William Fichtner is one of those actors you’ve seen in a million movies and TV shows. That’s because over the past fifteen years, Fichtner has had memorable characters in The Dark Knight, Go, Prison Break, Contact, Armageddon, Heat, Invasion, Entourage, and that’s just scratching the surface. But no matter the role, Fichtner always brings a real authenticity to whatever character he’s portraying, and that’s why he continues to land so many parts.
Anyway, in director Patrick Lussier’s Drive Angry 3D, Fichtner is playing an all new character as he’s an agent from hell trying to bring back Nicolas Cage. Needless to say, Fichtner told us he jumped at the chance to play this part. Hit the jump for a lot more:
For those not familiar with Drive Angry, you should start by reading my set report. But the quick synopsis is the film “centers on a man (Cage) driven by rage who is chasing the people who killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby. The vendetta/rescue spins out of control as the chase gets bloodier by the mile, leaving bodies strewn along the highway.”
What’s great about the movie is that it’s being filmed in 3D, it’s a super hard R, and it’s from the filmmakers behind My Bloody Valentine. Meaning…expect plenty of blood and guts! I’m super excited.
At any rate, back in early May I got to participate in a small roundtable interview with William Fichtner on the set of Drive Angry 3D. During the interview Fichtner talked about how he got involved in the project, who exactly is his character, how he prepares for his roles, and a lot more. I’ve been a fan of Fichtner’s for a very long time, and I’m happy to report he was super nice and a lot of great things to say.
As usual, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
And if you’re going to Comic-Con this week, Summit is holding a panel Friday in Hall H at 2:15 – 3:15pm for Drive Angry. Here are the details:
DRIVE ANGRY 3D – In a Comic-Con exclusive, stars of the film including Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard as well as director Patrick Lussier will debut footage from the high-octane, blood-spattered road trip through hell. In this newest action horror shot in 3D, a vengeful father hunts down the people who brutally killed his daughter and kidnapped her baby.
Question: We heard that you were planning on chewing up some of the scenery..
William Fichtner: Really? Who’s saying that? (Interviewer points to Todd Farmer). Oh, all right so I asked for toothpicks, what can I say? I think this is the best role I’ve ever had.
That’s a pretty big statement. Can you elaborate on that?
Fichtner: It’s a really deep-layered character, and nothing’s more exciting than that.
Can you tell us a bit about him? What’s his deal?
Fichtner: Well, he wears one suit with one tie and one shirt. And he always looks really, really good.
Well, you looked pretty sharp out there amidst all the fire.
Fichtner: Yeah, thanks! A little wind-blown, but that’s all right. Usually dies down around midnight. It’s funny the way the wind currents work here.
There’s a double-sided facet to your character. As the movie progresses, does it change the side that you play on?
Fichtner: My understanding of the events changes. And when that changes, I learn something. Yeah, it’s very cool.
It’s interesting because we want to talk about stuff, but everyone’s being a little guarded.
Fichtner: No, really? Around here? Come on..
Could you talk a little about your character, talking about the movie, saying a lot but saying a little?
Fichtner: Well, it’s what I’m trying to do. I really am. Like so many things, with this film in particular. There are so many things that you’re just going to love to see later. It’s just one of those, you know? There’s so much we can’t talk about that’s really exciting. Nic’s in this film, which is beyond awesome. I’ve been a huge fan of his for so long, and when I read this script knowing that he’d be in it, I read it and it’s like “talk about perfect guy, perfect role” and I feel that about so many people in this film. Billy Burke playing Jonah King, I’ve never met him before but I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part, I can’t imagine anyone else directing this movie besides Patrick, you know? He’s another guy that I think is just a perfect guy with perfect sensibilities to tell this story.
This is a ‘Hard R’, really violent film.
Fichtner: That is really safe to say, yeah.
Was this something that attracted you to the role or were you hesitant because of the violence?
