William Fichtner is a great actor, which is handy because he seems to pop up in everything. From large blockbuster movies like Elysium and The Lone Ranger to independent comedies like The Amateurs (named here his best film by Den Of Geek’s Duncan Bowles). When you sit down to watch any film, regardless of what it is, there’s always a chance that William Fichtner will pop up and make the whole movie better.
I had a chance to sit down with him for a chat, as he was in London to promote the launch of the second series of Crossing Lines. Crossing Lines is a TV show from the creator of Criminal Minds and follows the ICC, a special police force operating across Europe. Fichtner plays ICC team member Carl Hickman, a former detective whose career and life were derailed by a serious hand injury.
Fichtner is about as cool a guy as I’ve ever met. Relaxed, lounging back in his chair, his responses to my questions were considered and thoughtful. He’s just a very charismatic guy. He’s sort of exactly what you hope William Fichtner is going to be like. I had a whole list of films I wanted to ask him about but I doubt an interview two or three times as long would have got through them all.
Asides from my being a big Fichtner fan (since the excellent Go), this interview was particularly exciting for me because he’s in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. I don’t know how it’s the case that I’d never interviewed anyone who has been in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film before, but I hadn’t. So I was also very, very keen to ask him a few things about the new Ninja Turtles movie, in which Fichtner plays the villainous Eric Sachs. It’s a film he spoke about, as it seemed to me, with genuine enthusiasm. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not out in the UK yet so you won’t find any spoilers for it below.
Here’s how my conversation with the brilliant William Fichtner went.
So, Crossing Lines.
There are a lot of police procedural shows at the moment, but the European setting of this one really gives it an individual feel. Especially the look. The CSI type shows tend to look a lot more flashy but this one looks more relaxed. Was the idea of seeing Europe part of what attracted you to the show?
Truth be told, the fact that the home base of the show was going to be Prague had a lot to do with it, because I had visited Prague with my wife years before. First of all, I liked the show when I read it for the very first time and I really liked the character, but the bottom line was that’s way too much of a commute for my wife and my little one. I looked at my wife and said “If you don’t want to go I’m not gonna do it.” I wouldn’t even think about it. The fact that we had been to Prague before made a huge difference, because I love the city.
I do agree with you, I do think the look of the show… you know, you can cheat anything for anything. CSI: New York; shot in LA. But then they would go to New York, I hear, every six-to-seven weeks and get a few days and get exterior shots and stuff like that. But basically they shot the show and you could spin the cameras around and give it pace and speed and all that stuff. But we shoot this show in Europe and in Prague and in Paris and in the South of France. If we get to go for a third season we have new locations we’re gonna go to this year. I think that at the end of the day when you watch the show, it’s not a huge thing, but you can tell the difference. I love that about it.
When you finally got to an episode that was set in London, I actually found I was quite excited. It felt inclusive. So when you travel around to all these different cities you have all these different people who feel like they’re included in the show.
Yeah, yeah. Also for the actor pool, how we’re spread out. In the second series, we ended up, and I love this about the producers of the show, we made a real commitment to bring in three actors besides our core group that would come in and do arcs throughout the second series. Carrie-Ann Moss plays a former partner of mine, professionally, and we find out in many ways personally. I have to tell you, having Carrie-Ann around for three episodes of the twelve was my highlight of the year.
Ray Stevenson, the actor. Ray came in and did three episodes, his own arc. And a Canadian actor, Kim Coates came in. So we mixed it up. We go all over the place and I love that there’s a commitment to bringing that sort of talent level into the show.
I love Kim Coates. Was he fun to work with?
Kim Coates is my best friend. I met Coatsy in 2001 in Morocco while working on Black Hawk Down. He’s the best, man. And to work on this, he’s nuts. I was just in Upstate New York with him.
(At that, he picked up his phone and started playing with it, which has never happened to me in an interview before. Is this how he lets people know they’re boring? Is he being rude? Then, he flipped the phone around to show me a picture on the screen of him and Kim Coates hanging out together)
This is the two of us, we were up there a week ago being a bunch of goofballs in my hometown.
You know, in the first season the producers from the show said to me “We’re thinking of this character who injures your hand, somebody from your past named Genovese”. They described the entire character – this is when I first got the part two years ago – and I listened to Ed Bernero, the creator of the show, and Rola Bauer, who’s executive producer of the show, and they were telling me all about my back story and this guy. I said “It’s got to be Kim Coates” and they were like, “Yeah, we like him”. I’m like “No, no, no, listen. It’s GOT to be Kim Coates. You have to get him”. They said “”we’re going to LA in a couple of weeks.” They went out there and they met Kim and Kim was there a short time after.
