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Exclusive Interview: William Fichtner on The Lone Ranger & Ninja Turtles

William Fichtner talks about working his way up from daytime soap operas and his villain “Eric Sachs” from the new Ninja Turtles movie.

The Lone Ranger William Fichtner

I actually talked to William Fichtner, he of the classic roles in "Prison Break" and Drive Angry, last week, just days before The Lone Ranger premiered. By now, most film fans probably know that the film is struggling at the box office and suffering from mostly negative reviews (including, in the interest of fairness, my own), but nobody is singling out Fichtner for the film's difficulties. The beloved character actor plays the villainous (and cannibalistic) Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger, and we talked on the phone about how he developed the character with director Gore Verbinski.

We also, because I grew up watching him on "As the World Turns," talked about Fichtner's early career in daytime soap operas and future in film, playing the villain in the upcoming reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At the time of the interview, everyone thought he was going to play The Shredder – and he still might (remember all the Star Trek Into Darkness hoopla about Khan?) – but he was more than eager to talk about the part of Eric Sachs in Jonathan Liebesman's upcoming 
 

CraveOnline: I’ve been a fan of yours since “As the World Turns.”

William Fichtner: Oh my god, you’re dating yourself there, buddy.
 

I was young…

[Laughs]
 

My Mom grew up watching the show, so she made me grow up watching the show. And before we get into The Lone Ranger, I just wanted to say what a great job you did there, and whenever I run into someone who got their start on “ATWT,” and it’s a lot of people, I always wonder what it was like when you heard the show got cancelled after more than 50 years?

“As the World Turns?” You know, “As the World Turns” is one of that things that, for me… I’ll never forget the day that I got the job, because the day that I got the job…

First of all, you need to back it up further than that. Soaps are, well, soaps are basically, I think they’re no more, right?
 

There’s a few left, but they’re dying out. Yeah.

Yeah, they’re dying out. It’s a shame, it was something that really defined an era. I don’t know what soaps were in L.A… I have a feeling the hierarchy of film and television, soaps were kind of not at the top of the food chain. But soaps were very different in New York. If you were an actor and you were doing theater in New York, let me tell you something, if you got an arc for a month or two on a soap, it was a great day because you sure weren’t making any money in the theater! So soaps in New York would get really good actors. I remember when I was doing “As the World Turns” Julianne Moore was on the show. Steven Weber had just left the show when I was coming on the show. Elizabeth Hubbard, Larry Bryggman, Parker Posey, they were just really, really interesting actors. So when the job came up for me, when I got offered the role of Rod Landry on “As the World Turns,” the same day that I got that I got offered a regional theater production in Portland, ME. I gotta tell you something, it was a tough call whether I should do this play, this Lanford Wilson play that I wanted to do for so long, or to go into this whole different financial sort of thing. I thought, “Oh man, what do I do with this?”

So I chose to go, obviously, with “As the World Turns,” and it was tough. It was tough because I just wanted… I was looking for something else in my career, not necessarily to be on a soap, but I will tell you this – and the important thing about why I’m talking about this so longwindedly – is this: being on “As the World Turns,” and being in front of that camera every day for hours and hours, those first six, seven months I swear that boom could have picked up my heartbeat. It was nerve-wracking! I’d never really been in front of a camera. But I remember those  days fondly, because by the time I left there, after two years, it’s not like I was comfortable, like “lazy” in front of a camera, I just felt comfortable “being” in front of it, where I could focus more. I thank “As the World Turns” for that experience and getting me that sort of confidence in front of a camera.
 

You do exude a lot of confidence, and carrying the villain role in a big summer blockbuster, like you do, is no easy feat. You have to combat the size of the film with the size of your performance. What sort of conversations did you have with Gore Verbinski about developing Butch Cavendish as a villain?