Fichtner: The really hard R element of the film comes in many ways throughout the movie, character and action. But that’s not really the driving force with the character I play. What attracted me to the film was the very first time that I read the story. It’s got great dialogue and a really tough, hard R story that has a through line of a journey that’s driven by one man’s heart. Make no mistake, this is a story that has a heartbeat throughout and it’s really powerful and never loses sight of that.
When audiences first see you, they don’t know who your character is or where he’s from. Can you talk about the scene where they first see you?
Fichtner: It might be 20 pages into the movie and you’ve seen so much by that point- colorful characters and grungy places and slap the 3D on top of that like eye candy. All of a sudden, this character shows up and there’s no one else looking like him. Hopefully I’ve found the right rhythm; it’s different because he’s different. The first time you see him, he’s just walking down the road, then I run into some people we’ve already met, a waitress and a short order cook. We have a little exchange and its very interesting and it has a little ballet to it.
Are they alive at the end of the scene?
Fichtner: Oh yes! I’m quite smitten with the waitress, actually. People live after they meet me! You know, pretty much.
Do you come up with your character’s back-story?
Fichtner: You know it’s great because one of the greatest pleasures of my life is to have as much time as I can before I start working on something. I knew about this one 2 months before we started so I could enjoy many bottles of red wine and think about it and call Patrick and run ideas by him, and he would throw me something and it would be very cool. The greatest joy in getting ready for the film is that there aren’t many reference points for the journey and you’ve got to define it for yourself. So having conversations with Patrick and getting to meet Todd and the guys here was really a thrill to find the character. A week before we started shooting, I got here and we had time for rehearsals and those were different sort of rehearsals that I’ve never had before on anything because I wasn’t sure that the way I’m walking, talking and thinking was making any sense. I remember when our first AD Steve Denton, the maestro out there, the very first scene we rehearsed, I asked him for large sides and he teased me and said ‘you’re not off book’, and I said ‘no, and I won’t be until Monday morning’ and I didn’t want to be. I didn’t know, we’re still trying to figure out what feels right and the time we spent rehearsing in the coliseum hallways was invaluable.
You’ve played many different roles, do you rehearse for everything or do you like to improvise a lot?
Fichtner: When I was younger, I never wanted to rehearse because I thought that someone would figure out I don’t know what I’m doing. Now I like to really spend the time and figure it out and rehearsal is to try something that doesn’t work. It’s hard to do that, because you always want to go with your impulse thought and you wonder if that’s the one, did that work, you know? Sometimes the scene is a sad scene but you have to play it with a laugh to find out that that doesn’t work or that there’s really a part of that in it, and that’s what rehearsal is for, we took that time.
A lot of actors say that they enjoy taking the first two or three takes while others take 10 or 15 takes. How are you as an actor?
Fichtner: That’s a part of the thing I always say to Patrick. I say, “You’ve got a lot of film, right Patrick?” Cause the first 2,3,4, that’s when people try things. That’s when you start with the thing that you worked on, and the impulse and that, but usually by 2,3,4 if you feel like you got close to realizing that, then uh..you’ve always got to have 2 or 3 at the end to shake it loose, you know? To find the impulse thing that might not be there, but then as far as improv goes, a lot of that might be in rehearsal. I’m an actor out of New York, you know? You don’t re-write a playwright’s words, he wrote them for a reason so try to find what the moment was, and I think that about really great scripts like this one. In the spur of the moment I may have had an impulse to improv a moment in a certain way but I never felt the desire to do that in any sort of dialogue. It’s so good the way it is, there’s no need to do that- play with what he wrote, there’s a depth to it..find it.
Your character has a certain depth about him, has it there ever been a point where it’s been difficult to not get too excited and stay within that level?
Fichtner: I don’t like to watch dailies or video playback unless I have to. We were doing a second unit shot the other day and they asked me to watch the playback because it has to do with a certain movement I was making with my arm. I watched the playback, and realized it was like “Oh, that’s absolutely not the thing to do.” And it was like “oh, you’ve got to do two more to try this” and as soon as I saw it I got it, but I think Patrick pretty much has his eye on that all the time and I do..I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.
