Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
This interview marks the third I've done with actor extraordinaire William Fichtner, one of my absolute all-time favorite character actors. The man is cruising around his mid-50s, and he has such an impressive list of films to his name, including the early Steven Soderbergh film UNDERNEATH, STRANGE DAYS, HEAT, CONTACT (probably the role most people first remember him from, as Jodie Foster's blind co-worker), ARMADEDDON, GO, PERFECT STORM, PEARL HARBOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN, NINE LIVES, CRASH, THE AMATEURS, THE LONGEST YARD, DATE NIGHT, and, of course, the opening bank robbery sequence in THE DARK KNIGHT. If I wanted to, I could also go into his TV career on such shows as "Prison Break" and "Invasion."
Fichtner is funny, personable, and always a great interview. Now, so far only one of the interviews I've done with him has run so far, and that's because that last time we spoke was at Comic-Con 2010 to discuss DRIVE ANGRY 3D, directed by Patrick Lussier (MY BLOODY VALENTINE), in which he plays The Accountant, who is pursuing Nicholas Cage's character, a recent escapee from hell. I never ran that review because, obviously last July, I hadn't seen the film, but I've seen it twice since and loved it. I would have run that older review now, but it would have seem slightly uninformed on my part. However, when I was recently given the chance to re-interview Fichtner, I jumped at it. I may weave in a few choice nuggets from the Comic-Con interview, but this is pretty much the way our conversation went when we spoke last week. Please enjoy my talk with the great William Fichtner, the man who makes all films a whole lot better…
William Fichtner: Steve!
Capone: Hey, Bill. How are you?
WF: What’s happening? How are you, all right?
Capone: Good. We actually spoke briefly at Comic-Con last year, but of course at the time no one had seen the film, so my questions were a little limited. I’ve seen it twice now, so I’m an expert with this film.
WF: You’re two times ahead of me; I haven’t seen it yet.
Capone: It’s pretty awesome.
WF: That’s so cool. I tell you I was just in London talking about it, and people really dig it. I had a chance to see it a month ago and I was like “I don’t know, am I ready to see myself in this?” I asked my wife if she wanted to go, so she went.
Capone: What was her reaction?
WF: She texted me back, she goes “You sucked.” “Thank you, darlin’. I love you, too.” She dug it, yeah.
Capone: I was going to say that The Accountant is one of the more mysterious and truly badass characters I’ve seen in a while in an action film, and I’m kind of wondering when you were going through the script for the first time, did you get sucked in like we all did just trying to figure out what his agenda was, and what he was all about?
WF: Yeah, well that’s the cool thing about the very first time that I read the script. You’re 10, 15 pages into it, and I’m thinking to myself “Wait a minute, who is this guy? Where is he going?” The first time that somebody says to Nic “What are you doing here?” I’m like “What does that mean?” It unfolds, and all of a sudden it’s like “Wait a minute, let me get this straight; you came from hell after this guy…?” I loved that reading it, and hopefully you really get that as an audience putting the pieces together like, “Ahh, I get it.” It’s not only interesting to have it’s reveal in that way, but I think… Now, does the film start off where he’s literally driving out of hell?
WF: And is there a voiceover over the top of it?
Capone: I think so, yeah, I’m pretty sure there is.
WF: Because we recorded one. I think it’s The Accountant saying “You can run, but you’re never going to get out.” Or something like… I don’t know what it is. Did you know right off the bat he was driving out of hell?
Capone: I think it’s pretty clear, because it’s very special effects heavy, but it definitely looks like a very messed-up place that he’s driving out of, yeah.
WF: Yeah, well that’s pretty cool, and I also love the fact that throughout the film The Accountant’s figuring it out. He doesn’t know when he gets here why Milton took off. Once he figures it out, “Well, it is a noble cause. Maybe everybody can get a little bit of what they want, because you’re still going back.”
Capone: I just love that he’s called The Accountant. In any other film, that would be the lamest role in the movie.
WF: He definitely doesn’t have a calculator. That’s not his scene. But the bottom line with him is, you cannot leave hell. You can’t go. “I have a job. I work there.” And the accountability of who is there is my responsibility, and when you take off, I’m going to get you.
Capone: He has this mission, this job, but he also has free will and he makes adjustments and he’s pretty accommodating at certain points.
