I hate the idea that a compliment I was trying to pay someone may have inadvertently been taken as an insult, and I’m hoping that wasn’t the case when I sat down last week to talk to William Fichtner.
See, I don’t think it’s an insult to call someone a “character actor” as opposed to a “leading man,” and I’ll explain why. To me, “leading men” are frequently the movie stars who don’t really change from film to film, and that isn’t a good thing. It’s the reason they are movie stars, sure, but I would think that one of the reasons you become an actor in the first place is to vanish into different roles, becoming different characters to such a degree that the actor becomes invisible.
That’s how I would describe William Fichtner. I know that for me, it was “Contact” that turned him from “I recognize that guy” to “I need to make sure I see whatever that guy does,” and he’s been utilized well by filmmakers like Michael Mann (“Heat”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Strange Days”), Michael Bay (“Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”), Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”), and Kurt Wimmer (“Equiibrium”). He’s made an impression on TV viewers on the show “Prison Break,” and he gave great smarm in his appearances on “Entourage” as Phil Yagoda.
For my money, though, his work in “Drive Angry” is one of the best things he’s done, and it’s precisely because he’s playing a very familiar archetype that we can judge just what it is that he brings to the role. As written, The Accountant is a riff on all the unstoppable supernatural killers we’ve seen in films since “The Terminator” premiered, and what makes his work stand out is the way he humanizes this utterly inhuman character. He’s not just unstoppable, he’s impossible to ruffle in any way. He is calm and collected as he pursues John Milton (Nicolas Cage), and it makes the crazier moments in the film seem fun because of how completely he refuses to get worked up. He’s a great match in terms of energy for Cage, and by the time the two of them are face-to-face at the end of the film, it’s a moment the audience is really waiting for.
I hope he enjoyed this conversation, because I certainly did, and I hope to continue interviewing him in the future for other films. And, yes, I’d be thrilled if he was a leading man in one of them, but I’ll be happy as long as he’s doing the kind of work he’s been doing already.
“Drive Angry 3D” is in theaters now.