You know...that guy? You know the one you see in all those movies? He has taken many forms over the years and in professional circles they are historical known as character actors, people who can come in for a leading role, or just have one scene and be just as memorable. William Fichtner has made a pretty darn good career out of this profession, and I got to talk to him about his work as an actor as "Elysium" hit store shelves on DVD & Blu-Ray just in time for Christmas.
Dave Voigt: How did you ultimately get involved with "Elysium"?
William Fichtner: Well you know it was like most things really, I got a call from my reps that there is this film called "Elysium" and it is being made by the Neill Blomkamp, and I was like "Wow, the guy who made District 9, I can't wait to read it". They said Neill really wanted me to look at this part in it and that is where it all began, and it was great having seen "District 9" and then reading his next one seeing where he is going to go to do with all it. Probably one of the more entertaining first reads that I have ever had/
You've done two pretty big movies this year (Elysium and The Lone Ranger), and while something like "The Lone Ranger" had a lot of practical, on-set effects and a film like "Elysium" does have a lot done in post and you are just working against a blank screen, and I'm curious if the experience and your process differs at all when you are working against a green screen or on something more practical like a train car set?
There are really exciting things about both worlds to be perfectly honest. You have to remember that when we were working on "Elysium" some of the place that my character Carlyle had to be were real sets. Now obviously, the world of "Elysium" is pretty wild and I did get to see some of the early artwork and I had a pretty good idea of what is was all going to look and feel like, granted it's not like I actually climbed into a Bugatti shuttle and get shot out of the air, which I still think is really one of the most thrilling 72 seconds on screen when that thing is coming down to earth and it is a little bit different then "The Lone Ranger" because you're on a train that is moving 20 miles an hour and you are really going to jump out the door and on to a horse!...(Laughs). Both are a little bit different but equally as fun.
Is science-fiction a genre that you are drawn to, given your work in other projects like "Contact" and "Invasion"?
To be honest I really am just one of those people that loves everything. I'm not a critical film watcher, but I tend to get at least a little something out of almost everything and with science-fiction it's not something I target, but when an opportunity like "Elysium" and a director like Neill come along it is an exciting moment.
That kind of leads into my next question, as you can't always control the types of offers that come across your desk but you've always had a knack throughout your career to always make a role memorable, especially when you may not be able to find anything in the script that you can connect to?
Firstly, you always have the option to say no, and I really mean that. I don't find everything all that thrilling but when you take jobs based on more then what they are paying you, then things open up and options get created to be a part of something really cool. And as for making something memorable like you say, well thank you for that. The bottom line is this, because I like myself but it's not like I want to play myself every time out. I like to find people, I like great scripts that give you so much and tell you about the rhythm and world that a character exists in, and when I find them exciting it's something that I want to be a part of and to whatever degree I can realize that character and bring him to life is when that fun process begins.
You've really stood in some more comedic stuff as I loved your performance as Master Chang in "Wrong"...
(Laughs) Oh, I'm so happy you said that because I love that little freaking movie and I love Quentin Dupieux as well. Geez, it would have been nice if more people had gotten a chance to see that film, but it is out there now. Thank you for saying that, because talk about having a blank canvas when trying to figure out who a guy is. Here's a white dude named Master Chang and his is this spiritual type guru...you can really go anywhere with that one!
I've got to know what inspired Master Chang's unique accent?
(Laughs) I'll tell you, like I just said because there I am sitting in my garage one day and I had met Quentin and I had read the script and even my agent has said that I may not like this, but I told him that I more than liked it, I loved it. When I get home after that first meeting and I am just sitting on my couch trying to figure out who this guy is, this white dude, this guru and I immediately called Quentin and said we've got to get this guy a ponytail, I actually went out and bought the hair...because obviously it was a small budget film which was fine. I finally came to the point that this was a guy who just did whatever the hell he wanted to do and he was creating this persona of how he is in the world, so why the hell does he have to talk normally? I just decided I want to walk, and talk and look this particular way with this particular rhythm, nothing dictated what he could except for what he felt like being to the world at that time, so I just let run (laughs) and whatever it is.
You strike me as a kind of guy who just wants to enjoy what he does no matter the size of a project.
We'll make no mistake about it, because this holds true to pretty well everything that I have ever worked on and something like "Elysium" is a perfect example of this, when I haven't just stopped looked around for a second and thought 'God, I just love this'. I grew up in New York City doing plays after college, and being a member of the Circle Repertory theatre but at the end of the day, I really wanted to work in film. I wanted that journey, and I am truly so appreciative of it because I don't care if it the size of "The Lone Ranger" or as small as "Wrong". When that camera clicks on, it's all about finding that place, the director's vision and that love of finding the guy that you are playing. Truly the only difference between the monster budget pictures and the little indie projects is craft services. You can some amazing meals on those big sets, you can be on "The Lone Ranger" in the middle of the desert and get a lobster tail, but on "Wrong" you are lucky to get M&M's! (Laughs)
Any dream jobs you'd love to be able tackle one day, or is it just about keeping on and enjoying the work?
I honestly don't know if it gets any dreamier then it has been for me so far! I guess if the next dream job comes along it's with a character I haven't played yet going to a place I've never been to. I never want to do the same thing twice and it is so exciting when you open up a script for the first time and just marvel in anticipation at the journey we are about to take. Sometimes that's just one scene, and for me the level of excitement really isn't all that different, honestly. I remember meeting Paul Haggis and reading that one scene I was in for "Crash" and I remember reading "Elysium" and marveling at these future worlds and it doesn't change. Big or small, it's all about the journey.