Interviews: William Fichtner Talks Armed, Everyday Life, and Being an Actor

TMS: Having talked to Mario (Van Peebles) just a few hours ago, he gave us his take on Armed, now I want your take on Armed. What do you want to tell people about this movie?

WF: You know, it’s very interesting to sit down with Mario this morning and talk about it because, first of all, Mario is the filmmaker, he’s the writer, he’s the director, it’s his vision, this whole thing. I met Mario, had a cup of coffee, even before I read the script, to talk about it. It was the first time I’d met him, and then when I read the script, you know, there are many, I won’t say messages, but there are many things to take from this film, many things this film is about. What struck me most about it was who the characters were and what they were experiencing, especially Mario’s character Chief. I found a real through line to follow this guy, and understand the position, the places he was at, and how much he was trying to get his feet on the ground and to be grounded and to be okay. Mario talked to me about this role of Richard and I found it fascinating, you know, the way Chief dealt with everybody in his life. And then when reading the script, it got to the part about Richard, it got really fascinating because this is someone from his past, this very pivotal, sort of deep, deep friend from his journey and his existence, here’s a guy who just couldn’t do it with this friend anymore, but yet, could find a way, on the street, not really wanting to be with him, to find a deeper place and to, one more time, not give up on that relationship. To me, it was a fantastic movie and script the first time I read it, about these relationships, about the people. It’s all about one’s life, and that’s what drew me to the story from the get go. 

TMS: So, you’ll agree with me on this, you’ve played a lot of very intense roles. That’s something you always bring to your characters, is that something that comes natural to you, or is it hard for you to push yourself to that limit?

WF: You know, as actors, we, well I can’t speak for all actors, but for this actor, I just try to find some sort of truth in whoever it is. I mean, listen, I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’m like, “Jeez, Bill, when ya’ gonna stop fucking acting?” You know, you don’t want to go there, you want to find a place that finds itself inside of you that’s real, no matter who that character is. Is it exhausting to find intense characters? I honestly can't say it’s any different than finding a character that has a softer nature in him, you just find that road to be on. I’ve never looked at it as “Oh, man this guy’s intense, he’s gonna beat me up.” I’m definitely not someone who takes characters home. I don’t know, maybe some people have to live in that headspace, I don’t live in that headspace. When I get home, I’ve got too much little league baseball and football, and throwing the ball with my son and I’m busy with other things. I love the journey. I love to try to find the truth in the journey and what makes something fully realized and real. 

TMS: Tell us about that. You’re a parent. What’s that like? Being a parent and being an actor, I mean people obviously know you when they see you. How do those things mix and how does that work in reality, being a parent and being a movie star?

WF: I don’t think it’s any different than being somebody who’s a teacher, I mean, obviously what I do is of a particular nature, but I certainly don’t wear that around as like, you know, “Hey, I’m an actor!” No, I’m a dad. Every Sunday morning, I’m up at 6:15, making breakfast for my sixteen-year-old for his double headers for his club team baseball. It doesn’t make a difference to me, at all, and I don’t think it ever will. I’m too old to change now. I hope that answers the questions, it’s just one of those things where I just honestly don’t see myself being an actor to have any bearing on the things that I do in my life. I’m not much of a man about town, on the scene, I don’t know where the clubs are. I could tell you what places are teenager friendly, because I’m always taking my son and his buddies someplace. But the rest of it, I gotta tell you, I love what I do, and I care deeply about it, and I stay up most nights thinking about the things that I’m working on. But as far as being an actor in the movies, I just don’t really give a shit. (laughs)

TMS: (laughs) Right! Because it’s a job, like everybody else. Everyone has responsibilities, but I think that’s really cool. You put a really humanizing touch on it, because I think a lot of people don’t really realize that about actors. You’re just getting up in the morning, going to work, you’re doing your job. Get up, have a cup of coffee, off to the set to do your thing. 

WF: I find that you kind of get less of that in, this is probably unfair of me to say, when you work in LA, you’re more around, you know, elements of the business, it’s also different now too. When I graduated high school, this is pre-computers and age of information, nobody knew an actor. Actors didn’t come from Cheektowaga, New York, nobody knew an actor, you knew some kid in high school who was in the plays, but you didn’t really know an actor. Things are different now, people become famous for so many things. It’s almost like fame is it. There are still those like me, old school, I still deeply care about, I could give a shit about how famous I am, I'd rather be good. To answer your question, like you were saying a minute ago, I’ve certainly experienced, in my lifetime, people who think that actors are a certain way, or they think a certain way, or they think they’re precious, I mean, it happens. I’m sure it’s happened to most guys around my age at some point in their lives. People have some preconceived thing about what actors are. I just find that to be completely full of shit. I don’t have time for that, I mean I love talking to people about anything, but don’t come to me with some sort of attitude because you preconceived think I have one. I don’t have an attitude, I don’t have time for it. I just want to work, I just want to be good.

TMS: I told some of my friends on Facebook that I was going to be interviewing you, and everybody was like “Holy crap! That’s amazing!” Quite a few people asked me to ask you about your character in Go. It’s an amazing movie, it’s a great character that you played, really unique, but I don’t really want to ask you about the character, what I want to do is ask you if there’s a certain role of yours that stands out, when you think about your career, where you say that was the peak, or that was your favorite character?

