In First Snow, Guy Pearce visits a fortune teller who gives him a very disturbing look at his future… and just how short it is. Pearce’s life falls apart as he begins freaking out about his own impending mortality. William Fichtner plays his best friend, who is unable to convince Pearce that his end isn’t that near after all.
Chewers are very familiar with Fichtner – he’s one of the great character actors working today, and we’ve loved him in everything from Black Hawk Down to Equilibrium to Armageddon. He’s currently starring in Fox’s Prison Break as an FBI agent hot on the heels of the show’s heroic escapees.
I like interviewing character actors because they tend to be more down to earth. They’re happy to talk to you because usually people just want the big star, and they’re pretty level-headed because they’re essentially working actors, always looking for the next job. When I got on the phone with Fichtner it was obvious that he’s a completely normal guy who’s not let success go to his head.
First Snow opens March 23rd.
First Snow hinges on concepts of fate and destiny. Do you believe in fate?
I don’t think you can change your fate. I believe you can alter destiny… I’m not sure if everything is in one master grand plan and everytime your shoes are untied, it was meant to be at that one moment in time. But I think we all have journies, and we can makes choices as to where that journey is going to go.
Your journey has brought you to work with some great directors over the years. Mark Fergus, on the other hand, is a new director – this is his first film. What was it like working with Mark?
Fantastic. An absolute joy. I’ll tell you something about Mark Fergus. He and Hawk (Otsby) wrote the film. I read the script on a flight from LA to New York, and I really liked it. I thought it was smart, and I knew Guy was going to do it. The friendship between our two characters was finely written, it had the real stuff. When we got down there, Mark was a kid in a candy store. Now, Mark’s a quiet guy, but even with that he couldn’t hold his enthusiasm: ‘I’m making my first movie!’ But Mark has a quality a lot of more experienced directors don’t have – he trusts the actors. When you write something as powerful and well-written as First Snow, you’re going to get people like Guy Pearce to do your movie. It’s a strong cast in this film, and he trusted where we as actors would go, and that’s a sign of a creative person. Good directors let it be a collaboration, and Mark did that.
Guy Pearce is a guy who really immerses himself in roles. What was that working relationship like for you?
I guess it was good… I mean, it’s not for me to say, it depends on what you think happened in the movie. A piece of the puzzle of what First Snow is, is that friendship. It’s one of those friendships where one gives more than the other, and that’s my guy. Guy’s character was a better salesman, was a little bit cooler, and I loved that. I thought it was so well-defined and real, the way it was written. And it was Guy! The first time I read that script, I thought, ‘Good work, Hawk and Mark. You write a script as good as this and you’ll get an actor of Guy Pearce’s caliber to be in it.’ And Guy – certain actors do things that I find fascinating, and I like to watch them. Guy is like that. He says, ‘Who is this guy? How does he move, what are his thoughts? What is going on, what does he want?’ And Guy finds that in everything. He does it in this. Every day that I went in to work and did scenes with Guy, that was a good day.
You’ve had such an interesting movie career. You started out in many ways as one of those actors where people saw you and said, ‘Hey, it’s that guy.’ Over time you’ve turned into one of those character actors who, when we see your name in the credits, we know we’re in for something good. What film do you think was the turning point for you?
First of all, thank you. That’s a great compliment. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that guy that had that one thing where you go, ‘Oh that’s the moment.’ That happens when you’re in your 20s, and I’m a little bit older than 20s these days! So I don’t know if there’s one film that ever did it for me in a business sense, and I’m not sure that I ever had that one. Those movies that, in a business sense, shift your career into a whole other place – I don’t think I’ve had that. For me, personally, in the journey of an actor, it may have been different. One may have taught me something or redefined a way of working. Contact was one of those experiences for me. Go was one of those hallmark things that come along and teach you about yourself.
People ask me sometimes, how do you pick things, and I have no idea. There’s no formula! You read it and go, ‘Oh yeah.’ I find that if I’m trying to reason myself into something, it’s usually a good reason not to do it. The things you read that you really dig, you just know you want to do it. I felt like that about First Snow when I first read it. And it’s a small part, the buddy part. But I read it once on a plane and I called my agent when I got off the plane and said, ‘Absolutely.’
Once upon a time people were either a TV actor or a movie actor, but now actors can go back and forth. You do that – you go between features and series.
Listen, I just had a 50th birthday in November, so I’m on the tail end of the old school thing. When I worked in New York after college, it still felt like it was totally different. It was television or it was film. People for ten or fifteen years were telling me it was different now, but I didn’t believe it. I think for a long time I didn’t want to do a series. I worked on the premiere season of Grace Under Fire for seven of the last eight shows; they had the option to pick it up and they didn’t and I said, ‘Fine.’ That let me work in films – not that I didn’t want to before then, but I just never got hired! So for such a long time, I was just trying to do interesting things in film and I was so happy to be working in film, that for a long, long time I didn’t want to crossover. I think now, not that my feelings changed much about it, but right now it’s such an individual thing whatever the project is. If it speaks to you, yeah, I want to do that. It’s down to the individual thing.
Looking at Prison Break, your current show, ignoring the ratings and all that, how long can that show go on?
I don’t know. It’s a really good question. There’s been nothing official right now whether they have a third season, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t. And I say that in a business sense, but also in a writing sense. It’s just as good as anything I’ve ever done on television. To keep things moving and to keep you guessing is really cool, and to take it in new places all the time – that’s tough to do. But this show, Prison Break – boy I wonder what this show is about. Then in the second season they get out, so now it’s like The Fugitive, it’s the chase. From what I understand, the show in a ratings sense has done better this year than last year. That’s from really well-defined characters and good writing, and taking these characters with good actors playing them and giving them a fish out of water scenario. I think part of the appeal is watching these guys you knew in one circumstance be in another. It’s not a show that’s got a formula. You have to pick what’s the direction, and I have no doubt that if they come back for a third season, the work’s cut out for the writers. They have to create a scenario where you go, ‘Oh wow!’ How long can that go? I don’t know, but if they get the numbers next year they got this year, they’ll be thinking about season four. And it’s a business, so why wouldn’t they?
The last TV show you were on, Invasion, started off strong and it didn’t make it past the first season, but it ended on a cliffhanger. Is there a chance of getting back to those characters and wrapping it up, or do you think it’s done forever?
It’s done for me. It’s definitely done for me. I’m not one to be depressed when things change, and Invasion was not one of the highlights of my life. Hey, if Invasion was still around, I wouldn’t be doing Prison Break, and I sure like Prison Break! I think that was fairly diplomatic.