I love to work with friends but Kim is such a great actor that if there’s any circumstance that can happen where I can work on something with him. Even when I worked on the show Prison Break, I remember one time I read one episode and I called the creator of that show up, and I said “Man, there’s a part in here that’s coming up – you gotta see Kim Coates”. They did and they hired him and he came on.
Coatsy and I like to work together.
I like him for Ninja Turtles. If they do Casey Jones in the sequel, I like him in that role.
Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool?
Your character on Crossing Lines has a recovery arc to his story, but there’s a parallel in his hand injury, between that and the emotional damage he has, that suggests a full recovery might not be possible. Is that an interesting challenge for you to play as an actor?
I have to tell you, good or bad, or right or wrong, just my own way; I don’t really try to think of the character journey thematically. I tend to go to more of a simpler road, which is because of this injury, just trace that back and figure out how that affected his life. He ultimately lost his job, and he was incredibly successful and kind of like a star NYPD detective, so your massive sense of self is right out the window. Or could be, and I think it was for him. It certainly put him in different directions.
But even if you just start with that alone, you affect a hand injury that affects how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself. Things will never be the same. If we get a green light for a series three, I have a feeling the hand is going to be explored further, because it is the big thing. It’s much more than just a glove.
On a practical level – and this is the worst question you’re going to be asked today – is it difficult to remember to remember not to use it? Because if I was told I couldn’t use my hand I would forget to not use it within twenty seconds.
You know what? Really, it’s as simple as, it’s a physical thing. Once you slide the glove on, because he has a glove, he’s had the glove off before and it’s very scarred and still painful, once Bill puts that glove on there’s an awareness that’s there. It’s hard to describe it.
Once or twice since we’ve worked on the show… I remember there was one time last year, we were working on some crime scene and had to get out of there in a hurry, and I was like “Alright, let’s go!” and I reached out to grab the door and I’m like “OK, we’ve got to do that again” (laughs)
But usually, there’s so much about what the hand is, the reminder of a sense of failure. So that emotional thing, the understanding of what that is really carries through. It’s not a big thing. It’s not a big deal to remember.
I’m gonna move on to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Then you’re gonna love the movie.
Congratulations. Two weeks at number one at the box office in the US; that’s hugely successful. How did you get involved in it?
I got a call. I was waiting for a plane in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I remember I was just getting on this small American Airlines flight back to LA and my manager called me and he said “You’re gonna get home and there’s gonna be a script there and I want you to read the script, and I hope you like it, because if you do like it, you’re gonna leave in 48 hours to go to New York.” I said “Well, what is it?” and just before he hung up, he said “It’sTeenageMutantNinjaTurtlesI’lltalktoyoulater!”
And I’m like, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
I got home and I read and I liked it. I liked it a lot from the first read. That’s really where it came together. It happened pretty quick and I went to New York. Michael Bay produced it and I’ve worked with Michael a few times. I like him a lot.
It was one of those things. I called my nephew and a couple of nieces who all grew up in the 80s. I called my nephew Mikey, because I knew that the Turtles were so big for him, and I said “I just got offered a role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What do you think about that, Mikey? Do you think I should do it?” and he said “No, Uncle Bill, you are gonna do it.”
It was a lot of fun. A lot of fun to work on.
From the outside, observing the production, it looked like a film that had quite a few changes. Is that an accurate observation, and how does that affect your work on the film?
There were a lot of changes on the film, and it’s not like it’s unusual to have changes on a movie. A lot of the time when you hear about ‘oh, there are changes on the film’, it’s because this film is not working. I never had that sense. Did we shoot a bit of a different film and then shoot some more that changed the tone of the film? For sure. But I never felt that the changes that we were going through, trying to tweak and figure out, weren’t making a better movie and I think ultimately the movie that was released, that I saw two weeks ago during the premier, was really good. I was really happy.
As far as the character thing, I don’t know what the future is. No actor knows what the future is. You take a script, you read it, you try to figure out what the arc is, what the journey is and that. That’s what you try to do. It is difficult when you work out one thing, you change one piece of the puzzle and you might not have played something else the same way. But you have to have faith in the people, and Jonathan Liebesman, who directed it, I had a lot of faith in him. That whatever changes were gonna happen he would put the pieces together to make it be a consistent and believable through line for everybody. I felt like they were pretty successful at doing that. The movie’s really good.
I’m so excited, but it doesn’t come out over here for two months.
And the internet is just full of spoilers and I don’t want to know before I see it!
Yeah, the Turtles themselves, I mean I like the story and you’ll get, there are very grounded elements of the story, but the Turtles are fun. When they’re around, they’re fun. And they’re big.
