William Fichtner isn’t an actor afraid to go big. Maybe that comes with the territory of being a character actor, but no one can ever accuse Fichtner of playing it safe. There are many examples, and perhaps some others better than this one, but take a moment to reflect upon the Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito comedy vehicle, What’s the Worst that Can Happen?.
Not exactly a comedy classic, but, even if you only vaguely remember that movie, you definitely remember Fichtner’s performance as a flamboyant detective. It’s the kind of performance that breathes life into a scene.
The same can be said for Disney’s The Lone Ranger. Bartholomew”Butch” Cavendish is a villain with a mustache itching to be twirled, but, as Fichtner put it, he refused to do any twirling of the sort. That’s right, no twirling of any kind. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to have fun in another Jerry Bruckheimer production, making for his fourth feature with the Hollywood big shot.
We discussed the film with him after a very long press day.
William Fichtner: I’m fresh and I’m ready. I’ve talked to 73 people today. But they saved the best for last.
[Laughs] I think you are being a little too kind.
Yeah, listen. No, are you kidding me? I’m grateful the day is over. What do you want to know? I’ll tell ya anything.
[Laughs] Anything? This is your fourth Bruckheimer film. Obviously, he’s an experienced filmmaker and knows what he’s doing. When you are on set do you get a feeling of confidence?
Oh, no doubt. I swear to you I’ve said it 50 times today to 50 different people. When you walk on a set that’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, it’s a production value that’s as high as anything in the world, if not the highest. So, yes, you do have that sort of confidence. And you are going to be surrounded by people that are the best at what they do. That’s just part of a Jerry Bruckheimer production. It’s always a joy and a pleasure to be a part of it, for sure.
I actually spoke to Armie Hammer about this feeling where a lot of tentpole films can feel like a big machine, but Hammer mentioned how there’s still a sense of intimacy on set working with Gore Verbinski.
I never felt it was a big machine. I felt it was a massive production. I remember the first day that I walked on the set for…I mean, we built our own railroad. It’s big. It’s big movie making. But you’re not playing big movie making. You are playing a character. When you take a character that walks onto a set like that, there’s no imagining where you are. You’re there. And that’s also hats off to the people like Joel Harlow who created the look of these characters and Penny Rose who designed these costumes. That’s stuff you put on as an actor that really feeds you. It’s great.
All of a sudden, guess what? Now it’s time to roll the camera and it’s your scene. But there is so much that goes into the simplicity of little moments that you are never going to forget and neither will an audience.
Do you recall some of those little moments?
Every day. And I’m not exaggerating. Every day. I would sit here for an hour and I’d tell you stories about little tiny things that happened all the time. Every location, every amazing location. That was part of it. It was part of working on a film like this, even if it was something simple.
You know, a little look or coming up on horseback or something like that. The first time that I ever rode a horse in a film was going with my gang and then coming over this hill in Canyon de Chelley looking at 400 foot rock red walls around you. Not hard to feel like you are in it, you know?
Have you had anyother experiences that immersive before?
Well, since we’re talking about a Jerry Bruckheimer production, Armageddon. We’re shooting a scene in Armageddon where we’re up on the gantry in Cape Canaveral and the real space shuttle is actually there. And you walk up and you touch it. I remember leaning over to one of the assistant directors who had a cell phone on him. I said, “Give me that phone right now.” And it was just to call my mother to say, “You are never going to believe where I am.”
Black Hawk Down, another Bruckheimer production. Here we are with real Black Hawks and Little Birds, 400 feet sitting on the outside of a Little Bird strapped in, 400 feet above the waves crashing below, shooting scenes like that. Yeah, I mean it’s part of the gift and the joy to be a film actor to have those sort of experiences. There’s never a day that goes by that I’m not grateful that I’m doing it.
You mentioned the look of Butch. What was your experience acting under that makeup? Did you find yourself having to be more expressive?
Not really, because, first of all, I had that whole…You know, I have the prosthetic broken nose, the whole cleft lip. I’m not working at that stuff. That’s just amazing special effects. It’s creating a look. It’s filling up that look with who the guy is. I didn’t have to worry about creating a way that he would look or move or something like that. So many people brought their A game to the table to help me with that, to give me that.
My job became, “what makes the guy tick?” It’s not like it’s rare. It’s not like it never happens. But when it happens, oh, it’s just the best.
A lot of actors always say you’ve got to emphasize with a villain. For a character like Butch, do you try to find a point of empathy or is it just about being a pure baddie in this case?
I’ve never played a thing in my life where I just…I don’t know what to do if I was just trying to play pure evil. I would be just twirling the mustache and I’m not sure what to do. No, but truly. I’ve read things before and been offered things where I couldn’t find anything to hook into the guy. I’m like, “It doesn’t do anything for me,” which is a different sort of guy. First of all, this is a different sort of movie. These are iconic characters of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Every great western has the gun-slinging villain. I’ve never played anything like that. I just embraced it from day one.
I’m glad you mentioned kind of the idea of scenery chewing. You get to hit some big notes in this movie. For you, when does that cross the line to become overkill?
I don’t know. If anybody ever points out to me I’m chewing scenery, I certainly like to stop doing that. You want to take a character to…You want to fully realize a character. I don’t know what that is. I’m never one to walk away at the end of the day and think, “Damn, I’m good!” It’s not my thing. My wife will ask me, “How did today go?” I’m like, “I think it went well. I think I got close to what I was trying to do.” I don’t ask much more than that. If I’m not finding the mark, if I’m not hitting it, believe me, somebody like Gore Verbinski is going to let me know. I just want to realize my piece of the puzzle. Whoever I am playing, I’m going to find that. I’m going to find that guy.
The Lone Ranger opens in theaters on July 3rd.