William Fichtner is one of my favorite actors. Period. I tend to like character guys and there are few as diverse, fun, and effective as he is. I spoke to him once for the delightful little movie The Amateurs and was happy to speak to him on behalf of his work as villain Butch Cavendish in Gore Verbinski’s take on The Lone Ranger. Ugly, mean, and wholly evil, it’s yet another shade of an actor we haven’t seen all of the facets of.
Nick Nunziata: You have the most adorable Lego figure I think I ever seen.
William Fichtner: [laugh] Well, I have not seen it.
Nick Nunziata: It is adorable. Which I do not think it…
William Fichtner: I know that there is another action figure coming out which is not a Lego one. There is one for Tonto, the Lone Ranger and Butch Cavendish.
Nick Nunziata: Okay.
William Fichtner: I know that that one is coming up. I saw an image of it online and I have to tell you that you do all of this action. There is a machine you stand in and it takes his picture 17,000 different ways. You have to see that action figure. I looked at that action figure and said oh my gosh it looks like me.
Nick Nunziata: They have come a long way with that technology.
William Fichtner: I know I know it is pretty cool. I have not seen the Lego one yet.
Nick Nunziata: Well, I mean I do not think the intention was to make Butch look so adorable because he is far from it.
William Fichtner: [Laugh]
Nick Nunziata: But, it is great. I mean it is really cool. I mean. It is never a bad thing. Of course the Lego audience. You do not want to terrify a three-year-old. There is enough scary stuff in life.
William Fichtner: True.
Nick Nunziata: The movie is pretty much what I think is a character actor Heaven. Even Johnny Depp is a kind of character actor, just one who happens to be a huge star. What was it like to be around those guys like Barry Pepper and Tom Wilkerson and all of these guys that folks like me absolutely worship?
William Fichtner: What was it like for me to be around them?
Nick Nunziata: Yes. These are the cream of the crop. You included. You guys are the Who’s Who of the best guys out there. It must have been a diverse and fun group of collaborators.
William Fichtner: Well. I honestly feel like the entire experience of working on The Lone Ranger which is the longest that I’ve ever worked on anything. The whole experience felt like that. That is from Jerry Bruckheimer to Gore, the department heads and what they were doing. Then you show up on set and you have Barry, Helena, Tom and everyone like you said. Then you have Armie and Johnny. You are as goods as the people that you play ball with. When you’re surrounded with people with that talent it just does not get any better than that. That is the peak of working.
Nick Nunziata: After doing so many movies big and small, how hard is it to keep honing your craft and finding new depths and levels to reach having the experience that you do and continually challenging yourself?
William Fichtner: I feel more of a student that is growing now than I have ever been. Every single thing that I work on, I will walk away with something that I learn. That is whether it is conscious or unconscious or subconscious. It is always a growth period. I embrace that. I want that and not only in work but also in life. I want to grow. We all want to grow. So is it difficult to find the next one? No. I never set out to play the same guy twice. I certainly have never played anybody like Cavindish before. So just a clean slate. Where are we going to go with this one? The next thing that I worked on I will ask the same questions. It is part of the joy of the journey. That is no doubt.
Nick Nunziata: Not everybody approaches it that way. It is refreshing to see. I think that it probably explains your endurance. It is that it’s very easy to fall into a rut. That is especially for business that wants to put you into a specific place. It is refreshing to see… I did not realize how rich of a history that character has. How far he dates back. He’s been around almost 100 years now. He is a character without a lot of redeeming qualities. Which is giving you a license to rip, to play a guy who is no shades of gray.
William Fichtner: Well the interesting thing for me is always that the script will give you the things that you need to know about a character. The first five times that I read The Lone Ranger, before we start to shoot it. Each and every time I would find something new. It might be a small thing but it’s something that will make you go. It seems like it is.. and a lot of that is simply an active imagination. Where you want to run with it? It could be something that might pique your interest. I do not think to play a guy like Butch, that I wanted to play a guy who is dastardly. I’m much more interested in figuring out what makes a guy tick. Because once you get them. I do not care how twisted it is in his world is not my sensibility is not the same time we live in today. It is the wild west. They called it that for a reason. I find the journey is so much more exciting to figure out and put those pieces together. That is because then the matter what he is and how he presents himself to the world. Now we can get something where he’s walking on a long road and the world he wants to be on. I know that is a little actor’s speak. I usually do not talk about it too much because I do not like giving it a name. That is kind of the things I look for.
Nick Nunziata: Does having that make up and the six guns and the western garb and the horse does that all really just make it that more fun and creative for you?
William Fichtner: Oh my gosh. Yes. I remember the first time when I had a conversation with Gore Verbinski about playing Cavendish on the phone. Then I said to Gore I really do not want to play… I don’t think the guy looks like me. Of course he said don’t worry about it. The same feeling … it was the first day I went to Albuquerque when I met the costume designer and the man who created the look. Can you imagine spending five hours in the chair with two people and when they were done they gave me that look. It was basically 90% there from the very first day that I tried it out. I was like a guest. That is amazing stuff. You can imagine all you want but when someone else has an imagination and the physical ability to give you that. As an actor, I say thank you. Wow. It was a gift.
Nick Nunziata: It’s funny I’ve seen you in so many things. I’ve been a big fan for a long time but I have to admit when that first scene on the train I did not know is you. It is not drastic makeup. It is not like what they would do for a Dick Tracy or something. It was subtle in a lot of respects. It was impossible to tell that was you under there until you first spoke. I think that is a testimony to what they’re doing.
William Fichtner: Yes absolutely. Yes, He’s a handsome guy is isn’t he?
Nick Nunziata: Yes he’s a sweetheart.
William Fichtner: That is who you want your daughter to bring home.
Nick Nunziata: [laugh] You got your own character poster! Your going to be like six feet tall on the wall with people having to look at that mug. Actually Barry Pepper played…had that kind of transformation in True Grit. That is where you cannot tell that person is under there. You know some actors absolutely clam up when you put makeup on and others are empowered by it. It’s a strange dynamic.
William Fichtner: For sure.
Nick Nunziata: Just a little business side of things. It’s a balancing act for an actor in terms of a careers with big movies, the little movies and the TV. You doing a lot of that kind of stuff. Do you ever find yourself having to play the game and say okay I need to do something big right now so that I can do the little project that speaks to you or are you the person that basically finds a good script and then follows that?
William Fichtner: Oh yes. I’m not even sure what the game is. To be honest with you. Is an individual thing for me. I will tell you there were a lot of times in my life that I wish I was working and I wasn’t. There are times when it goes the other way. But you know wha,t I been out of work and been offered things and felt like that is just not the guy that I want to play. It’s just that you never know. I never know. Its an individual thing and there is nto like a grid that it has to fit in a certain way. Just a moment. You read it. Is it something in my life right now that is a worthy journey? Is it something I can do with my life right now? There’s a lot of factors. If you have a family and you have kids.. .there are there’s a lot of things have become together. So any time it happens. I’m always grateful to work. It’s what I like as much as anything I do in my whole world.
The Lone Ranger rode into theaters today, July 3rd (my birthday!).