I was probably the eleventh hour addition to the cast. I’m pretty sure, out of the principle cast, that I was the last one to sign on. I read the script and I was not in town, I was away at a little family getaway with my family, and my manager called me and sent me the script and I read it, and he said “Gore would like to have a conversation with you.” I’d never talked to Gore. I’d never met him, but I was a huge fan of his and I said, “Absolutely!” So I had a wonderful conversation on a Sunday afternoon with Gore, for about 30-40 minutes, and talked about the script and the character, and I remember one of the things that I said to him was, “I really, which I like to do on everything I work on but in particular with this role, I really don’t want to look like ‘Bill.’” And obviously Gore had already known what Joe Harlow was creating for the look of Cavendish, and there was a pause on the phone, and Gore said to me, “Don’t worry about it! You won’t!” [Laughs]

You know what it was? Gore is someone who’s a master storyteller, and so confident, and [has] such ease in sharing what he’s thinking about with the guy that, you know… As this conversation began, as you said, “Playing the villain in a big summer blockbuster.” It was that. It was that very thing right there, because it was… Listen, I grew up watching westerns. When the villain’s great, it’s more exciting. I really embraced wanting to bring Butch Cavendish to fully realize who the guy is, where he is in this story. So from the beginning all the way through, to talk to Gore, and Gore [said], “Why don’t you go here, why don’t you go there?” That’s the joy of it all. And here it comes! It comes out in two days! Yay!
 

You mentioned this, and I’m glad you brought it up, this great legacy of wonderful western villains. The black hat sort of villains. Did your appreciation of the genre contribute anything specifically to Butch Cavendish?

First of all, I’d never done a western, which isn’t shocking because the truth about it is, they don’t make many westerns. At least not anymore. So that was exciting. As far as any connection to “The Lone Ranger,” it was a little bit before my time, watching television when I was a kid. So I didn’t really have that connection, though growing up in a small town in America, who didn’t know The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and the story? You know, my excitement about it from the beginning was not so much the historical significance of what The Lone Ranger was, and what it’s going to become, again, it was really the excitement of working with the script, the incentive of working with Gore and Johnny and Jerry Bruckheimer. It’s the fourth time I’ve worked with Jerry. All of those factors together, let me tell you something, to me that’s the stuff that gets me pretty excited about doing something.
 

You’re playing a villain now in another big, event movie. You’re in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or just Ninja Turtles I guess it’s being called now…

Now who said I was playing a villain in that?! I don’t know about that, buddy. [Laughs]
 

That’s all conjecture, is that the case…?

[Laughs] No, the reason I say that with any sort of teasing fashion to it is this: I, as an actor, I’ve never taken something where I thought to myself, “Oh wow! This is the villain! Let’s get villainous!” It’s just not part of whatever process I have. That’s just not part of what I’m looking forward. I want to find, you know, “Who’s the guy? What’s his deal? What’s his thing with all of these…” You just want to find that character’s journey, and so I say that with a wink of, like, “Oh, I’m the villain? What?” It’s so much more interesting to figure out why a guy ticks. That’s the joy.
 

What is it about The Shredder, of all characters, that appealed to you?

Truth be told, I play a character named Eric Sachs. Let me just say this about the Turtles. When the opportunity came along, which was a pretty quick decision I had to make on my part, I immediately contacted… Because you’ve got to remember, The Turtles in the 80s, if you were a kid growing up in the 80s, The Turtles were a big deal.
 

I remember very distinctly.

Oh yeah! I reached out to a couple of nephews and a niece, and I said, “So, what do you think about this?” And they were like, “Uncle Bill, you are doing it.” [Laughs] Listen, it’s a bigger thing than I knew that it was, the whole world of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I think what’s most exciting about the whole thing, and the process of working on it right now, is that this isn’t your cartoon version of how we remember the Turtles, or at least how “I” remember them. This is a Michael Bay-produced film. This is modern technology. It’s cool, and it is visually pretty… I think it’s going to be pretty stunning for audiences to see this. It’s the telling of a story in a way that has a sort of depth that I never knew about, and I think that it’s going to be thrilling. I really do.
 

Do you have time to do any martial arts training for the movie? Or is that even required of you?

Yeah, but you know… Sure, there’s some things that we learn, but this is big moviemaking and there’s amazing people that do things. Let’s put it this way: When it’s all said and done, it’s going to look really good.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.