William Fichtner needs no introduction. He’s headed a sting operation against Ecstasy dealers, had Heath Ledger shove a grenade in his mouth, and now with Drive Angry, he plays a mysterious figure that’s short on talk and big on results.
Especially if those results involve a baseball bat and the oh-so-fragile human skull.
The Accountant is bound to be an iconic character in the same vein as Pulp Fiction‘s Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe. He’s an unflinching hunter not bound by the laws of this world (or the laws of physics), and Fichtner delivers the usual acting power that he’s known and applauded for.
Fortunately, Fichtner was nice enough to take time out to speak with me about the role, his love of cars, and what KC and the Sunshine Band has to do with demons from Hell.
What makes this your best role?
Now, do you ask me that because you’ve heard me say that before?
Cool. You know, it’s always a joy to try to figure out who a guy is – to whatever degree of success I can find in that endeavor. This particular character – who has a reference point for a guy who works in Hell? Right from the get-go, the very first time I read the script and finished it, I thought to myself, “Wow. You could go anywhere!”
Then I met Patrick [Lussier], and when I knew I was gonna work on the film, the time he spent thinking about it and playing around with it and guiding me into it…you know, great scripts will give you clues to who a guy is. Drive Angry – every time I read it something else popped up that gave me another thought about him. That combination of having thoughts about it and working with someone like Patrick Lussier who is so smart and so giving and so intelligent. You put that combination together, the experience was fantastic.
It’s not up to me to say whether it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t know if there’s a best out there, but this certainly felt like one hell of a great time, and I sure hope it looks that way because I haven’t seen it yet.
Oh, you haven’t?
No…I could have about a month ago, but I didn’t know if I wanted to watch it. I asked my wife. She went to see it.
Let me tell you. You should.
I’m gonna go watch it. I was just in London last week talking about the film, and they said, “We have a screening and you can see it,” but then they found me a pool to do laps in, and I went swimming instead.
I’m gonna see it! I’m gonna get there!
Not to spoil anything, but there’s a moment where your character defies physics in a major way that involves a hydrogen truck. I’d watch the movie just for that scene. It’s a moment to behold.
Is that the one where he steps out of it?
I’m so glad that you’re telling me that it looks cool, because I remember shooting that and we had such a cool time. Let me ask you something, is that KC and the Sunshine Band song playing?
I saw it at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, so who knows if they’ve changed the cut though…
I’m telling you, the day before we shot that I was sitting in my hotel room in lovely Shreveport – and I don’t say that facetiously because I had a great time being there – I was having a glass of wine thinking about what we were gonna shoot the next day. I had music on my iPod and a little donut, feeling it out a little bit, and KC pops up on my iPod, and I just went, “Whoa…whoa…okay!”
I showed up for work the next day, and there was a stunt guy on the floor of the tanker with a walkie talkie, because I would actually drive the truck and follow the truck that was shooting us that had all the film equipment on it. It wasn’t attached to it; it was separate. So I would drive up, and as soon as they’d say, “Roll camera,” I’d look at the guy on the floor and give him the sign. He had my iPhone on him, and he’d press play on KC and the Sunshine Band while we’re driving down the road. Each time we did the take, it was just the right rhythm for being in the truck. I knew it.
Afterward I said to Patrick, “Did you hear it?” and he goes, “I think I did,” and I said, “Patrick, please. You gotta find a way to put KC in this moment here.” And he did. So I love that.
Were there any badasses that you took inspiration from in creating the character?
You know? Not really. I never tend to look to something else for whoever a character is. I like to try to find it. The funny thing about The Accountant was there weren’t a lot of reference points for people that work in Hell. It’s not like you can call somebody. That was part of the joy of it – to see how those pieces fit together.
How does one get a great job in Hell?
[Laughs] You have to end up there in the first place. I’m sure The Accountant at some point in history lived on Earth, and when he left Earth he wasn’t going North…
[Laughs] So to speak.
…and he was probably very good at what he did, so he got a job.
My softball question: which car would you steal from the set?
Oh, I’m a Mopar guy. There’s no doubt about it. I would take that ’59 Charger. I’m sitting in my office right now attached to my garage, and right now as I speak to you, I’m looking into my garage at a 44,000 original mile, Vitamin C Orange, 4-speed, pistol grip, 1970 Road Runner.
