Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. There are many things to love about Quentin Dupiex’s follow up to his totally sane and straightforward film about a killer tire with psychic abilities, but the king of them all y’all is one Mr. William Fichtner.
Fichtner is one of our greatest working character actors and in Dupieux’s WRONG he gets to play a character he never has before… hell, that no one ever has before. Master Chang sets the bizarre story of a man looking for his dog into motion and pops up to give advice and set the stage from time to time like a playful Greek God.
The movie is out of its mind and Master Chang is the perfect face for a movie as clinically insane as this one is.
So it was with great pleasure that I was able to lock down some interview time with Fichtner. I somehow kept myself from geeking out about his work in HEAT or the iconic opening of The Dark Knight, so I consider this one a win.
We talk about his process as a working actor, how he chooses projects, the term “character actor” and a bit about his upcoming work in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger. Pay particularly close attention to the Elysium bit towards the end of the interview. If you’re not psyched already you will be soon.
Without any further ado, here’s my chat with the great William Fichtner!
Quint: Did you see Rubber before taking part in Wrong? If you hadn’t, I can’t imagine what your reaction to being asked to play a character called Master Chang would have been. That could be just a tad confusing if you weren’t familiar with Quentin Dupieux’s films.
William Fichtner: You know what? I actually read the script before I saw Rubber. By the time I finished the script I called my agent and said, “Come on! Come on! Master Chang, are you kidding me? I am in!” I’m serious! That is the way that it went.
Quint: Maybe that’s why I like your work so much because that’s your attitude. Can we talk a little bit about you developing the character of Master Chang? It must be freeing for you as an actor to be in a movie as insane as Wrong.
William Fichtner: By the end of the first read of the script (I) found out an awful lot about who the guy is. His name is Master Chang, he’s a white guy, he’s a dog guru… there’s so much stuff you could go after. The whole guru thing and what he does with taking people’s pets… Right away he’s got this whole “You must follow the way of the world through my eyes” sort of thing.
After reading the script a few times and talking with Quentin about it, at the end of the day what I was left was this is a guy who wanted his life to be exactly what he wanted it to be. It’s a manufactured existence. He wanted to call himself that. I’m sure he wasn’t born “Master Chang,” he wanted to be perceived this way. Everything from his pony tail to how he dresses and the way he spoke was as he wanted be seen in this world.
Did I have fun playing around with that, trying to find out who is this wacky dude? Yeah, absolutely. You can’t do anything wrong on something like that. Somebody might disagree with it or not like it, but is there any right or wrong for somebody who manufactures their own life? You certainly have a hell of a lot of leeway.
Quint: You mentioned figuring out Master Chang’s particularly unique cadence. Is there anything you can tell me about developed Master Chang’s voice?
William Fichtner: You know, I was playing around, sitting in my office off my garage, thinkin’ about the guy and just looking for the rhythm of the character. I was literally playing around one time and just thought about this goofy voice I just made up and all of a sudden I was playing with these voices and they helped me find the rhythm of this kind of a guy.
I played around until I found this very twisted rhythm and the voice was a part of it. It’s no more than that.
Quint: Does it speak badly of me that I actually see his point of view?
William Fichtner: (laughs)
Quint: The whole speech you have about loving a new jacket, but over time that jacket just becomes a boring old jacket that you don’t think twice about until it is missing… that actually makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m a Master Chang convert…
William Fichtner: Same goes for shoes. It’s just totally whacked! I love it!
Quint: Did you watch Rubber after reading the script for Wrong?
William Fichtner: I did.
Quint: Did you go, “Holy shit, what have I gotten myself into?” or “I can’t wait to do this!”?
William Fichtner: I went and met Quentin in a loft in downtown LA. I don’t know if I had agreed at that point or if I had just agreed to talk to him about it or whatever, but I’d seen pieces of Rubber, the trailer for it, and I’d read this script, so I went and I talked to him. I knew instantly that these were people I wanted to work with.
Quint: You’ve worked with some amazing directors in your career. Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Michael Mann. Is it the director that seals the deal for you or is it the script?
William Fichtner: Listen, if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. Any director in the world can tell you, “we’re going to develop this and that,” but if it ain’t there it ain’t there, buddy. As soon as you read the script and you find out what it is, you find out what the character is, then you got questions to ask. Then you read the script again. If I’m going to meet a director on something I read the script again and by then you start to having ideas about who the character is and you can really talk about it. I can’t just go and meet the director without having read the script because then I’m at a disadvantage. I can’t declare my enthusiasm about who I think the character is. I can’t ask true questions.
I always assume this: Everybody that you’re going to meet that is directing a movie… this is his baby. That’s what he’s been doing for the last 2 years or whatever. More often than not it’s been this, making this film into reality. Now you may say, “This character is fantastic, he lives in a world of blue,” and they may say “Not really, he lives in a world of orange.” I’ve had circumstances where a director has told me about a character and I thought “Wow, that’s about as 180 as it could possibly be.” That’s rare, but it happens.
But that’s the point where you really get to engage with someone and it all comes from the script.
Quint: Whatever you’re doing, keep doin’ it because it’s working out so far. I actually can’t wait to see Elysium. I’m a big fan of Neill Blomkamp’s stuff so far and I’m dying to see what you guys do with the movie.
William Fichtner: Let me tell you something. I had to do a little ADR (additional dialogue recording) on Elysium… I can’t really tell you what it is, but I had an out loud vocal reaction of how freakin’ cool it was.
You know how there are no new things? There’s no new war movie, there’s war movies. Over time stuff like The Deer Hunter and Platoon ups it. All of a sudden somebody presents it to you in a way you’ve never seen before. It’s a new bar, a new mark of definitively telling you what something is. In the clips I saw from Elysium I felt like it did that. It really felt like I never saw that movie. It redefined something.
Quint: That’s fantastic to hear. I actually felt something similar when I saw District 9.
William Fichtner: No doubt! I gotta tell you something. What until this summer when The Lone Ranger comes out.
William Fichtner: Yeah, I’ve seen some of that lately and wait until you see what Gore Verbinski does with a western. I promise you, you haven’t seen this one.
Quint: Is there anything else you have coming up that you’re super excited about?
William Fichtner: Just that Wrong comes out Friday, Elysium and Lone Ranger in the summertime. Lots to look forward to. I’m excited about them not only because I truly think that these will be two of the best movies of the entire year, but I love them as a character guy. Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger and Carlyle in Elusium… you couldn’t find two guys more on opposite ends of the spectrum and I love that. I always love to take new journeys and this is a couple of new ones.
Quint: Do you like the term character actor? Growing up all my favorite actors were character actors. The Dick Millers or the Jack Elams… But I know a lot of actors shy away from that term because they feel it pigeonholes them.
William Fichtner: It is what it is. There are times when my agent or manager will tell me to look at a (lead) role and I’ll call them back and say “That’s not the guy. The interesting guy is the other one, the one that’s wearing a five pound football on his head or has a dress on. That’s the interesting guy.” I just gravitate to that.
I don’t mind if you call me a character actor. If they could extend to me the leading man’s paycheck then that would be a perfect world! I’ll take the character any day.
Quint: Thanks, man. I appreciate your time.
William Fichtner: Hey, great to talk to you. You take care of yourself.
Wrong is on VOD currently and is in limited theatrical release starting tomorrow! Everybody go see it! It’s fucking weird and cool and hilarious and awesome, I promise.