Having William Fichtner in your movie or television show is like having mighty Thor show up at your wrestling match. He provides an unfair advantage and the realization that, no matter how good you are at what you do, there’s a Fichtner out there who just blows you out of the figurative water.
The guy is amazing, bringing class and intensity to everything he does and as evidenced by this month’s DVD release The Amateurs, just as good at bringing the funny as he is in military threads or expensive suits. Fichtner plays Otis in the Michael Traeger sleeper, once known as The Moguls. A film that is so fun and surprisingly warm I’m truly baffled that it didn’t get a shot to make its name theatrically. It’s an all-star blast and Fichtner steals every single scene he’s in.
I spoke with one of my truly favorite character actors a few weeks back and the results are a scroll away…
Nick Nunziata: I must warn you. I’m from… The Internet.
William Fichtner: Jeez, you said internet and I’m already freaked out.
Nick Nunziata: I had the chance to see The Amateurs a good while back when I believe it was called The Moguls.
William Fichtner: Yeah it was.
Nick Nunziata: Everyone whose opinion I care about that saw the film had a blast with it and I’ve been talking it up to the point where people are “enough already”. It’s nice that people are finally going to see this incredibly funny and warm little movie.
William Fichtner: I’m glad you feel that way ’cause that’s how I’ve always felt that way about the film. I wish I could say that everybody that ever saw it felt that way. That’s certainly what I’ve always thought. I’ve said it a hundred times. It’s probably my favorite thing I’ve ever worked on.
Nick Nunziata: It’s got a lot of heart and it seems lately people aren’t used to getting that in a comedy.
William Fichtner: You know, that’s a whole other conversation but maybe not. I think it does have a lot of heart and boy… if you can’t have a comedy with a lot of heart I don’t know what combination goes better. Peanut butter and Jelly?
Nick Nunziata: True. Anyone who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s was used to that but things sorta got a little more mechanical and it’s gotten a little thinner in terms of what people’s expectations are.
William Fichtner: Couldn’t agree more.
Nick Nunziata: I’m so glad to hear that this is among your favorite projects because the character of Otis is quite unique in my experience of the characters you’ve played. There’s a delightfully laid back and innocent nature to him that I’m not used to seeing you play. I always look at you onscreen as a physical, authoritative, and fiercely intelligent guy and with Otis is seemed like you got to let your hair down a little. If you could, tell me how it came together for you.
William Fichtner: Well, I remember about a year before we shot the film, which is already like three years ago now this May. A year before we shot the film my manager sent it to me. I read it and I caller her up and she asked “Do you want to meet the guy who’s producing it, Aaron Ryder?” I hadn’t met Aaron before but I said “Absolutely”. I met Aaron and he asked me if there was any role I liked and I said “Otis. It’s gotta be Otis.” We laughed about it and I said, “I love it. There’s nothing else I can say. We can talk for a half hour but I can do it in thirty seconds so if you ever are going to make this film and you want me to be a part of it I’m in, because I dig it”. Then Jeff [Bridges] came on maybe nine months later and a year later we’re making the film. That’s where it all came from. from the first time I read it I loved the sensibilities between these guys in this town. Didn’t matter, not a cool one in the bunch, really. All shapes and sizes but it didn’t matter. Lifelong friends. Misfits all in their own right. That quality that brought them all together. All those different pieces that you wouldn’t think fit together but do. That’s what the film always was to me, their journey together as friends.
Nick Nunziata: And you get some delicious lines in there.
William Fichtner: There’s some ‘out there’ lines, huh?
Nick Nunziata: And part of what kills me is seeing you do it. It makes it so much funnier for me and when you get those little monologues it makes me spoiled because I now want a whole lot more comedy from you.
William Fichtner: Yeah, you and me both, I tell ya! Call my agent when we get off willya? I worked on a sitcom once in my life, the premiere season of Grace Under Fire and I did like seven of the eight last shows of the season and I really dug that. Listen, if you have cheekbones and you make interesting choices the business thinks you kill people. When things come along, there are certain things in a comedic sense that really do it for me. This sort of humor, I really love it. Serious character driven sort of humor. Like Go or What’s the Worst that Can Happen? I love challenges in humor like that, no so much just jokes. Humor that really comes from someplace.