That’s my car. You know, the Chevy [that's in the movie]? Yeah. I love it. That’s a beautiful 454 SS right there.
Completely unsafe on the road.
It’s nice. Nice. But am I gonna take that? Nope. Mopar or NoCar.
And no love for the Buick Riviera either?
Oh, come on. I can’t believe you even brought that up.
[Laughs] Well, they’re all beautiful cars.
Oh, no doubt. But that…that…that blue. That gun metal blue color it had? Oh, man. That was nice.
You mentioned that you didn’t have a reference point for The Accountant, which I imagine was really freeing, but how many times did you watch Vanishing Point before filming started?
God, I haven’t seen Vanishing Point in 30 years, so there ya go. Not too many.
It sounds like you work purely looking at the script for those clues. Would you say it’s your job to hunt for those clues, build from them, and find the character from there?
I’m gonna be honest with you. I couldn’t have said that better than how you just said that. That’s exactly what it is, and I think you can get that out of really great scripts. Really good scripts – read ‘em once. Read it a second time. If it’s really good and really well thought out? Listen. This is a 70s action, road movie with a tough guy…but make no mistake about it. The script for Drive Angry is a great read with great characters and great action. Everything comes into this, and it even pulls the heartstrings. And it should because it warrants it. It earns it throughout the whole journey.
That’s a wonderful story. Wonderful stories, wonderful scripts well written like Todd [Farmer] and Patrick did – just keep reading them. I never needed to look anywhere else to get ideas about The Accountant. I never needed to think of anything else to talk to Patrick about what he thought about certain things – if I had an idea I’d bounce it off him. I never needed inspiration anywhere else. With good scripts you don’t. It’s all there in that world. You can find it. Just look for it.
Do you remember what they had your character description as in the script?
No, I actually don’t.
All it said, I believe, was “with a dark blue suit and a tie.” That’s all it said for that. But as you read the script and get further into it, then you start to realize… it’s the same thing with Milton. You start to put it together. “Wait a minute, wait a minute. This guy just said, ‘What are you doing back here?'” You start to put it together, then you realize he came out of Hell. Then go back and read it again, and have that in mind, and you start to see the rhythm to it’s a little bit different for this guy than the other people. Or at least it read that way to me.
Then you go back and read it again. Each time, there’s something new. Each time you’re discovering something new about this guy and his journey. One thought about something is another layer whether it’s a thick one or a thin one, and then you go back and find something else. You play around with that, and it makes you think of a couple of other things.
Good scripts, like I said, not to repeat myself, but I really believe that. Good scripts – it’s all there. You just have to look for it, and it’ll be there.
What’s Nicolas Cage’s method like while filming?
I loved working with Nic, truly, and I wish it would have been even more than was allotted here. A lot of the [movie], it’s the chase. Nic is a very, very intelligent man. He’s unbelievably prepared. There aren’t many takes with Nic. He knows what he wants to do, he comes out there, gives it to you, and it’s strong, it’s great, it’s crystal clear where he’s going with the guy. I have nothing but positive things to say. I’ve been a fan of Nic my whole life. I’d never met him before we started working on this, but it was a real joy to work with him for sure.
With one take, did you feel like you had to keep pace a bit?
No. I’d never think that with anybody. I love it when any actor walks up and finds a moment that’s really cool. That’s great. I’m not sure if you were asking this, but to feel like I had to keep pace would feel like a competition sort of thing, and I’m never in that head space when I’m working. I’m a huge fan of actors, and I love when people find moments and a scene works. There’s nothing more that I love than to go over to another actor and say, “Yeah! You just rocked that one, baby!”
And everyone has their journey, and I have mine. Nic’s thinking about Milton, and Amber’s thinking about Piper, and Bill Fichtner’s thinking about The Accountant. My piece to the puzzle is that guy, and I want to be sure that when they check the gate on the final shot on that film, for me, I really hope that when I walk away, what I left them helped them realize their movie and in particular, that guy is the guy that they wanted. That’s where my focus is.
Drive Angry hits theaters February 25, 2011.
Which car would you steal?