are you kidding me? I just realised I am not going to be home on Valentine’s Day. I am going to pay dearly for that in the mall!
You’re going to have to make amends!
Oh, it is going to be ridiculous! Boots, this and everything.
I’m booked in!
[Laughs] Cool, excellent! Nice to meet you. Nice to talk!
William Fichtner, thank you very much!
While I was grabbing my kit at the end of the interview, I told him that I was looking forward to whatever he does next, to which he replied he wasn’t sure what that would be. So, (being a good geek) I told him that, with his experience of working with Jerry Bruckheimer, he should keep an eye on the Con Air 2 rumour. It never hurts to put an idea out there, and he would make a fine addition, should the film ever come to pass.
Drive Angry is released in cinemas on Friday, February 25th.
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