WF: Let me tell you this, I did a play at Syracuse Stage in upstate New York when I was living there in 1986, and I think it was 1998 and I figured out the ending of it. I rarely walk away and feel like, I mean I have favorite experiences, but I’m never one to walk away and go, “Holy shit, am I good!” It’s just not how I live, I always think that if I walk away and think I got pretty close to what I was thinking about, that’s a good day. Believe me, there are plenty of actors out there, when I watch them, people like Daniel Day Lewis, there are some incredible actors out there, I just watch them and I’m like, “How did that guy just do that?” That’s just amazing. I aspire to be that incredible. And there are plenty, I just throw that one name out there because he probably sits at the top of that list. I have many, many favorite experiences. And there are things, you know, Go is one of those things where the first time I ever saw the film, I really was kind of depressed because I was like, “What the hell are you thinking about, Bill?” and you know, but I usually think that about most things I do, the older I get, the less I even watch things that I do, I tend to only see things at premiers, and even then, I kind of got to go, I do want to see it once, but I’m not one to watch films over and over. But if I happen to see something I do, usually after three times, I can let it go and see it for what it is, and the experience of it. And now, I’ve seen Go, a few years ago I was flipping around and it was playing and, yeah, I was really proud of not only the movie, but what I was doing in it. My mind goes right away to the list of experiences I really cared about, Black Hawk Down, I really cared about. 

TMS: Me too, me too. 

WF: Based on a true story, I really wanted to get it right. I feel the same way about A Perfect Storm. All the guys I worked with on that, on both of those films, the experience of being with the actors I worked with and really trying to do justice and honor to a story that was true and real people who are still affected by the outcome of those stories. That has big meaning, we wanted to get it right. 

TMS: I think everybody in that movie, especially your character, was really well rounded and you could feel the emotional baggage he was carrying throughout that film. And I loved Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney too, but I think your character was one of the standouts in that film. 

WF: Well I’m out there with John C. Reilly, who I’ve worked with before, and I’m a big fan of John’s and good thing I know him and like him so he could really hit me with that fish about thirty times.

TMS: Yeah, his trailer for the Laurel and Hardy movie hit today and it looks amazing. So, when you first started out, who inspired you to become an actor?

WF: I had a teacher in college. I have a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and I had to take a fine arts course, so I took a theatre class, an improv class, and I had no desire, I had never acted before, I was a junior at the time, and I took this improv class with a woman, the teacher’s name was Sally Ruben, and she was super cool and Sally was really supportive and talked to me one day after class and said, “I really want to see you do more of this.” She was just really encouraging, out of the blue, and really talked to me in a way to keep my mind open to potentially maybe do this one day, and she did. She opened the door. She pointed to one direction and told me to take a walk that way, and I did, and I always remember that. 

TMS: That’s amazing to hear the history that effected your life that much. We were loyalists to the original run of Prison Break, I think a lot of people really got to know your face as Mahone, how do you think that series shaped your career? Obviously, you’d done stuff prior to that, but do you think that helped as an extra push for you?

WF: No, I honestly don’t. It’s funny. People don’t ask this anymore, but years ago, somebody would ask me, “What was that thing that really put you on the map?” and I don’t really have that. I think my life and my career is just, it’s been a culmination of things over time. Prison Break was a job that came at that time in my life. It wasn’t an easy decision because it was shooting in Dallas, and we’d just moved to LA weeks before. But there was enough about it, and I loved the character and I thought, it was a good time to do that. I have a lot of good memories from doing it. I was glad when it was over, but I had a great time. There may be a certain awareness to be in a television show that’s popular, but you’ve got to remember too, Prison Break at the time, was not a top ten show, it was a number fifty show. It was incredibly popular around the world, and now, I have more young people who are twenty years old and talk about Prison Break way more now than they did when the show was on, because people download and binge watch the whole series, in a couple of weeks. Which is pretty awesome.

TMS: How do you think the technology advances we’ve seen since your career started has changed the way we watch movies, and do you think it’s a negative or a positive?

WF: There are certain films that come along that I’m not going to watch on my television. I still like to have the experience of seeing it on the big screen. But, you know, technology now, people have big screens at home with surround sound systems. It's not like watching that 27” color TV at home any more. I honestly don’t think about it much, you know. Things change. Just go with the flow on that. So, listen, Chris, I’ve got to tell you, last summer, my labor of love, I’ve been working on a script called Cold Brook, it’s a film that I co-wrote, produced, directed, play the lead in, and I finally shot it, I’ve been working on it for ten years, shot it with my best friend, actor Kim Coates, I wrote it for the two of us, and we’re taking it to the Woodstock Film Festival, and to the Napa Film Festival, and right now, literally five minutes ago, I’m having my final mix screening, I’m sitting in the parking lot, of the place where I’m going to see it, so I’m going to have to say goodbye, but I’m going to see my film and make sure everything is working and there are no surprises, or I’m going to have a heart attack. I can’t wait to talk to you in the future about my film, Cold Brook!

TMS: Awesome, I’m excited for you! I was just about to ask you what your next project is and now I know. With that, I’ll bid you farewell! I appreciate it, good luck tonight! 

WF: Thank you so much, good to chat!