The actor: The invariably memorable William Fichtner. He's had major roles in a few films, including The Underneath and Passion Of Mind, and significant running TV roles in Invasion and Prison Break. But most people probably know him as the sharp-faced character actor from Go, Armageddon, and many other films. He also stars in The Amateurs, which just hit DVD.
The Underneath (1995)—Tommy Dundee
William Fichtner: First film. Steven Soderbergh. I remember that I thought, "Wow, this is such a highlight. Am I ever going to get back to this?" Loved working with Steven and in Austin, Texas, one of the rockin'-est towns in America. I'll always remember it, because I was really grateful that someone finally hired me for a movie. What an amazing director. Nothing but a good memory there.
AVC: You've had small roles in earlier films, though: Malcolm X and Quiz Show.
WF: Not really. I was hired to play a scene in Malcolm X. And that would have been my first film, and I was so excited about that. I think the day before, two before they were going to shoot it, they cut the scene out. So, I'm actually not in Malcolm X, but for some reason, it ended up on the IMDB or some database, and it always stayed there.
AVC: So The Underneath was your first time on a movie set?
WF: You know, I did a small, small thing in Quiz Show, where I was really just a glorified extra. But, you know, New York actor, few days on a film set: Great! I was probably making subway fare on the play that I was doing at the time. I always think of The Underneath as the first film that I ever did.
AVC: Was the experience what you expected?
WF: Oh, I loved it. As much as I moved to New York and tried to work in theater as much as I could—I developed a relationship with Circle Rep—make no mistake about it, I really, really wanted to be in a film. It seemed like almost everyone I knew at least did something in a movie, except me. I was really happy and ready to get a job in a film for sure. So having Steven hire me, and going out to Austin—it was really a memorably great time.
WF: Go is one of my favorite things that I ever did. Not that I critique myself, but sometimes I'll be passing by the television, and I'll say, "Meh, maybe I would have done that a little different." I can't help [but] do that. But Go was one of those things—I really loved working with Doug Liman. Detective Burke in Go is one of those roles that's about everything I like to do. Really twisted. Potentially funny. A real sort of character-driven oddball. I'm so drawn to things like that. I love parts like that. And Go seems to be the thing that rolled it all into one.
AVC: Did you have to deal with body shyness for the nude scene?
WF: No, I had to deal with Jay Mohr, who couldn't walk out of that bathroom and stop laughing. I'll never forget the night, because it was the last shot of the night, and I was going to go right from the set and hop on a plane and see my older boy in New York. And Jay just kept walking out and laughing. And I say, "Jay, will you knock it off, please. I'm standing here naked, so just stop. Get out here and stop laughing." That took about, six, seven, eight takes.
Prison Break (2006-2008)—Special Agent Mahone
WF: Prison Break has been an exceptionally good time. We've had a really well-oiled machine for a television show. They got it together. Prison Break has been a really great experience because of the writers. I think that in television, you can have great directors, really good actors, but if it's not on the page… I think a series lives and dies in writing. I really dig the writers, and I think they challenged me for the most part throughout the journey on the show. If you don't challenge me in a series sort of situation, boy, I couldn't be on it long. A year and a half, I did that show. We'll see what happens now with the strike and everything. If I wasn't challenged, I would die. It wouldn't be worth all the tea in China, or all the money in the world. It just wouldn't be worth it, you know?
Armageddon (1998)—Colonel William Sharp
WF: Armageddon! Let's save the planet! What I remember from Armageddon was that Bruce Willis was a really cool guy to work with. I really dig Bruce. That was the first time I worked with Jerry Bruckheimer. Being on a Jerry Bruckheimer production is always… It's definitely a soup-to-nuts sort of situation. It was great. I liked Michael Bay. Michael saw me in a film, and asked me to be in it. A lot of good memories with that. I'm happy to say that I had maybe one or two things that I ever worked on where I was like, "Maybe I wouldn't do that if I backed the clock up." I had a lot of good times.
AVC: You mean you've rarely had an experience where you didn't like the way the film came out, or where the actual experience of making the film was bad?
WF: There could have been a circumstance here or there or something like that, where maybe it wasn't a good thing to do. But very few.
Albino Alligator (1996)—Law
WF: Albogator! There's a speech in there around a pool table where I describe what an "albogator" is. Yeah, very intense. What a cast on that one! Good group of people. Really liked it for the character journey on it, I remember that. Working with Kevin [Spacey], I really remember working with Faye [Dunaway] and Matt [Dillon] and Gary [Sinise], and Viggo [Mortensen] and Skeet [Ulrich]. Pretty awesome group together, you know?
Passion Of Mind (2000)—Aaron Reilly
WF: One of my rare romantic things. I'm ready for another. Shooting that, I remember France. We were in the south of France, and Paris. That's the first thing that comes to mind for that. I just remember that that was a beautiful place to be when we shot it.
AVC: You started to talk about how you really like quirky roles, like your part in Go. Do you have a preference between a small role that you can really sink your teeth into and a lead role that's maybe more generic, more normal?