WF: Absolutely. Actually, you know what? That’s as well as you can say it. He has free will and can make adjustments to accommodate. He’s still going to get what he wants, but that’s pretty cool.
Capone: When I saw the film the second time and a friend of mine sort of said “They gave Fichtner all of the best lines.” Nicolas Cage is kind of dialed back for Nicolas Cage in this film, and all of the dark humor comes from what you’re saying. You’re going steal a little bit of his thunder here, I think.
WF: You know what? I can honestly tell you, I never read the script and thought “Oh, I have the funny lines in this one,” because I don’t think they're jokes. I think if there’s something in there, and honestly I tell you this on the phone, I don’t know what’s funny or what’s not funny. You really don’t, because you play it for straight, and I think that’s what’s interesting and I think that’s what’s so interesting about the humor in this; it’s not joke humor, it’s character driven humor or whatever it is. It’s just smartly written and maybe has something to do with the way it’s delivered, but that’s just finding who the guy is and trying to fully realize this character in the film, but I didn’t think when I read the script “I hope I get this part, so I can have all of those funny lines.” I didn’t, but I really dig it that in the seriousness of The Accountant, the humor comes through. That’s pretty cool.
Capone: There’s a lot of humor in this movie.
WF: That’s cool. I love that.
Capone: Did you talk to [director] Patrick [Lussier] leading up to filming about how the character was going to speak and dress? There’s not really a character in film history or mythology or religion or anywhere you might draw some reference points from, it doesn’t really exist. So, how much of it did you two kind of come up with together?
WF: First of all, thank you for saying that, because that’s a hell of a compliment, and I really appreciate it. I could tell you this much, the two months before we started shooting, when I knew I was going to work on the film, I had so much fun. Not that often, you know every week or two, maybe a couple of times in one week sending Patrick a message and just throwing out a little thing like “What do you think about that? What do you think about this?”
It’s not like you can call up someone that worked in hell for 10 years and go, “Hey man, tell me about what happens down there.” It’s pretty much a blank slate. “Find it. Find the guy,” and good scripts will give you ideas, and this is a really good script and the ideas are in there. He’s in a human form, I thought to myself. I remember calling Patrick and saying, “I wonder when he was here last. He probably lived here at one time. He probably wasn’t the nicest guy, went to hell, and got a good job down there. Now, he likes his job.”
Then that takes you to the next thing: “I wonder what it’s like when he gets to come back; I bet he doesn’t come back that often. It doesn’t happen every week that somebody gets out. I think it rarely happens, which is the shock of it, besides the fact that he ended up taking the God Killer with him, which is really a shock. Just take that thought alone, and think about that, and then you reread the script and think “Wow, that’s an interesting color to put on this,” because then on his first day, he walks up and sees this waitress.
When’s the last time he saw a woman? Did she have perfume on? When's the last time he's been in the car? When’s the last time he heard music? You start putting all of that together. What’s it like when somebody really physically threatens you. I love that scene with Frank, Frank with the baseball bat. “Do you really want to get rough with me? It’s been a long time, but I don’t think I’ve lost it.” Those were the things that I was thinking about, and I would bounce that off of Patrick, and we'd laugh about something and he be like “Yeah, cool man.” So, it seemed to be like that the whole time. I've said this so much in the last few weeks in talking about the film, but it fits right up there with some of the best times I’ve ever had. Patrick is one heck of a gentleman and one heck of a smart guy, and that was truly one of the great joys of working on DRIVE ANGRY.
Capone: I got to interview Patrick at Comic Con, too, and I’m a fan of what he's doing with 3D. Does he have that kind of overt enthusiasm and excitement about doing these 3D movies that just throw everything at you and go over the top? Does that kind of seep into the rest of the work environment there?
WF: No doubt. Really, no doubt. To be around Patrick and to listen to Patrick, it’s really hard to describe. I never felt that there was a moment that Patrick wasn’t crystal clear about, and his lack of ego in any sort of negative way, that business is just right out the window with him. It was just pure enthusiasm and pure intelligence on what he wanted and how he wanted to get it. I find that the best experiences that I’ve ever had with directors are where you can mention something and think of an idea, and they will look at you and they will go, “That is so cool, and think about this,” and they will tell you something that will take you a little bit further down the road and then just let you run. That’s what I felt everyday was like with Patrick.