There are a lot of special effects in the film and particularly motion capture. Was that something you’d worked with before and did it present any unique challenges?
Yeah. There was one in particular, one very, very unique challenge which is, the shape of a turtle’s head that would be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, is larger than a human head, so the eye separation would be a little bit wider. So the guys, Noel (Fisher) and Jeremy (Howard) and Pete (Ploszek) and Alan (Ritchson), the guys that play the four turtles, they had these, like, crowns that they wore, on top of the entire motion capture, and then they had these eyes that came out, that would be about this far apart, the turtle’s eyes. It’s just so damn difficult when you start a scene, you wanna look at somebody right in the eye and you’ve just got to constantly remind yourself. I look over and I can see someone in the background going *gestures pointing up* like, “Look at the eyes!”
So that was the biggest challenge. But we had artist renderings of what the Turtles were gonna look like, so we always had a sense of what they were gonna be like. Also, the casting of them, which is why I love that they did this, they got real actors. You’re not acting to a mannequin in the corner or something like that, you got real actors. But these four guys, even their body types are completely different and very reflective of who that Turtle was. Donatello being kind of the brainiac. Noel played Michelangelo and he had all that bounce and fun to him. So they had guys that were very much like that. It’s a real attention to detail because here I am with four actors that are in these motion capture suits with these bouncing eyes on top of their head but I had a real strong sense of what it was gonna look like and what it was gonna be like. That it was somebody real talking back and forth, then a moment can be real. At the end of the day, it’s a live action film; the Turtles are real.
I’d like to ask you about The Dark Knight. It’s only a small role you have in it, but there are certain physical things you do in that film that give quite a full character. He’s a bank manager wearing glasses, then the glasses come off and a shotgun comes out, and suddenly he’s not a bank manager, he’s someone who works at the bank that keeps a shotgun in their desk. Then, he fires the shotgun, and the way you move with it we can see he’s used it before. So, how much preparation time do you get to have for a relatively small role, but one where clearly a lot of thought has gone into the character?
You know, it was such an interesting, well-written scene and… I gotta give that one to Chris Nolan ‘cause great directors, like he is, they tell you small things, little backstory things. ‘This is a different kind of bank and this is a different kind of guy. I want you to come out and play it like this.’ A lot of times subtle stuff like that inspires a way to go with it.
I believe that was the first two days of principal photography on the whole film and we shot that in two days, right in the beginning. With an IMAX camera, which is a whole other experience because of how loud and big the whole box is that it sits inside of. Anyway, I love the way you describe it, thanks. From everything that Chris told me and what I was thinking about, it just felt like that was the guy.
It’s one of those things where, you never know. We all want great things and we want big roles and stuff like that. I remember when I had that conversation with Chris on the phone and he described this whole opening scene. He sent me the scene and I thought ‘That’s really cool’. Sometimes it’s ten scenes, sometimes it’s one. But does it feel like a worthy journey? Yeah. Especially with someone like him. Having Chris direct it was a big part of wanting to do something like that, just a one scene thing. I’m really glad I did.
Do you have a lot of access to him on set? With it being such big set, with the IMAX cameras and so much going on, I would think he’d be someone you’d have trouble getting to.
Oh, not at all. Chris was always there if I had a question about something. No, God no. He’s completely available.
You know what it is? I think filmmakers like Chris Nolan and Ridley Scott and Gore Verbinski are so – and I just worked with Tommy Lee Jones last year – they’re so incredible at what they do, they’re not buried off in some corner trying to figure it out. They know what they want, so they’re completely available and present to just be there with you. I just remember Chris being around for those two days, like, every moment.
Awesome. I think they’re gonna kick me out any moment now.
I think they are.
While we still have a second, are there any brief things you can tell me about working Michael Bay on Armageddon?
That was the first time that I met Michael. That was the first, even though I’d worked on a couple of, I guess you could say, larger films at that point, that was the first time I’d ever worked on something that was a big Hollywood popcorn Saturday afternoon sort of movie. That was the first time that I also worked with Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced it, and I’ve worked with Jerry even more than Michael. That was the first time I experienced that when you work on a Jerry Bruckheimer production, the production value is about as high as it’s ever gonna get. When you’re shooting scenes in Cape Canaveral you’re actually in Cape Canaveral, standing next to a space shuttle. You’re actually in these places. That alone is an experience that you never forget. It’s part of the gift of getting to do what I do. Sometimes I end up in places where I think ‘Wow. I can’t believe I’m here’.
William Fichtner, thank you very much!
Crossing Lines Season 2 is now available in the UK to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video. You can watch season 1 on there as well.
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