Nick Nunziata: Go is a great example because it’s kind of sneakily funny. You go in expecting something a little more “cool” and more edgy but there’s some wickedly funny stuff.
William Fichtner: Really funny stuff in there. I only think Go missed the boat because it was a rated R film they really geared for a teen audience but who really got Go? Everybody who was in their 30’s and 40’s and remembered what it was like to be fearless and 18. I think they missed it a little on the audience.
Nick Nunziata: I think people have learned now. Just trust Doug Liman.
William Fichtner: Absolutely! No doubt about it. One of the better times I ever had. I love working with Doug.
Nick Nunziata: You mentioned that The Amateurs had a cast all shapes an sizes. That amazingly eclectic cast. Was it as nutty behind the scenes as I hope?
William Fichtner: Probably my favorite time ever working on the film. I don’t know if you ever heard this story. This is a film about a bunch of guys who have been friends for life, one was in 6th grade, another in 4th, Kindergarten and so on, and here we are when the cast is assembled, the leader is Jeff… but we’d never spent any time together so, Jeff has a beach house in his family and we were going to shoot the film on a Monday, I think May 6th a few years ago so the Thursday before that Mike Traeger the director, Aaron Ryder, and the six main guys. Ted [Danson] and Patrick [Fugit] and Tim [Blake Nelson] and Joey [Pantoliano] and me and Jeff, we went to the beach house. Got a bunch of food. Bunch of wine and Kumbaya… Three in the morning. Rehearsed on the the beach during the day and spent this time together from a Thursday morning to a Saturday night. Not was it just a great time to spend together with all of us but also really invaluable for all of us in the film. When you show up on a Monday morning it’s not like “Hey, nice to meet ya”. We’d just spent all this time together. Another really wonderful thing about the whole experience I’ll really treasure and remember.
Nick Nunziata: Well the shorthand is there on the screen.
William Fichtner: I think so. And what an awesome plan to do that. Spend all that time together.
Nick Nunziata: Was Jeff snapping pictures all the time as he is known to do?
William Fichtner: Well you know he does those books. I’ve seen the one from The Big Lebowski and there’s those amazing photos. He’s got that camera with the lens that goes [makes a buzzing sound], it goes 180. Yes, the people that worked on that movie, we did get a book. It’s called The Moguls. The original title of the film, and there are some really great pictures in it.
Nick Nunziata: I saw that you did an NHL blog [YEP] for a while there. That you’re a fan of the Sabres?
William Fichtner: Yep. Buffalo!
Nick Nunziata: I used to be a huge Rangers fan in the 80’s and then just completely dropped out but here in town there’s a really strong fan base and I’m thinking about going back into it. Sell me on the NHL in 2008.
William Fichtner: You know I dripped off for a little while too because I was traveling back to California and not being back to Buffalo as much. Last year I went to a few Ducks games and once you go back, get back in the arena you realize “Oh man this is SO good”. Hockey’s one of those things. When you see it live… it’s like auto racing. Auto racing and hockey. It’s ok on television but it’s really good when you go and watch the sport. Try and make a committment to see more games. I went to the winter classic in Buffalo. The outdoor game in Pittsburgh. 75,000 people where the Bills play, they built an outdoor rink. It was just awesome, it was like pond hockey on new Year’s Day. It was snowing out we were all out there at the rink. It was amazing. if you’re a Rangers fan it’s a good time for you. Just got Chris Drury from Buffalo. Ups and downs this season but there a really good team and they could go far.
Nick Nunziata: Well, I typically go full-on when I set my mind on a sport so it might be time.
William Fichtner: It’s calling your name. Hockey’s calling your name!
The Amateurs is a wonderful little flick that’s in stores now. You can buy it HERE from Amazon.