I’ve never worked with Nic before, which was a real joy and an honor. I had never met Amber [Heard] or Billy [Burke] before, and they're both just awesome and the same for anybody else that was in it. But I felt throughout the whole process on more than on one occasion that I would look at Patrick and I would think to myself, “Huh, I just have a feeling--right guy, right time, right movie, right place.” I just felt everything about it just float right out of him, and more than anything, that probably make the experience what it was for me, one of the best.
Capone: One of the things I was thinking about when you were talking about creating the backstory of The Accountant, I got a sense that maybe he and Milton knew each other before these events? Did you get that sense, or am I just dreaming things up?
WF: [Laughs] You know listen, there’s no doubt about it. Hell is a big place, but I don’t think that this is the first time that The Accountant has crossed paths with Milton. I don’t think so and I’m not even sure what that means. I’m not even sure if that meant that they know each other all that well, probably not, but I don’t think it’s the first time.
Capone: Do you have a favorite Accountant moment--a specific scene that you had the most fun with?
WF: Oh boy. No, that would be really, really hard, because I haven’t seen it yet either. Do I have one that was a favorite? I really enjoyed everything so much. I liked the scene with Amber up in the guard tower.
Capone: Right at the end?
WF: And then when she pulls the gun, and I say, “Listen, go to heaven now.” I like that.
Capone: That’s a nice scene actually.
WF: “Listen, I’m going to get what I want, but you can too, so go help him.” I liked that. I remember that as being a good day. They all were good days, but I don’t know that’s the one that popped into my head right now.
Capone: That’s a good one. With all of the muscle cars in the film, did that tap into a part of your teenage years or your 20s where you might have had a car thing? Did you get to relive some of your youth with those cars?
WF: Let me tell you something, I’m sitting in my little office right now that’s off the back of my garage. It used to be a woodshop for the guy, Tom, who I bought this house years ago. He grew up in this house, then he retired. He moved back here and he lived here, then he moved to Seattle, so I made his woodshop into a little office of mine. I’m sitting in there right now, and through the door, I’ve got these double barn doors that go into a three-car garage, and right now I am looking at a 44,000-original mile, 1970 pistol grip, four-speed, Roadrunner. It’s Vitamin C Orange. So do I miss it? No, not really. [Laughs]
Capone: You’re still living it.
WF: It’s right in the other room!
Capone: Patrick I think it’s safe to say is kind of one of the front runners of shooting a movie in 3D. Before getting into this film, did you have any thoughts on 3D or shooting in 3D or 3D movies in general? Did your attitude change as a result of being a part of this film?
WF: No. I don’t know, there seems to be a little bit of Hollywood backlash, or things I’ve read in the last few months about 3D. I don’t get it. I dig it. I take my 8-year-old, since we go and see a lot of films, and there are a lot of films for kids that are out there that are 3D. I think it’s a blast. Seeing this film in 3D? That must be really cool. I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait.
Capone: It’s great. It really suits the format.
WF: I can’t wait to see it. It doesn’t really change anything. You don’t “act for 3D,” only in slight circumstances, which might be more of a physical nature, like pointing in a certain direction. I remember one day I moved a certain way, and Patrick said, “If you move a little bit to the left and a little bit further out, it looks really cool, Bill.” You start to understand things like that, but to work in 3D, for the most part, is not an actable thing.
Capone: One of your best 3D moments is when the God Killer bullet…well you probably know the moment that I’m talking about… I don’t want to ruin it…
WF: Yeah, when they are in the car, in the car chase.
Capone: Yeah and you get a scar as a result of the scene. That looks really great in 3D. I’ve got to imagine there was a little choreography in terms of where your head was and how to turn.
WF: Yeah, I like that. That’s what we say is the…[laughs]…I’ve got to stop myself. If I ever say, “That’s what we say…,” somebody reach through the phone and slap me. That’s a very technical moment right there, sitting on a stool, getting that camera on a track, and it is going to fly right at you. And you just have to be there and steady and focus and get that focal point and don’t lose it, and then go do your 3D magic and all of that special effects stuff and make it look as cool as it does.
Capone: So you’ve got a 3D film under your belt, and you just did I think it would be your first IMAX movie, or at least parts of THE DARK KNIGHT were shot for IMAX.
WF: Yeah, the opening scene was.
Capone: Yeah, that scene definitely was. Did you ever get to see that bank robbery sequence on an IMAX screen?