WF: Whether it's one scene or 15 scenes in a film, whether it's the lead or a cameo part, if I don't find it interesting, I tend not to do it. So it really doesn't matter. You never really know what it is. It could be a one-scene part. I remember I read the one scene in Crash and was asked to do it. I was like, "Absolutely!" There's no formula for how something has to be. I always try to keep it that way. You never know what it is—you read it and it speaks to you. You know who the guy is, or you want to find out. I don't think it makes much difference. It's not like it's not fun to work on big studio pictures. It is. But I can't say that's more fun than working on some little indie for scale. Look at The Amateurs, that's probably the best time I ever had working on a film. With that group of guys, it ended up being an experience I'll never forget. I'll always have the fondest memory of that shoot.
AVC: What specifically about it stood out for you?
MF: I love the story. Just a band of misfits. Not a cool one in the bunch. Just following their leader in a small town, trying to make something. I just loved everything about it. And when we got together, that particular group of guys, I found that to be a pretty magical time. I just loved being around everybody. We just found a rhythm with each other that you want to get on everything you ever do in your life.
Strange Days (1995)—Dwayne Engelman
WF: God, I'm not in it much. I remember I worked on The Underneath, then Strange Days came along. I was traveling between New York and L.A. I remember I met them, and there wasn't much to the role. But Kathryn Bigelow, she's a director that puts importance into everything in a really healthy, good way. I remember, she said, "This guy is really important. Him and [Vincent] D'Onofrio, this is what they mean to the story." And I was: "Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Sure."
AVC: Did she say that to everybody, though? "Your character has a really small part, but it's really important?"
WF: [Laughs.] I hope so! You know what, I hope she did! We worked on The Perfect Storm, and I'll never forget, Wolfgang Petersen would talk about a moment. Like a non-speaking moment, where we'd all be sitting around eating dinner, and it would probably last maybe four seconds on screen. But he would sit there and talk about it for about 10 minutes. He knew what piece of the puzzle that scene would be, and if it were six seconds, it would be too long. If it were three seconds, it wouldn't be enough. But four and a half seconds, that would just be the right amount of time for what the moment meant. You know, I'm always turned on with people's enthusiasm like that.
AVC: What other directors have stood out to you as having that kind of attention to detail?
WF: Wow. An awful lot. Ridley Scott—not that he shared it a lot, but you can just see that everything he did, Ridley always seemed to be just so clear. I love that about him.
Black Hawk Down (2001)—Sanderson
WF: That was hard! Really hard. It was a long time being away, and I was away from my older boy for a long time. It was such a difficult journey, but at the same time, Ridley had such attention to detail. We went through training at different military bases. The guys that were really in Somalia were there with us, really wanting us to get it right, and all of us wanting to get it right. There was a real sense of the honor. It's based on a true story, and to honor these guys, there were people there to help us find the nuance, so everything that was close to what they went through. That was really something special.
Blades Of Glory (2007)—Darren MacElroy
WF: Well, let me tell you something, when I first met up with [directors] Josh [Gordon] and Will [Speck], they're like, "C'mon, Fich. You gotta do this." And I'm like, "Yeah. It's got a nice quirky sense to it. Yeah, I dig that." You know, there was a really cool thing with the character in the middle of the film, and then something else at the end. They were putting the film together, and Will called me up and said: "We had to cut the scene at the end. " And I'm like, "Eh, you gotta do what you gotta do. It's not my movie." Then he calls me: "You know, that middle section, we had to kinda trim it down a little bit." And I'm like, " All right, c'mon! Let's calm down, all right?" There was a bit more of an arc to the guy than ended up there. I had fun just the same.
AVC: Didn't the same thing happen to you with Contact? Wasn't a lot of your role in that cut?
WF: Not really. I don't remember shooting anything that wasn't in the film. Contact was probably in my top three things I ever worked on.
WF: Jodie [Foster], and the role. That was the first time that I actually got a role in a film where I actually had a couple of months before I actually started shooting it. That was really great, where I had the first opportunity to really dive into figuring it out, who the guy is, where I wanted to go with him. I had a lot of time to do that, and it kinda changed the way I work. Because I so appreciated that preparation time that I started really using it. I try to do it as much as I can now. If there's much time.
WF: Kurt Wimmer. It was all about [director] Kurt Wimmer. I met him, and I was like, "Here's a guy who's the complete opposite of me in so many ways." But I really dug being around him and working with him. Which is why when he called me for Ultraviolet, I'm like, "Kurt. Whatever. Just call me. I'll work with you anytime. " I just really like the guy.
AVC: In what way is he the opposite of you?
WF: I'm a little more of an emotional being, and he is such a smart, intellectual man. I just like his sensibilities. He's just a really cool guy to be around.
The Dark Knight (due out July 2008)—Gotham Bank Manager
WF: Dark Knight, it's a very simple little thing I do. The producer of The Amateurs, Aaron Ryder, is really good friends with [Dark Knight director] Chris Nolan. He produced The Prestige and Memento with him. And I met Chris a couple of times, and Chris called me and asked me would I play, I guess you'd call it a cameo in the beginning of the film. It was one of those things—for no other reason than I just really dig Chris as a filmmaker, I think he's great, "Yeah, yeah. I'll do it. Of course." That was it.
AVC: What are your favorite smaller roles at this point?
WF: The Amateurs is up there. Go, Contact. The ones that make me smile the most were really interesting character journeys. Those are the ones that really stand out for me.