Have you ever worked with 3D cameras before, and has that changed the process with the blocking of a scene and stuff that maybe you wouldn’t expect when you go in a scene, like “Oh, I thought I’d be here and for some reason I’m here, because they need it for the 3D”?
Fichtner: You know, not really. I never felt that there was ever a moment like that, but knowing that it’s 3D and I have a little one and going to see UP and Monsters vs. Aliens, 3D today is just so cool. You kind of get a sense of motion but I don’t think it’s a playable thing, though we had a scene once in a church and I had to come in and point to someone- I had to point to him and say ‘What is that’? and our camera operator said, “You know, Bill, come in like this”, and I got it, all of a sudden it was like ‘whoosh’ and I’m coming right by your head. Then you start twisting your hand around and it’s like *slaps his own hand* ‘stop’. I haven’t found anything you can play it for; they’re just catching the action, which is good. I’m glad that that’s not..we talk about it, Nic and I talk about it sometimes, we’re learning. We’re learning little things, but I haven’t planned anything yet.
I’m curious; you’ve played a lot of roles in a lot of different things in TV and Movies, what do you mostly get recognized for?
Fichtner: Well, it used to be As the World Turns back in the 80s- Josh, the misunderstood farmhand..military folks remember Black Hawk Down. It’s hard to recognize anybody in Black Hawk Down, it’s a fast moving movie, everybody looks the same but military guys will just shoot right across and thank me. I did a series a couple of years ago, Invasion that was cancelled after one season and that’s a biggie because I remember at the time everyone was saying that Nielsen ratings were low. This show had no viewers, no one was watching it and that’s got to be in the top 3. A lot of people asking me if it’s coming back, and I’m like “no, it was 6 years ago, buddy!” That happens a lot, Invasion. And you know, weird things, I had a couple come up to me at a beach, they were walking with their kids, I was in Massachusetts like a year ago, and I always bring this up because it has happened a lot..I was at the Indy 500 at this really loud party after the race with all the drivers and this couple comes up and they come up and they start quoting liens from Drowning Mona! They’re like “Hey, Shit Salad!” People are just starting to talk about The Amateurs a little bit because it’s playing on Showtime. You know, Jeff won the Oscar and I did this little film and this is sitting right up there as my number 1 as well for the best times I’ve ever had working on something. Anytime somebody mentions The Amateurs, I stop what I’m doing and I’m like “oh, really”, it makes me excited.
You had a very good cast in that film.
Fichtner: Oh, it was great; I think it was one of those situations where everything that could have gone wrong during the movie went wrong. I don’t know all of the behind the scenes stuff but it just floundered and got lost and came out for like, 11 minutes and now they play it on Showtime on Saturday nights, which is great because people are seeing it again.
Do you find that when the movie is playing on Showtime or HBO that the next day you’re like “Why is everyone talking to me about this movie?”
Fichtner: Yeah sure, yeah. Showtime or HBO, it pops up on there. Especially with a film like the Amateurs, knowing that Showtime was going to air it, that was great. Otherwise, who else is going to see it? People will see it, but that’s a way of having a lot of people see it and then they’ll mention it to someone else. I’m just really happy for Michael Traeger who wrote and directed it, that it’s getting a little bit of an audience, a little bit of play right now.
You mentioned your positive experiences on Invasion- doing features right now, is potentially going back to TV something you’re looking forward to or are you trying to stick in the feature arena for awhile?
Fichtner: I don’t know what’s next. You never know, it’s all timing and the right role and looking for the right thing and an exciting thing. You know, I think that there’s no doubt that to work in film is a bit more of a creative journey. It’s not that I don’t put the same time or heart into something that’s on television but I don’t think right now I’m ready for another 22 episode season of a show…but you watch, tomorrow, I’ll be all “Yeah, I’m in!” I need to do something else when I finish this, something that’s as cool as this.
If I may ask, what were you working on before you came to this?
Fichtner: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Cleaning out the garage, built and office, visited Costco, that’s what I’ve been doing. I worked on something in the fall called The Big Bang, Tony Krantz directed this film with Antonio Banderas and Sam Elliott, sort of a film noir.
