As far as character actors go, William Fichtner has it all: an odd, distinct voice, unique facial features, weird name, the ability to elevate whatever film he’s in, and so on. I’ve been a fan of Fichtner’s ever since Robert De Niro told him there was a dead man on the other end of this fuckin’ phone. He’s played funny, whimpy, and baddie to pure perfection many times over, but, as you’ll see, it’s his rare, heartfelt performances that have stayed with me most.
Five Essential Roles
For his debut performance, Fichtner plays the all-out villainous Tommy Dundee, a local thug who coerces his girlfriend’s old flame, Michael (Peter Gallagher) to boost the armored car Michael currently drives.
As the blonde, spiky-haired Tommy, Fichtner is by far the best part of Steven Soderbergh’s curiously overlooked film. He’s nuts, no question, but he keeps everything internal, talking in that slow, purposeful way that Fichtner has made famous. Although there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of substance to The Underneath, it’s no surprise that its best scenes all contain Fichtner.
Roger Van Zant
I’ve talked to people at great lengths concerning what, if any, purpose the Roger Van Zant subplot brings to Micahel Mann’s epic crime masterpiece. What I tell them is that, not only does stealing bearer bonds worth millions from Van Zant start the film’s plot, but the fact that De Niro’s Neil McCauley actually has the balls to try and sell the bonds back to Van Zant proves that McCauley is a guy whose only real virtue is money, which, as the film later proves, is really what the man is about.
It also doesn’t hurt that once threatened by McCauley, Van Sant hides in his office like a scared mouse – greasy and unshaven, pathetically waiting out what certainly will not be forgotten. I love Fichtner in this flick; he plays a pathetic worm so far out of his game to wondrous results.
Col. Willie Sharp
Just hear me out.
No one hates Michael Bay more than I do, and my distaste for his colossal headfuck of a disaster movie is perfect evidence of that. But, as always, I feel it is necessary to dish out credit where credit is due. And Willie Sharp asking Liv Tyler's character if he can “shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met,” is a line delivery that I find oddly moving among an epically disastrous disaster film. It’s an unforced, tender moment in a movie filled with virtually none of them.
Who doesn’t love Officer Burke? When we first meet him, Burke has made a deal with Adam and Scott (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr), two soap opera stars that were busted for carrying a bit of weed. If Adam and Scott help Burke catch their dealer, they’ll get off clean.
During their early moments together, Fichtner plays Burke as the straight-level cop, trying to be hip and relate to the Hollywood crowd. But it’s after the deal falls through that Burke is given a glorious new dimension.
Before long, Adam and Scott are eating Christmas dinner with Burke and his wife at Burke’s home. What happens (in the bedroom, in the kitchen, at the kitchen table…) is so goddamn funny in its randomness, that it’d be a real shame to ruin it here. If you haven’t seen Go, then do yourself a favor. Fichtner’s deliver of the line, “So, would you say you’re open to trying new things?” has several meanings, the varying interpretations of which make it no less funny.
I’m kind of indifferent toward Paul Haggis’s Crash. Upon its release, I called it the best film of the year. Now, I doubt it’d be in my top 50 of 2005. But despite my day-to-day battle with the film itself, Fichtner’s one scene kills me everytime.
Mentioned several times before we actually see him, Flanagan, a Michael Clayton-esque “fixer” for the District Attorney, is brought in to smooth out a sticky situation with Graham Waters, an LAPD detective played by Don Cheadle. In the course of their brief scene, Flanagan manages to racially insult Waters at least three times, and blackmail him into doing something Waters finds morally wrong, all while pouring a large glass of water without looking.
He’s smooth, concise and vicious. “Fuckin’ black people, huh?” Such a perfect asshole.
The Best of the Best
Nine Lives (2005)
One thing that makes William Fichtner so effective is the way he uses his words. There’s the inflection of his voice, his penchant for playing scenes soft-spoken (or screaming his head off); his lines just always seem to… roll. Funny then that I consider his best performance to be one in which he doesn’t say a word.
In Rodrigo García’s rather remarkable (and remarkably little-seen), Nine Lives, Fichtner plays Andrew, a deaf mute who, in the span of a few minutes, desperately tries to convince his ex wife, Lorna (Amy Brenneman, never better) to fall back in love with him. And did I mention that he does this at his current wife’s funeral?
Nine Lives is a series of loosely connected short films that each take place over nine minutes, and are all shot in one take. And while some segments are weaker than others, the best ones leave us wanting more in the best possible way. In the case of Andrew and Lorna’s story, we’re presented with an actor who conveys such an immense amount of desperation in a very brief period of time, that we initially wish we could follow him, but we’re ultimately content leaving off where we do.
Other Notable Roles
|In The Dark Knight|
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
The Chumscrubber (2005)
The Longest Yard (2005)
Empire Falls (2005)
Prison Break (2006-2009)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Drive Angry (2011)
Previous installments of In Character include: