by Moonah Ellison & Elle Morris
photographer: Gregg Delman
There are some people who relish being tucked up at home with a book, a cup of tea, and the computer, shunning the outdoors for any reason other than the necessities of life. William Fichtner is not that person.
“[In] my early 20s it seemed like almost every other summer I would save up, and get a car, and I would drive. I would just drive. I think by the time I was 27 or 29 I had been in every state in the lower 48, [driving] on a small road.”
That spirit continues in him to this day; When New York Moves caught up with him, he was driving to Upstate New York.
“The little tiny road that I was gonna take to where I was going, there was a bridge closed, so [the detour] took me on these other tiny roads. And all of a sudden what I thought was like an hour off the highway was two [hours], but it was wonderful–I haven’t been there in a long time. I went up there and the roads were kinda flooded and my rental car is a dirt ball,” he laughs, “but I figured–it’s a rental car, it’s all-wheel drive, I can go anywhere! So I made it up there, you know it was beautiful, the sun was shining, and I ended up spending a lot more time than I thought… I looked around, and there was an old dirt road and nobody had been up there in so long, you could hardly find it anymore because it was so overgrown.”
A free spirit William may be, but he had his reasons for driving around New York–not the least of which was for love of the state.
“I co-wrote a film with one of my best friends out in LA named Cain DeVore. And we’ve been taking some time on Saturday nights and working on this piece. But I’d say the last two years was really, I felt the real need that it’s time to make this film, so part of the reason that I’m upstate right now is doing everything I can to have it come together. I’m in my lovely Dodge Durango rental car–it happens to be my production office, and I’m a one-man band right now, but it’s coming together!… And the reason that I’m here is because I wrote this to be in upstate New York and I don’t want to shoot it anywhere else. I don’t want to go to Shreveport for a tax incentive. No, no, no. I wrote it for the rolling hills of the Finger Lake region, and that’s where I want to make it, so that’s why I’m here.”
The countryside is a place that continues to be a source of romantic nostalgia and artistic inspiration. It continues to be the place people go to de-stress, but it’s also a new battle ground: Fracking and clean water and new pipelines have been recent sources of conflict, with opinions sharply divided.
“When it comes to things like fracking,” Fichtner says, “I know about it. There are other people that speak better to the issue than I. Clearly there are some side effects for it–I believe that in Oklahoma they’re having earthquakes because the ground is altered: Unheard of, basically!”
Unheard of until now. States all over the US that have never experienced earthquakes in our history are now feeling them constantly. Not that these changes are isolated to the United States–the world is experiencing changes. “I mean this year alone, look at the winter that happened in the Northeast and here I am living in the Czech Republic and we basically had NO winter. Which was the opposite extreme. Everything is changing.”
Everything indeed: He’s looking to get a movie made with his best friend, his eldest son is graduating college soon, and he lives with his wife and younger son in the Czech Republic–all while he films the series Crossing Lines. He’s also seen a change in a fellow actor, Tommy Lee Jones, who has gone from actor to director in a new movie called The Homesman.
“In the brief time I got to know Tommy and to work with him… I was very glued into his direction because it’s so specific and I have such a high level of respect for who he is. It was just a complete surrender of wanting to wholly realize exactly what he was looking for. I thought his direction was pretty amazing. I love working with directors. I never wait around, I never go to a job waiting to be told how to do it. You always show up as an actor with a point of view and a place to go. Great directors can tell you things that take you much further down the road, and more specifically the roads they want you to be on, and Tommy Lee has the ability to do that better than anyone maybe I’ve ever worked with.”
Fichtner himself is a part of one of the greatly anticipated changes in a franchise history–the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that used to be all rubber suits and voiceover acting.
“Turtles for me is not a voiceover,” Fichtner says. “The whole film is live action… the Turtles that are in this film, I promise you, are like Turtles that we’ve never seen before. They’re freaky and they’re cool and they’re mutants, and they’re very real. I play a guy named Eric Sachs, so I play a real guy in the film. [He] is a very wealthy man and a real philanthropist and… I don’t want to give away too much about it… let me try to find the words for this.” He pauses, “You know what, let me get back to him in a minute.”
Fichtner laughs. “I’m not the best at giving something a name.”
Fans of the original Turtles will note that Eric Sachs is the new Shredder, replacing the original Japanese character Oroku Saki. Thus Fichtner is the new villain, causing the pain in the storyline.
“I love playing it!” he says. “I will tell you this… about evil or bad guys n’ that… what I thought was interesting about Turtles–besides the fact that I called my nieces and nephews and said ‘Hey I’m offered to do this film Turtles’, and they were like ‘No, Uncle Bill, you ARE gonna do it’–I’ve read, certainly, plenty of scripts in my life with twisted or fractured or bad guys, and if they’re bad for the sake of being bad, there’s nothing to play. You have find something that makes a guy real regardless, and to understand why he does the things that he does. Because to him he’s not doing anything that’s wrong. It’s just what he needs to do, what he’s driven to do. I felt like [Eric Sachs] was that sort of a role in the film.”
It was also a chance to be back in New York city, where William lived for almost 30 years before making LA his home base.
“After officially living in LA for a year, it was a real joy to be back that summer, walk the streets of the Village,” he says with enthusiasm. “Be living back there [in New York city] working on the film. You know, every film has something that comes with the experience of it. I’m a guy who’s all about looking for a wonderful experience, no matter what I’m doing. So working on Turtles last summer in New York–blocks away from some of my favorite restaurants–it was all joy.”
“New York has something… from the first time that I went there when I was a kid, we all know that the city of New York has a heartbeat on the streets that is unlike anywhere else. I’ve been in a lot of beautiful cities here and abroad, but the heartbeat is a whole other thing. And energy, everybody talks about it. New York has it. It’s unique and a little overwhelming at first. It certainly took me more than a couple years when I first moved to New York to finally get to that point where I could be away for the weekend and come back, take a deep breath and go ‘Ah, I’m home’, [or to] where living in the Village was not like a small town to me. New York is inspiring.”
But even though LA is so very different from New York, William admits his new home base in the US has its charms. “I’m being spoiled [by the weather] out there. My rhythm tends to be more here, but I can appreciate it. The fact is my wife is not moving, so I’d better get used to it.”
It’s that kind of free spirit and attitude towards life that makes William who he is as an actor. He looks for the best of all experiences, he seeks the truth in his roles, and he seeks to tell the truth in the movie he has written with his friend. As he looks for his inspiration in the Finger Lakes region, he muses, “The story that I wrote is not an easy one to produce and make because it’s not aliens and there aren’t a lot of cops. There are no cops, and there are no guns and it’s still a story about doing the right thing. And it’s tough to make but, the truth about it is, you have to make every step and have your step forward be one that you believe in.”