Going back to this role, is this a very physical role for you? We noticed you have a little scar.
Fichtner: Yeah, see that little purple stitch there? Is that cool or what?
Seems like your character is a tough guy.
Fichtner: Absolutely. That’s a 3D moment; wait until you see how that happens! I was aware of the 3D-ness of that one. Is it really physical? I think the Accountant has an ease and a grace that..well, he doesn’t want to get dirty. It’s not even about getting dirty, it’s not necessary.
You do get to dispatch a few people though..
Fichtner: It happens! Gracefully, hopefully.
Is he arrogant? Does he think he’s above them?
Fichtner: Maybe he is. I think I have to leave it on that..
How are you enjoying spending time in Shreveport?
Fichtner: I grew up in Buffalo, NY- Shreveport is Buffalo with a muddy river. Same restaurants, same folks. I wanted to be a pretty trim guy for the suit but I wanted to be a little thinner, 4 pounds or something like that and I can’t do that at home because my wife is Lebanese and Albanian and can cook the daylights out of anything so I came here a week early, got an extra fridge in my room. I have at all times non-fat cottage cheese, 2 pounds of turkey, lettuce, and non-fat vinaigrette dressing..I haven’t really explored the restaurant scene here, although people have found some really good restaurants here. I’ve been eating pretty trim, I’m in a habitat- I go from the Hilton to the rental car to the downtown Y, I swim my mile, do the rest of what I do, I go back, I go to work. If I have 4 days off I plan to go home. I’ve been home a lot. After that first Saturday night when we got here I spent the next six weekends at home, which is great. And then the last two weekends, I’ve been here, so I’ve been getting out a little bit more. The people are really nice, and our crew, everybody’s great.
There are a lot of badass vehicles in this movie, do you get to commandeer any of them?
Fichtner: Not the ones that I would like! That 69 Charger and the 70 Chevelle, the 454 Chevelle, I hop in a car and I hop in a truck.
I sense a bit of disappointment that you didn’t get to drive any of these things.
Fichtner: It’s okay, it’s alright..why you gotta bring that up, man? I’m just getting over it and I’ve adjusted..no, there’s some really cool stuff with cars. I get to ride other fun vehicles like hydrogen trucks. Very cool.
Todd Farmer interrupts: Are you still talking about cars? Are you not talking about the movie at all?
It’s the first time he’s mentioned the cars, honest!
Fichtner: That’s true! That was the only question!
What’s Todd like? (Todd groans)
Fichtner: Todd is writing something else for me so you can’t ask me that question. Todd is my brother, buddy!
We’ve heard that this is inspired by old 70s car chase action movies. Are you a fan of those types of movies?
Fichtner: Yeah, the seventies were my high school and college years. I had a 69 Road Runner when I was a kid. I had it for 13 days, came home one day and my parents were in the driveway. They said, “meet the new owner” because they’d gotten phone calls about me burning rubber for the last 12 days. They thought I’d wrap it around a tree, and it was too much car for a 16 year old. I always swore if I ever got another one..in 95 when I was working on Albino Alligator, my agent called me up and told me he’d ‘found my car’. I told him I wasn’t looking for a car and he said “no, no, no, you’re looking for this car.” He took me to where the car was and opened the garage door, and I was like “What am I going to do with that?” I wanted to get a car so I didn’t have to rent cars when I came in from New York! It’s beautiful, a 1970 Vitamin orange Road Runner with 36,000 original miles, black bucket seats with a pistol grip.. just killer. Today’s cars might be faster but they don’t look like that, and they don’t sound like that. Now it sits in my garage. When I read this script I was like, “I know cars!”
How old are your kids?
Fichtner: Two little ones, 18 and 8.
Are you worried that they’ll pull a Ferris Bueller?
Fichtner: No, but I did say to my older son once when we moved into our house..”Do you like the house? Someday it’ll be yours.” He said “Give it to Van..I’ll take the car.” He’s a bright kid. Good to meet you all, thank you guys!
Drive Angry gets released February 11, 2011.
For more Drive Angry 3D coverage: