William Fichtner is one of Those Guys: seasoned character actors who play a huge variety of roles over the course of many years. You’ve probably noticed him at one point or another in any of a dozen prominent films: a corrupt cop in Strange Days, a dystopian resistance leader in Equilibrium, an infernal “accountant” in Drive Angry and in one brief-but-memorable scene, the mob-owned bank manager who runs afoul of the Joker in The Dark Knight. The Lone Ranger puts him firmly in the role of the bad guy, playing a notorious outlaw pursued by the film’s two heroes. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked to us about putting on the bad guy hat and how one looks for roles when an actor wants a challenge.
Question: What’s your history with the Lone Ranger? What kind of experience did you have with the character before this movie?
William Fichtner: Well the Lone Ranger was a little before my time, as far as the television show. And I’d never seen any of the Lone Ranger movies over the years. Having said that, growing up in small town America… who hasn’t heard of the Lone Ranger? My experience was really defined by that, and by this experience. By making this film. I love westerns in general, and I‘ve never gotten the chance to work on one before. They don’t make that many these days. And suddenly here’s one where I can work with Jerry Bruckheimer, who I’ve worked with several times in the past, and Gore Verbinski, who I’ve never worked with. How do you pass that up?
Q: What’s the appeal of westerns in the 21st Century? What kind of tone does the genre set in this day and age?
WF: Westerns are essentially period pieces. They give us insight into a time that isn’t our own. And that doesn’t change from year to year. We look back at this moment in time that helped define our country – for better and for worse – and hopefully we learn from it. This is supposed to be a fun movie first and foremost, but I think it touches on that. That look at how we became who we are as a country.
Q: The actor’s cliché is that you have to find the humanity in every character. With a popcorn film like this, how much of that is true? Are you free to twirl the mustache a little more with this guy?
WF: Well, there’s no doubt who Cavendish is in the movie. But I don’t really approach things thinking how awful he can be. You have to find out where he comes from. I’ve turned down good scripts because the character they want me to play… I just can’t find an in for him. I can’t figure out how he ticks or what he cares about. I didn’t have that trouble with Cavendish. He’s a rough dude, but he has more going on than just being evil. Those are the pieces of the puzzle I find interesting, and hopefully they result in a fun, well-developed character.
Q: This was supposedly a tough shoot. Do you find that enhances the character, or is it another obstacle to overcome?
WF: If you ask any actor if they want to work on a Jerry Bruckheimer movie and it’s gonna last for seven months, they’d say “where do I sign?” This is a big movie and it’s got a lot going on. We were shooting in some of the most beautiful places in the American Southwest. And it’s all on screen. Yes, there’s some special effects in the film, but we shot a lot of it live action. And that’s not going to take six weeks; it’s just not possible. I remember doing a scene on a locomotive, where we’re hanging out the side and horses running and the whole nine yards. You can’t fake that stuff. But when you make that commitment, you can see it on screen at the end. And that is just so gratifying. You don’t get a lot of chances to do that in life.
Q: Talk about the challenge of putting that harelip makeup on every day.
WF: Like I said, it’s a commitment. [Laughs.] It was two-and-a-half hours in the make-up chair every day, and another thirty or forty minutes to get the hair pieces on. It takes a lot of patience to do that. But again, I knew the payoff would be worth it. Once it was done and the makeup was all on, Butch Cavendish was there. I just loved that, getting off the chair and seeing that guy looking back at me in the mirror.
Q: Do you go into the background of your characters? Do you develop that, even if it’s just in your head?
WF: Those are conversations you have with the director. And Gore and I had those conversations. Gore is very good at that. Maybe the best I’ve ever been around. He knows every inch of the story he’s trying to tell. So yeah, we talked about Butch’s past, and ended up going in some really interesting directions.
Q: You’ve played a wide variety of roles and characters. You have a great deal of range. How does that inform the roles you take?
WF: It’s different every time. I certainly don’t like playing the same guy twice. Who knows what it is? I just like to work, and to find something new and exciting in my work. My wife tells me to chill out every now and again. I tell her. “Honey, I’ll chill out every Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, I just want to work.” I like to be engaged, I want to go someplace new. I’ve been doing that a long time, and I’m pretty grateful to have had that chance.