WF: You know, I didn’t actually. I did see it in the Cinerama Dome, and that’s pretty huge, but I didn’t see it on an IMAX screen. Yeah, I will never forget the day that we shot that, and they turned on that IMAX camera, and my first thought in the back of my mind was like ,“Well, here comes ADR,” because that box is so loud. [Makes a loud electric-engine sound.] That loud, right in front of you and never did ADR in the film. That just goes to show that the folks that did the sound on that show were unbelievable. I thought, “How do you not do ADR when that thing is five feet away from me that loud?”
Capone: How did you feel Christopher Nolan releasing that sequence as basically the first trailer of the film?
WF: All I know is this, I'd met Chris through a friend of a friend, and Chris asked me right when they were about to start, would I play this opening sequence and he told me about it, and I read it and I said “Absolutely.” And he told me, even before we started shooting it, a couple of weeks before--and I believe it was the first two or three days of principle photography--“I want to shoot this now, because it’s what I’m going to use to put out there until the film comes out.” That’s cool. He’s such a genius, it was absolutely my pleasure to be a part of it, so it was a very short thing for me, just a little pop in the beginning.
Capone: I live in Chicago, so I absolutely remember you guys being here for that. That was at the old Post Office.
WF: Yeah, the old Post Office, right. It was a perfect fit for a bank.
Capone: I remember he took that footage and kind of surprised the local Chicago Comic Con. He just brought that sequence with some of the cast to them just a couple weeks after he shot it just to say, “Here’s what we’ve been doing in your city. Thanks for being so accommodating,” and just showed it. It freaked everybody out.
WF: Really? I never knew that. That’s so cool.
Capone: It’s kind of great that you're approaching your mid-50s, and you're still getting gigs where they require you to be really physical, including DRIVE ANGRY. Is that nice that they still think you can take a punch and be that action oriented?
WF: Who told you mid-50s? [Laughs] Wow, man!
Capone: Am I wrong?
WF: [Laughing] The phone is breaking up, “Are you wrong…”
Capone: Last time we met, you said you were 53. I don’t know if that’s still accurate.
WF: Oh man, I must have had a few too many glasses of red wine to tell you that.
Capone: If I’m wrong, you can absolutely tell me.
WF: No, you are absolutely not wrong, and I’m not offended by that at all. I don’t know, we are who we are, and I wake up everyday, I take my little one to school, I swim a mile, I stretch out. I do things. It’s what I do; I love to do it. Who knows if people think I’m that kind of a guy for something like that. This came along for DRIVE ANGRY, and I thought, “Wow, okay this is cool. The physical journey of this guy, very cool. Yeah, let’s do that.” But I will tell you something, when the cars are flipping up in the air, believe me, you can get me a bagel and cream cheese and get that stuntman over here. I’ve got no problem with that. [Laughs]
Capone: Do you wake up in the morning and go “Wow, that didn’t used to be there?”
WF: My first two steps are memorable daily. [Laughs] But you know, I love that. That’s not to say that I’m Superman, believe me. When the crazy stiff comes… [Pretends to turns to a stuntman] Hey Pete! This is your moment right here. When that guy swings that chair, you’re going to love it, Pete. I’m going to get a bagel and cream cheese.
Capone: There’s some great back and forth between you and Nicolas Cage. Tell me just about working with him. You said you had never worked with him before, what was that like for you?
WF: Well the thing about working with Nic is that by the time I knew I was going to work on the film, I knew that Nic was going to play Milton. Listen, even though Nic is a little younger than I am, you still grow up watching Nic and you’ve got a pretty strong idea with Nic about what he’s going to bring to the table is going to be original and his own, and it was. So, it was great to get there and to finally have the opportunity. He is unbelievably prepared, a consummate professional, and he’s a quiet guy. He’s very intelligent. He just wants to work and wants to get it right. He shows up and there’s not a lot of takes with Nic. He knows what he wants and really goes for it and we are all happy. He’s a real pleasure.
Capone: Bill, thank you. This is like the third time we’ve talked, and I always enjoy talking to you/
WF: Aw, you're welcome man. Thanks so much.
Capone: Now, you are going to see the movie, right? You’re going to go see it in 3D?
WF: I’m going to see it. I could have seen it in London too, but they got me a pool, and I went to swim in it.
Capone: Okay, thanks a lot, Bill.
WF: Alright, buddy. Take care.
-- Capone firstname.lastname@example.org
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